A little background about Thyagaraja Utsavam
India is very rich in varied culture, religious values and different forms of music and dance. India's classical music tradition, including Carnatic and Hindustani music, has a history spanning millennia and, developed over several eras, it remains fundamental to the lives of Indians today as sources of religious inspiration, cultural expression and pure entertainment.
Carnatic music is the old form of music compositions in India. It is commonly associated with the southern part of the Indian subcontinent. While Hindustani music has Persian and Islamic influences in North India, Carnatic music has its roots to the ancient Vedic times. Carnatic music has rich heritage and tradition that is perfectly attuned with Indian culture and religion. This is based on a 22-scale note (swaras) on contrary to the earlier 12-note scale that is used in the western classical music. However, in all its practical aspects and purposes, not more than 16 notes are generally used. A unique combination of these notes or swara as they are said to evolves separate ragas. The features and the constraints of a raga will be clearly defined in the arrangement of the notes in its arohanam (ascending notes) and avarohanam (descending notes). Another very important aspect of the Carnatic music is the thalam or the rhythm. The thalam is the rhythm of the piece that is being performed. Today, there exists more than hundred thalams, but here also, very few of them are in use. The most popular thalam have three, four, five, seven or eight beats in them.
Carnatic music, like its north Indian counterpart went through several changes. The period between 1650 A.D and 1850 A.D is referred to as the Golden age for this music. The famous trinity of this period Thyagaraja, Muthu Swami Dikshitar and Syama Shastri composed mainly on Hindu Deities and devotional themes, which are popular in Thanjavur at that time. This Trinity in Carnatic music have brought innumerable krithis (compositions).
Syama Sastri's greatest contribution was the swarajathi. He converted these from their dance form to the musical form that we now know of.
Thyagaraja surrendered himself completely to Lord Rama since childhood. For food, every morning he would go round the village asking for alms - unchavritti, as it is called, and he would not gather even alms more than his daily need. He took sanyasa (became sage) towards the end of his life, and attained salvation in 1847. He has composed about 600 krithis and two musical plays, all of them devotional and philosophical.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar has contributed about 500 compositions to the Carnatic music. Most of his compositions are in Sanskrit and in the Krithi form i.e., poetry set to music. Each of his compositions is unique and brilliantly crafted. The compositions are known for the depth and soulfulness of the melody - his visions of some of the ragas are still the final word on their structure.
The Carnatic musicians pay homage to Saint Thyagaraja every year, in the Indian calendar day of Pushya Bahula Panchami that comes sometime in the month of January, at his place of burial in Thiruvaiyaru, India, by rendering his compositions in chorus. Five of the famous compositions by Thyagaraja are called Pancharatnas or five jewels. This is a exemplary scene, one should watch at least once in a lifetime. The same is organized in many places of the world, wherever possible.
South Indian music lovers in Colorado have been celebrating the Thyagaraja Aradhana (musical homage to Saint Thyagaraja) since last year. Last year's festival was held at Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Colorado, on Wadsworth Blvd, Littleton, there were more than 60 singers took part in this great event that includes children of all ages.