Developing Thiruvaiyaru as a Music and Cultural Hub

Thiruvaiyaru, situated 17 km from Thanjavur district, is the home of Carnatic music composer Thyagaraja Swami. He has to his name the highest number of compositions in praise of Sri Rama, his Ishta Devata in this form of divine music.

In its 174th year now, the Thyagaraja Aradhana is held every year on the death anniversary of the composer, brings musicians from all over the country for over a week, ending with a Vedic chanting, unchavrithi and goshti gana on Bahula Panchami.

Sadguru Thyagaraja Swami's samadhi in Thiruvaiyaru (Pics by the author)

Hit by Covid, the festival was not be held in the scale as in previous years, but perhaps it is time to take stock of the way the Aradhana is conducted, its potential for cultural tourism as well as existing infrastructure available to make it an attractive economic activity.

Close to Thanjavur and supporting a rich agrarian economy, promoting Thiruvaiyaru could be a part of urban regeneration strategy, creating a new cultural centre outside Chennai.

As part of the Thanjavur Smart City Project, due to be completed in 2022, the Government has stated: Thanjavur wants to develop as a city with resilient infrastructure, with sustainable environment; it wants to be known as the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu and develop as a quaint tourist city set against the backdrop of  the Chola tradition to enhance tourism. The city therefore wants to promote its art and cultural festivals like the Thyagaraja Music festival, make public conveniences, create tourist information centres. It wants to develop a compact city form with mixed land use neighbourhoods. Building on traditional practices like refurbishing Kulams for groundwater recharge the city wants to extend its water supply coverage and ensure its monitoring.”

See plan here: Thanjavur_projects.pdf (niua.org)

It has been noted that the “increasingly fuzzy boundaries between cultural and economic activities means that cultural tourism is increasingly about jobs and income, and less about promotion of culture per se (Richards and Bonink, 1995). It cannot be discounted that the relationship between culture and tourism is symbiotic, clear economic benefits if done well.

Cultural tourists are usually perceived as “typically well educated, affluent and broadly travelled, and they generally represent a highly desirable type of upscale visitor (Holcomb, 1999).

Two years ago, R. Duraikannu, State Agriculture minister, had announced that 18 major works were to be taken up at a cost of Rs 454.80 crore under the Smart city scheme . Besides improving infrastructure and other facilities, Thanjavur old town was to be developed into a city that “would provide smart solutions for the needs of the people.”

Works to be taken up include improving underground drainage at a cost of  93.68 crore, Rajappa park and clock tower in it at a cost of 4 crore, Sivaganga park at a cost of 8.10 crore, old bus stand at a cost of Rs 14.88 crore, Thiruvaiyaru bus stand (stand from where buses going for Thiruvaiyaru start) at a cost of Rs 13.85 crore, placing solar panels on government buildings at a cost of Rs 2.21 crore, improving Kamaraj market at a cost of Rs 17.47 crore, Serfoji market at a cost of `14.59 crore, among others. All the works were expected to be completed by 2021, but the pandemic has delayed work.

Clash between old and new

City Planners will have to work with archeologists before creating new structures in traditional towns like Thanjavur and Thiruvaiyaru. For instance, heritage workers protested the construction of a mall and parking lot near the the Brihadeshwara temple, an ancient Chola temple in Thanjavur.

S.Udhaya Shankar, president of Great Cholas Historical Research Group, told a local newspaper that after digging, they could see floorins over red granite rocks. “This might be the outer fort wall of the moat built during the reign of Cholas. So immediate action needs to be taken to stop the work which may overshadow our rich heritage. Proper research of the area should be done by the Archaeological Department.”

 

The Great Cholas Historical research group has sent mail to Collector and ASI officials to take immediate action.

  1. Deivanayagam, former professor and founder of Department of Architecture, Tamil University, adds, ‘the digging was done by heavy machinery. The entire Thanjavur fort area is a heritage zone. So there should not be any new construction. Preservation and restoration is only allowed. The building work may even affect the Big Temple as its balance may be affected by digging deep near the temple. Proper awareness should be created among all involved in the work. A ‘smart city’ need not stand on the ruins of our rich heritage which is the main identity of Thanjavur.’

