Sanctity lost or regained?

Thyagarajas house in Thiruvaiyaru

Sanctity lost or regained?

The Thyagaraja Samadhi on the serene banks of the river Cauvery in Thiruvaiyaru.

Heritage conservationists clamouring for in situ preservation are again up in arms, this time over the historic house that was the hermitage of the foremost among the Carnatic Music trinity.   

If the tranquil 'Thyagaraja Samadhi' on the serene banks of the Cauvery here got a roof, thanks to the munificence of Bangalore Nagarathnamma, a great devotee of the saint-composer, barely a km away the house he lived in is being rebuilt to be a 'National monument', 163 years after he passed away.

"The walls in Saint Thyagaraja's original house built over 200 years ago with traditional building materials like 'kalimann' (clay) and lime began crumbling and saving it would have been of no help," says a resident of 'Tirumanjana Veedhi (street)', a sacred culture pole for pilgrims here, reached from Thanjavur crossing five tributaries of the Cauvery. That is how 'Thiruvaiyaru', the village encircled by five rivers, got its name.

Just opposite to 'No. 31, Thirumanjana Veedhi', which was Thyagaraja's (1767-1847), home for most of his 80 years, the family of an 87-year-old woman devotee of the saint still boast of its historical and cultural value since Thyagaraja's father had shifted from Thiruvarur to Thiruvaiyaru soon after the boy's birth.

"The tile-roofed house was a grant given by the then Maratha King of Thanjavur (classical music and dance peaked aesthetically new heights particularly during the reign of Serfoji-II, a great connoisseur of the arts); even many years after the Saint attained 'siddhi', it was the hub of all musical activities here," recalls Ms. Bhanumathy, the old woman's daughter.

The memory of Thyagaraja, born into a poor Telugu Brahmin family, endures. "Every day, there would be music classes in his house where Lord Ram is said to have personally appeared before the Saint to inspire him to greater musical and spiritual heights; and every month on the day '(Bahula Panchami') the saint merged with God, his statue would be taken round the village in procession and return to lyrical soul-lifting 'bhajans'," she mused.  

Thiruvaiyaru is missing all that for the past five years since the 'Sadguru Sri Thyagabrahma Mahotsava Sabha', organising the famous music festival near the musician's 'Samadhi' for over 60 years now in January every year, decided to demolish the unkempt and badly dilapidated house of Thyagaraja.

Arunachalam, a retired teacher from the local High School, who purchased the house next to Thyagaraja's over 40 years ago, is even more circumspect. The saint's original home had been already partitioned and he bought the half that had earlier belonged to Thyagaraja's elder brother, Jeppassan, the ex-teacher who has renovated his portion said.

"I don't know when the family partition happened, but I bought it (the left portion of what was once a large traditional house) from the famous late musician Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer, who was staying here until his son Maharajapuram Santhanam took him to Chennai," Arunachalam told Deccan Herald here. "When we moved in, there was nobody in the portion that Thyagaraja had lived in, though the Sabha took care of it," he added.

When the 'Sabha' had purchased Thyagaraja's house (portion), "we found it was already modified in some ways by families who must have occupied it after the Saint's demise," pointed out Mr. M. R. Panchanathan, a senior member of the 'Sabha Trust'. Even the 'muththam' (inner square) that lets in sunlight and harvests rain water, a typical feature of all traditional houses here was missing when we took over it," said Panchanathan, to drive home to their critics that it had already lost quite a bit of its original character, before the Trust decided to pull down the crumbling house and raise a new one.

From outside, the new home to be ready in April looks like a 'Temple' with a stone sculpture of the musical bard adorning its top. The structure will now house a meditation-cum-singing hall with a small shrine to Sri Thyagaraja, where his bronze statue will be kept for daily worship.

"In designing the new structure, we have taken utmost care to consult Ganapathy Sthapathy of Swamimalai to ensure it confirmed to the 'Agama Shastras' as the saint's house will be a holy abode," said Panchanathan, adding, "we have not touched the well" that was used by Thyagaraja.

Another senior Trust member, preferring anonymity, asserted that they had no option but to demolish, "as the house had collapsed almost" and rebuild Thyagaraja's home anew if it was to be an enduring landmark at all.

 All objections of the conservationists, in a public interest petition in the Supreme Court, had been "convincingly answered" and the Apex Court had dismissed the PIL, paving way for the renovation at a cost Rs.20 lakhs, the member said. People now keenly await the day when the bard's deeply devotional songs will again resonate from "31 Thirumanjana Veedhi".

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