Tamil Nadu shares the very southernmost tip of India with Kerala and is home to the tradition of Hindu music which is called Carnatic – the emphasis is on vocal music, in contrast to the instrumental style of northern India.
Kakarla Tyagabrahmam – named for the local temple deity Tyagaraja – was born in the house of his grandfather, a poet and composer at the court of the king.
Not much seems to be known about Tyagaraja’s life except for a few anecdotes: he was such a brilliant composer that the king showered him with gifts and offered him a place at court, But he refused the offer – he preferred to live an ascetic life devoted to the worship of Rama, in whose honor he composed his music.
When Tyagaraja refused the king, his brother, furious, threw his statues of Lord Rama into the river and so Tyagaraja set off on the first of many pilgrimages to visit all nearby temples and compose songs dedicated to their deities as an act of devotion. He never committed any of his songs (called kritis) to paper, so his disciples wrote them down. Of the thousands of kritis that he composed, about 700 still exist.
Tyagaraja (also called Tyagayya) is one of the three great composers of Carnatic classical music. About 50 years after his death in 1847, musicians began to gather where he had died to hold a week-long festival celebrating his music.
They also gather in Cleveland, Ohio, in April for the same reason – the largest Indian music festival outside of India is held there every year. You can find details at the festival website.
A sample of Tyagaraja’s music is below – it is his only composition in Sanskrit. Though live performances are much more interesting to watch, this was the best sound quality available: