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Bhakti - An Insight through Thyagaraja
Dharani Ramaswamy

Bhagavad Gita unfolds three ways of attaining the lotus feet of God and becoming one with Him. They are Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga are intended for those who are already evolved souls or who are already practising certain methods to realise God. Bhakti or divine worship is complete dedication of oneself to the Supreme Being. It is complete self-abnegation, self-effacement and absolute surren­der. The Bliss that is attained through Jnana Yoga is something which is attained after realising the Lord. It is enjoyed only by those who attain such knowledge or who are eligible to get such knowledge.

The Bliss that is obtained through Jnana Yoga is something which is got after realising the Lord, whereas the Bliss that is obtained from pure and simple devotion is something which is enjoyed even when practising it. Bhakti gives happiness not only to those who practise it, but also to those around and near them. On the other hand, Jnana Yoga, which is known as Pravarthana Marga requires the help of others. Bhakti Yoga does not require any such extraneous help.

We find this spirit of Bhakti pervading all the songs of Sadguru Thyagaraja, the trend setter of present Carnatic music. Sadguru Thyagaraja needs no introduction, as almost all his songs are being sung throughout the length and breadth of the country. The emphasis of the songs of the great saint is on true and real devotion. It has specific reference to Rama and devotion to Him. Let us share the joy of the experience of Bhakti through some of the songs of the great Saint Composer.

In the song, Kaddhana Variki in the raga Todi, he describes how one should practice devotion to God. The first attribute he says is, Niddhura Nirakarinchi. A real devotee will always be remembering God. He will no have time to sleep nor will he feel the need for it. He will be so immersed in his devotion to the Lord that he will not have the desire to sleep.

The second attribute, Thyagaraja says is Suddha Maina Manasuche. The mind should be pure devoid of baser instincts like lust, greed, etc. When these evil thoughts are in the minds of man, the Lord does not find it fit to live there nor present himself to such a person. Such a man will not be able to raise himself above the low mundane level, and take any concrete steps towards the realisation of God. Hence it is most essential that the mind and heart should be pure and be full of noble thoughts.

The next attribute he says us Paddhu Thappaka. We should not go out of the way but follow the methods prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. The same sentiment is expressed in the Karaharapriya song Chakkani Raja Margamu. These are the clear ways in which one can be devoted to God and with all these attributes, one is sure to attain the Bliss, Ananda Anubhava.

In another Thodi krithi, Emi chesidemi, he again lays stress on the need for being truly devoted to Rama devoid of pomp and show. He deprecates all those who are ostentatious and display their wealth. He says it will be of no use, if one celebrates pompously, the birthday of his children or displays his wealth or builds palatial mansions or showers on his people all beneficence. These are only material aspects. The enjoyment which one gets out of these are only ephemeral and are not long lasting. They will not equal the Bliss which one will get by being a true devotee of Rama.

Bhakti Yoga is nothing but being devoted to God with a feeding of absolute surrender. As stated in the Gita, sarva dharman parityajya mamekam saranam vraja. Aham thvam sarva papebhyo moksayisyami. The Lord says that if one surrenders himself to God, He will take care of that man. Thyagaraja refers to the incidents of absolute surrender in his kriti, Munnu ravana. He refers to the incidents of surrender of Vibhishana and Sugriva to Lord Rama and surrender of Prahlada to Lord Krishna. Vibhishana, though born in the family of Ravana, did not have any of the asuric qualities. When he realised that his advice to Ravana would be of no use, he had no other option but to leave Ravana and surrender himself to Rama. Inspite of the objections raised by the people surrounding him, Rama accepted the surrender of Vibhishana, as it was not proper to leave at lurch, those who surrender with the fond hope of being saved. This goes to show that God will protect those who surrender. Similar is the story of Prahlada. He had such immense faith in God, that when his father, Hiranyakasibu asked him "Where is your God?" He told them, "God is everywhere". And to protect and honour the words of the child, it appears God had to be present everywhere not knowing where Hiranyakasibu or Prahlada would choose to make Himself come out. Thus was his karunya. Indeed, he did come out of the sthambha (Pole) inside the palace, which the father wanted to demolish with his ghadhayudha.

These incidents are referred to by Thyagaraja in this kriti, and he says that such a God, will always protect those who have faith in Him and surrender to Him.

The kritis of Thyagaraja abound in many such sentiments and we should try to find time to study them in-depth and understand the message in his kritis and follow them.