Tanjavur as the Centre for Music and Dance


Ashok Madhav (madhav_pgh@yahoo.com)


Aurangzeb’s desire to expand the Mughal empire was not fruitful as he harassed majority of the Hindu population by persecuting and controlling them often. This created so much unrest and tensions among the people. His religious policy was to a major extent responsible for the collapse of the Mughal empire. Earlier, Akbar endeared himself with Hindu/, Rajputs, whereas Aurangzeb was so self-centred, and he hardly cared for his subjects who were predominantly Hindus.


Many emerging regional powers like the Marathas and others like the Telugu chieftains were threatening the Mughal empire and Aurangzeb was not able to contain them. He could not defeat the Marathas, as they were gaining strength under Shivaji. By 17th century Mughal empire had declined.


The literary elites in the south-eastern India (present day Andhra) could not tolerate the annoying disturbances and harassments by the Mughal deputies in those areas. They were planning a move to the fertile river Kaveri delta area in Tanjavur. The rulers in charge of that area were the Nayak kings followed by the Maratha kings. They were basically

peace loving and devoted to cultural activities like literature, music, dance and other fine arts.


Vijayaraghava Nayak was the last ruler of Thanjavur. The Maratha rule was established around 1676 AD. The remarkable feature in this rule was continuation of Telugu as the court language and of the cultural and musical traditions of the Nayaks. The Maratha kings were learned and interested in dance, music etc. Some of them have contributed significantly by composing important treatises.


Around that time, Tyagaraja’s forefathers came from Prakasam District and settled in Tanjavur area in the late 1650. As they were literarily advanced – with the knowledge of Sanskrit, Vedas, Puranas etc. they were supported by the Maratha kings. Tyagaraja’s grandfather, Giriraja Kavi, was made a court musician in the court of King Tulaja and he was granted farmlands and a house to support himself and his family. Tyagaraja was born in 1767 in Tiruvarur


Kshetrayya of the 17th century was born in Muvva, a village close to Kuchipudi in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. He was a prolific composer who composed close to 4200 padam-s with nayaka-nayaki bhavam with his signature “muvvagopala”.  They are always sung in slow tempo in rakti ragam-s. He moved to Tanjavur and made a name for himself at the King Raghunatha Nayak’s court. At the outset, his padam-s may seem erotic but are devotional in content. Two examples of his dance padams are: Vadiga Gopaluni in Mohanam and Kondegadu in Surati.


Similarly, Narayana Tirtha, (1650-1745) famous for his opera- Sri Krishna Lila Trangini was born in Kaza, Krishna District. He was good at shastras and music. He visited several pilgrim centres both in Andhra and in Tamil Nadu and finally settled in Varagur, a small village on the banks of river Kaveri, which had a tradition for bhajana sampradaya. Varagur is located near Tiruvaiyaru. Varahur became the centre for music and dance during the Nayak rule. However, his samadhi is at Tirupunthurthi, where an annual music festival is held by his devotees. He enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere, and he created many tarangams. The tarangams describe essentially Lord Krishna’s life and play with gopis. Two popular tarangams are Madhava mamava in Neelambari and Puraya mama Kamam in Bilahari.


Bhadrachala Ramadasu (1622-1680) was born in Nelakondapalli village in Khammam district, Andhra also moved to Tanjavur area. Ramadasu was closely associated with the culture of Tanjavur. His numerous compositions are on the Lord Rama – mostly in Telugu and some in Sanskrit. Tyagaraja seemed to have great admiration for Ramadasu and paid rich tributes in a few kritisRamadasu’s popular pieces are Paluke Bangara, Ananda bhairavi and Ramajogi mandu konere, Khamas. Having lived in Tanjavur for a long time, he became well versed in Marathi and he composed a few pieces in Marathi also. These two pieces in Marathi - “Manache shloka and Dasa bodha are treasured by Marathi people.


Thus, Tanjavur became the central place for creative activity and the great literary minds all came and settled down on the banks of Kaveri. They all enriched the place!