Tyāgarāja is one of the all-time great musician saints of India. The Carnatic music—classical music of South Indian tradition—has been immensely benefited and enriched by his soulful compositions. Side by side, he also contributed greatly to the cult of devotion to Rāma.
Tyāgarāja was born in A. D. 1767 at Tiruvārūr in the Tañjāvūr (Tanjore) district of Tamil Nadu in a Telugu-speaking brāhmaṇa family. His parents were Rāmabrahma and Sītāmbā. Since Tiruvārūr was famous for its temple of Lord Śiva, known as Tyāgarājasvāmin, the boy was named Tyāgarājabrahma.
Later on, the family shifted to Tiruvayyār, also called Pañcanadakṣetra.
Tyāgarāja was given a good education especially in Sanskrit and Telugu. He also became proficient in some other fields of knowledge like the Vedas, purāṇas, jyautiṣa (astrology) and gaṇita (mathematics).
He was initiated by one Rāmakṛṣṇā-nandasvāmin with a special mantra of Rāma.
Endowed with a good voice and memory, Tyāgarāja had a flair for music. The devotional songs of Purandaradāsa (A. D. 1484-1564), Bhadrācalam Rāmadāsa (A. D. 1630-1687) and others, which his mother used to sing, deeply influenced him. He started composing songs even from a young-age.
Recognising his talents, his father arranged for his music-training under Soṇṭhi Veṅkaṭaramaṇayya, the topmost musician of his times. Very soon, he excelled in it.
He is said to have been blessed by the sage Nārada who came disguised as a saṁnyāsin and left an ancient treatise on music—the Svarārṇava—with him. Tyāgarāja mastered it very soon.
He was married to Pārvatī, at the age of eighteen. After her early demise, he married her younger sister Kamalā.
Tyāgarāja was once blessed by a sage who advised him to repeat Rāmanāma (mantra of Rāma) 96 crore times, which he did faithfully, completing it in about twenty-one years. He succeeded in getting a vision of Śrī Rāma several times.
He is supposed to have composed 24,000 songs though only 800 are available now.
He lived by uñchavṛtti (gathering corn left in agricultural fields). The people of the town who respected him greatly, also supported him. Though kings and noblemen invited him to their courts he flatly refused their invitations.
Only once, he went on a pilgrimage to a few places in South India, like Tirupati, Kāñcipuram, Madurai and Śrīraṅgam.
Though a few miracles, like bringing back a dead person to life, have been attributed to him, he considered them as having happened by the grace of Rāma.
He took saṁnyāsa during the last days and passed away peacefully while his disciples were chanting the name of Rāma.
His songs—most of which are in Telugu and a few in Sanskrit—though imbued with intense devotional fervour, are also classics even from the standpoint of literary merit.
His other compositions are: Prahlāda-bhaktivijayam, Naukācaritram and Sītā-rāmavijayam. These are called geya-nāṭakas, which can be enacted as dramas with plenty of music.
His gurukula (traditional academy for teaching) produced a good number of great musicians who continued his tradition of music.
His samādhi (the place where his body has been interred) has been well-preserved even today. The day of his passing away (called puṇyārādhana) is observed with special worship and singing of his songs by great musicians.