Civic planners and some locals have said that, “infrastructure development was also important as much of the economic activity revolves around tourism potential of the town.”

They said that the proposed parking lot and the mall would definitely reduce the pressure on the tourists vehicle parking lot that exists right opposite to the UNESCO structure and help relocate roadside vendors occupying the platforms in the vicinity of the Big Temple complex.

Thirvaiyaru’s Tourist potential

Thiruvaiyaru attracts visitors during the Aradhana, but also at other times, to the house where Thyagaraja lived as well as to his samadhi.

The town is also home to the Siva temple dedicated to Aiyarappar or Panchanatheeswar.   A.V. Muthukumaraswamy Sivam. belonging to a family of priests hailing from the temple town of Vaitheeswaran Koil recounts the tale of Lord Panchanatheeswarar (Sri Iyyarappar) of Thiruvaiyaru conducting the marriage of Nandhi and Suyasambigai at Thirumazhappadi (a nearby place) on the “Punarpoosam” day of the Tamil month of Panguni. He selected the following places to arrange things required for the marriage.

  1. Thiruvedhikkudi to get the Vedic Brahmins,
  2. Thiruppazhanam to get fruits,
  3. Thiruchotruthurai to arrange food,
  4. Thirukkandiyur for Kandi (ornaments),
  5. Thiruppoonthuruthi for fruits and garlands, and
  6. Thiruneithanam (Thillai sthanam) to get ghee for yagnas.

After the marriage, it is believed that Lord Panchanatheeswarar and Goddess Dharmasamvardhani visited each of these places in a palanquin. This event is celebrated as “Sapthasthanam”.

Sapthasthanam (seven places) festival is celebrated in Thiruvaiyaru on the “Visakam” day (the day after the full moon) in the Tamil month of Chithirai (Apr-May) every year.

“First palanquin (bedecked with mirrors) carrying the principal deities of Thiruvaiyaru go to the second temple in procession. Idols of Nandhi along with his wife Suyasambigai also join this procession. The deities of the second temple receive them at the border of the village. After reaching the second temple and performing certain poojas, they join the second temple’s palanquin to the third temple.  Like this, the palanquins from six places are joined together and they finally assemble in Thiru Neithanam temple. Thereafter, all the seven palanquins take part in a procession back to Thiruvaiyaryu.”

Thousands of people come from all over the country to witness this marvellous festival. The palanquins are paraded near the car stand (“Ther-adi”). Devotees also take part in the “Poochorithal” (flower festival) in which an idol offers flowers to the principal deities in the palanquins. After the Poochorithal, the palanquins leave for their respective temples.

The seven temples that are part of this Sapthasthanam festival are -

  1. Aiyarappar temple, Thiruvaiyaru,
  2. Apathsahayeswar Temple, Thirupazhanam
  3. Odhanavaneswarar Temple, Thiruchotruthurai,
  4. Vedapureeswarar Temple, Thiruvedhikudi,
  5. Kandeeswarar Temple, Thirukkandiyur,
  6. Pushpavananathar Temple, Thirupanthuruthi and
  7. Neyyadiappar Temple, Thiru Neithanam.

Thyagaraja's house in Thiruvaiyaru

Music Education in Thiruvaiyaru

There are two music schools in Thiruvaiyaru - The Government Music College and the Marabu Foundation. Dr Ramaa Kausalya founder of the Marabu Foundation was formerly principal of Thiruvaiyaru Music College.

The Central Government has plans to set up a music museum in Thiruvaiyaru to commemorate the musical traditions of the town.

With the Cauvery and music in full flow, it is time Thiruvaiyaru is fully fitted with modern sound systems, civic amenities, tourist help centers to promote and preserve music as well as drive tourism and the local economy.