“On this earth, can there be Moksha for those who are not Jivanmuktas?”1
Thus begins Tyagaraja’s kriti (composition) Mokshamu Galada in Raga Saramati, a rare and soul-stirring raga that touches one’s heart and makes it ache with sorrowful yearning. This evocative and contemplative composition is in Telugu, one of the four Dravidian languages of South India (the others being Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam). Telugu has a mellifluous, resonant, flowing quality that Tyagaraja has lyrically captured in his magnificent kritis. William J. Jackson notes that poet-saints like Tyagaraja who composed in regional languages (instead of Sanskrit) offer a devotional “democratization” of sorts so that spirituality becomes accessible to one and all and thus broadens the “possibilities for participation”.1
The etymology of the word kriti is fascinating. The Sanskrit “Kriti” and the English “creation” are cognate with the Indo-Aryan root, meaning “to create”. Kriti also means “to wonder”1. And in this kriti, Tyagaraja wonders- “On this earth, can there be Moksha for those who are not Jivanmuktas?
So who is a Jivanmukta exactly? A Jivanmukta is one who becomes a Jnani (enlightened being) who, by transcending worldly attachments while still living on earth, attains Moksha.2 The qualities possessed by a Jivanmukta are further explained in the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord). In chapter 5, verses 19 and 20, Lord Krishna tells his friend and devotee Arjuna that a liberated person “neither rejoices upon achieving something pleasant nor laments upon obtaining something unpleasant, is self- intelligent, un-bewildered. In other words, a person who practices equanimity has already “conquered the conditions of birth and death”.3
The concept of Moksha or liberation is integral to Hindu philosophical thought. Moksha is intimately tied into the notion of Samsara, the never-ending cycle of birth and death the soul undergoes, through many life forms, ultimately culminating in human birth. Human life is guided by the attainment of 4 major goals, as defined by the 4 Purusharthas4 (objectives of a human being). First and foremost, the goal of a human being is to follow Dharma, defined as right conduct/ righteousness. The next goal is for one to acquire Artha, translated as wealth or material prosperity. Pursuing the fulfillment of both sensual and emotional desires is Kama. The pursuing of both Artha and Kama are dictated by Dharmic tenets. It is interesting to note that the ancient Hindu texts did not advocate a monastic existence, encouraging instead an active engagement with all facets of life. The final goal of human life then (after fulfilling one’s worldly obligations) is to attain Moksha.
Saakshatkara Nee ………
“O Lord who appears before me (Saakshatkara Nee), to those with no genuine devotion (Bhakthi) or knowledge of music (Sangeetha Jnana), can there be salvation?”
Here, the translation barely captures the nuances that Tyagaraja conveys in the original Telugu. The phrase “Sangeetha Jnana” does not merely refer to technical knowledge of music which in itself, is not sufficient to help one advance on the spiritual path. Tyagaraja’s words do not imply that a lack of musical knowledge would preclude the musically uninitiated from attaining liberation. Even if one does not have the ability to sing, one surely can cultivate the ability to listen. Of equal or possibly greater importance is the capacity to be moved by music, to be transformed by it, to allow oneself to be lifted to states of transcendence, to open oneself up to mind-blowing ecstasy. Tyagaraja was a practitioner of Nadayoga – a rigorous spiritual undertaking (Sadhana) in which the knowledge and practice of music was said to offer a direct pathway to salvation. It makes sense that Tyagaraja, being both a musician and a mystic, urged the seeker to combine his or her love of music with their love of God so that they may move beyond the trappings of mundane existence and attain salvation.
Of Breath and Fire……………..
In composing this kriti, Tyagaraja draws on the 13th century musical treatise of the eminent musicologist Sarngadeva.1 In the famed Sangita Ratnakara (Ocean of Music), the worship of Nada Brahman (divine sound) is seen as the way to liberation. To quote from the text, “we worship the Nada Brahman (divine sound), the life of all beings, transformed in the shape of the world, the sentience, the bliss.”The notion that divinity manifests as sound vibrations in space comes from the Sama Veda which is a foundational source for the study of music in Hindu lore and is also articulated in various other texts. For example, in Chapter 7, Verse 8 of the Bhagavad Gita3, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna “I am the syllable Om in the Vedic mantras, the sound in ether”. The notion that the cosmos was created from divine sound is an ancient one, finding resonance in various mystical and religious traditions around the world.
The vibration of the sound Om (Pranava nada) manifests in the form of the seven notes of music (Saptaswaras) through the combination of Prana (Life force, or vital breath) and Anala (Fire). In other words, the seven notes sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni are derived from the vibrational energy of the sound Om. This concept is elaborated in a shloka from the Swararnava-“In the center of the body is the Prana, in the centre of the Prana is dhwani (sound), in the centre of the dhwani is the nada (musical sound) and in the centre of the nada is Sadasiva, the supreme Lord”.
And Tyagaraja ends his kriti by making one final appeal- “O Lord adored by Tyagaraja, for those who don’t know the consciousness of Siva who is fond of playing the Veena, on this earth, can there be liberation for those who have not found realization?”
- William J. Jackson (1991) Tyagaraja: Life and Lyrics; Oxford University Press
- E. N Purushothaman (1975) Tyagopanishad; Andhra Pradesh Sangeeta Nataka Akademi
- His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1996) Bhagavad-Gita as it is; Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, Mumbai.
Photo Credit: www.swarmanttra.com
Mokshamu Galada Bhuvilo
Saakshatkara Nee Sadbhakthi
Sangeeta Jnana Vihinulaku
Praana nala Samyogamu Valla
Pranava Nada Saptaswaramulai Baraga
Veena Vadanaloludow Shiva mano
Vitha Merugaru Tyagaraja Vinutha
Links to various performances of Mokshamu Galada
- An absolutely beautiful, lilting violin rendition by the legendary Lalgudi Jayaraman.
- A lovely, melodious Veena rendition by E. Gayathri. An added bonus is the humorous and explanatory notes that appear.
- A majestic vocal performance by Maharajapuram Santhanam
- An elaborate, beautiful performance by T.S Sathyavathi