The sleepy town of Thiruvaiyaru in the lush and tradition-rich district of Thanjavur, in the Cauvery basin, awakens in January each year. This is to celebrate and commemorate the life of the poet Saint Thyagaraja who was born here in 1767. He attained Samadhi on January 6, 1847. All of us are probably aware of the huge five-day musical festival that is held here near the banks of the Kaveri to pay homage to Thyagaraja swami, one of the stalwarts of Carnatic music but few are aware of the historical Vedic ceremonies that are also performed at his house, each year, at the same time. With the calm Kaveri river flowing through nearby, the whole atmosphere gets charged with a spiritual fervour and energy that is rejuvenating for the spirit and body.
Thyagaraja swamy took sanyas during the latter part of his life after the passing away of his wife. Hence he was not cremated but was buried according to tradition and a vrindavan (garden) build on his samadhi. Holy texts prescribe how true homage is to be paid to a Yati (sanyasi). The proper way prescribed is through the chanting of holy texts, homas and other vedic rituals which invoke the spirit of the Divine. Initially, his aradhana was conducted by his grandson (daughter’s son), Thyagaraja Iyer along with his direct disciples till 1885. Unfortunately his grandson passed away in 1885. Then his Antaranga Shishyas and other direct disciples continued the tradition. Over the years, different people conducted the ceremonies and it was in 1940 that a school teacher, K Lakshminarayan or Chellam Iyer as he is popularly known, took it upon himself to conduct the annual vedic ceremonies without a single break.
In 1984, he formed and got registered the Sadguru Sri Thyagabrahma Aradhana Kainkarya Trust and Samithi under the presidentship of Justice Sethurama Iyer. Chellam Iyer was the managing trustee right until 2011. Today he is 95 years old and remains as enthusiastic about this age old tradition as he was as a young man. He says, “My desire is that people should learn about the spiritual aspect of the aradhana and participate in it. That is the best way to pay respects to Thyagaraja swami and the Lord he loved and worshipped all his life.” Ironically, though famous and popular Carnatic musicians and singers participate in the musical sabha, the last day of which is telecast live by Doordarshan, few of them take part in the relatively low-key Vedic celebrations. The present managing trustee, former chartered accountant and auditor-turned-Vedic purohit, Radhakrishna G Seshappa from Bangalore, hopes to continue this age-old tradition and involve more musicians and people from all walks of life. He urges people to join the vedic celebrations with as much enthusiasm as they do the musical festivities and make donations in cash or kind. It was in the year 2009 that the Trust received the blessings and was affiliated to the Dakshinamaya Sri Sharada Peethem, Sringeri. His Holines Sri Sri Jagadguru Ananthasrivibhooshitha Bharathi Theertha Mahaswamiji has been guiding and supporting the trust and its activities.
The CEO and Administrator of the Sringeri Matha, Padma Sri Awardee, Dr VR Gowrishankar’s personal contribution to the activities of the Trust have been immense in the last few years. For the first time, a national-level award—the Bharathi Thyagaraja Samman—has been instituted to recognize and honour musicians, dancers, vedic scholars, Sanskrit poets and others. The winner is shortlisted by the Sringeri Swamiji himself. The awards celebrate the different facets of the saint’s achievements. He was a Vedantin, philosopher, vedic priest, musician, musicologist, lyricist, composer, story teller, poet and dramatist. Apart from religious activities conducted by ghanapathis and the best of vedic pundits and scholars, like homas, chanting, recitations from holy books, kumkumarchana, kanya puja, sumangali puja, dampati puja, brahmachari puja, thousands of people from all castes and creeds are fed all three meals for the entire duration of the aradhana, which is five days.
This is popularly called Chellam (after Chellam Iyer) Sapad in Thanjavur district. About 8000 people partake of scrumptious meals, each year. This year scholars from Maharashtra will chant mantras and shlokas from the Jaimini Sama Veda. Chanting of the original texts of the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Valmiki Ramayana and Sundarkanda are some of the spiritual highlights. This year the aradhana is from January 17 to January 21 at Thirumanjana Veedhi in Thiruvaiyaru. It is open to everyone. You can participate in tulsi archana, Rama Nama japas, singing of bhajans, kumkuma archana, chanting of Lalitha and Vishnu sahasranama etc. More information is available on www.thyagabrahmatrust.org