My first experience of the Tyagaraja akhandam was in sometime in the early eighties. It was my first visit to Tiruvayyaru. The whole family had driven down and it was a really wonderful experience. I remember getting the autograph of Madurai Somu. The pen I handed him did not write and someone nearby prompted him to mention it in the autograph! He just gave a mischievous smile and signed the book. That evening we overheard that there was an akhandam going on in the residence of Tyagaraja at Tiruvarur and that several big guns were there including Semmangudi and Lalgudi Jayaraman.
So we immediately started driving towards Tiruvarur following the blue Fiat car of TN Krishnan himself! After some hiccups with the straw and grain dumped on the roads we reached just in time to see Semmangudi flanked by Lalgudi and TNK on both sides beginning the Pancharatna kritis. After Dudukugala Semmangudi started “Endaro” and was immediately stopped by Lalgudi who prompted Sadinchene. Semmangudi gave a wry smile and changed tune. A friend of my dad was convinced that it was a deliberate ‘attention seeking’ exercise by the old man 🙂
After the pancharatnams, the akhandam – continuous singing of Tyagaraja kritis, commenced. Tyagaraja akhandams generally do not allow for songs to be repeated. So you have someone sitting with a big notebook writing down the songs that have been sung. In the beginning when one’ repertoire is limited it may be difficult since many of the popular songs get sung. After about 10 pm when most have gone home, some of the seniors will get in to sing. Some of them had their classic favourites. Chingleput Ranganathan would sing Kalinaru in Kuntalavarali, Tiruvengadu Jayaraman, Dasharathe in Kokilapriya, Sirgazhi Jayaraman, Varashikhivahana in Supradeepam and Murthuvakkudi Gopu, Adikaadu bhajana in Yadukulakambhoji. My favourite akhandam moment was when I had gone to Purasaivakkam for the one conducted by Sadguru Sangeetha Samajam. TK Govinda Rao was singing and he quietly enquired “Vidhi sakradulaku aayidutthaa?” (Has Vidhi sakradulu been sung) I could see the twinkle in his eye and I was convinced that he knew no one would have sung that. After all it was TKG who had notated the song and published it in the first place!
I am happy to note that vidwans CA Rajasekar (CARVA) and Poongulam Subramaniam and others are continuing to conduct the Tyagaraja akhandams at the Ayodhya mandapam in West Mambalam. A couple of years back I got to go there and sing a few songs in the middle of the night. I missed it last year but managed to find time to go there again this year and one of the songs I sang was Vidhi sakradulaku!