The son and disciple of Tiruvottiyur Veenai Kuppaiyyar, Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar was an accomplished musician and composer. The musical talents of Tyagayyar were sculpted by his eminent father, Kuppayyar, who himself was the most prominent student of Sri Tyagaraja. As he was an adept in swarakalpana, he was known as “Swara Simha” Tyagayyar. In his compositions the signature was ‘Venugopala”, his family deity.
He started his music lessons from Fidel Ponnuswamy, a student of his father. He devoted his entire life in the pursuit of Carnatic music. Even great scholars in music were approaching Thyagayyar to get clarifications in musicology. His forte was swarakalpana. His residence was a meeting place for musicologists, musicians and connoisseurs of music. He has many prominent shisyas, including Ponnayya Pillai. He continued his ancestral practice of celebrating Gokulashtami, Chitra Pournami and Vinayaka Chavithi on a grand scale and several eminent musicians of the day used to feel privileged to sing in his residence on such occasions. Like his father and grandfather, he was also an adept in Veena playing as well as Vocal music. His compositions in Thana Varnams were suitable for both vocal singing and veena playing.
There was an incident in his life which underscores his special ability in composing varnams in the raga ‘Darbar’. One day quite a few composers assembled in Singaracharya’s residence and each started composing a varna in the raga ‘Darbar’, one after the other. When his ‘Chalamela’ was sung and after listening to it, the assembled composers felt ashamed at the quality of their own compositions and tore them away in disgust. What greater homage can be paid to any composer by his peers.
His speciality was in composing ragamalikas. He tuned Narayana Teertha’s Tharangams’ in ragas such as Bhairavi, Athana, Kambhoji, Kalyani and Surati. He wrote ‘chittaswarams’ for these as well as ‘mukta swarams’ for Bhairavi Tharangam.
He added ‘Dhatu’ to the kriti ‘Sri Ramana Padmanayana’, the entire music world is indeed indebted to him for his two great works ‘Pallavi Swarakalpavalli’ and ‘Sangeeta Ratnavali’. These were published in telugu in 1900 & 1917 resp. In his ‘Swarakalpavalli’, he composed in ½, 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16 avrittams in different taalams. He experimented in a variety of types of Swara Prastharas.
Although he is said to have composed 50 kritis, 9 Adi tala varnams, 5 Ata tala varnams, Pancharatna kritis and ragamalikas, they are no longer available. Only 5 Adi tala varnams, 5 Ata tala varnams and 2 ragamalikas are extant today.
His ‘Sangeetha Ratnavali’ contains 4 varnams, 108 ‘Ashtothara Kritis’ in praise of his family deity, Sri Venugopala. He was the first Vaggeyakara to compose ‘Ashtothara Kritis’. After him, Sri Harikesanallur Muthayya Bhagavathar alone composed them.
Prefacing ‘Ashtothara Kritis’, he composed 3 prayer songs – ‘Kapadu Gananatha’ in Dhanyasi, ‘Saraswathi nannepudu’ in Kalyani, ‘Thyagarajaswami guruni’ in Kharaharapriya. Out of 108 Ashtothara kritis, 102 were in Adi talam, 5 in Rupakam and one in Triputa. He showed his speciality in composing the first five in 5 ‘Ghana ragas’ i.e., Nata, Gowla, Arabhi, Varali and Sri and the next 5 in ‘Dwiteeya Ghanaraga Panchakam’ i.e., Reetigowla, Narayanagowla, Kedaram, Natakuranji and Bowli. He composed kritis in all famous and rare ragas. Out of 108, 19 are ‘Sudha Madhyama ragas’, 11 ‘Prati Madhyama ragas’ and 8 different ragas. Rest 70 were janya ragas.
The rare ragas in which he composed kritis were: Ghoshini, Simhalam, Sharadabharanam, Hamsa Narayani, Loka Rakshaka, Mechakangi, Pusha Kalyani, Seshanadam, Simharavam, Desiya Gana Varadhi, GanaKusumaali, Ratnabhanu, Ratnangi, Choomikavinodhini, Hamsagiri etc.
In his compositions, ‘Chittaswaras’ are invariably seen. He composed as many as 50 kritis in ‘Madhyama kala china swaras’, Bothsahiya and Chittaswaras are attractive in his compositions. His one more innovation is to introduce – Prasa’, ‘Anuprasa’ and ‘Yati’ of prosody in his lyrics.
Perhaps he is one of those rare composers who has introduced stories from Puranas in his compositions like Gajendra Moksham and Draupadi Vastrapaharanam are described in his Manirangu raga composition ‘Sarasiruhanayana’. Similarly, Ajamilopakhyanam and Vamanaavatharam etc. were included. Sri Thyagayyar’s name will last for ever in the world of Carnatic music, without doubt. His disciples include Coimbatore Thayi.