In Memory of a Saint

While the five-day musicfest held to honour Saint Thyagaraja at Thanjavur hogs the limelight, the vedic rituals performed alongside remain little known.

Published: 19th January 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th January 2014 12:41 PM   |  A+A-


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

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

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

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

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

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