THE FERTILE REGION watered by the Kaveri river and its four tributaries is known as Tiruvaiyaru, the sacred (Biro) land of five (i) rivers (arc). For nearly 2,000 years the Tamil people have regarded the Kaveri as the sacred source of life, religion and culture. As a result, many scholars, artists, poets and musicians settled in this region, under the enlightened patronage of the rulers of Thanjavur . Among them was Thyagaraja  the greatest composer-saint of Carnatic music. The history of this small town is thus deeply linked with the growth and development of South Indian classical music.

The little Thyagaraja Temple, in the town, was built to commemorate the last resting place of the celebrated composer-saint. A musical festival is held here every year on the anniversary of his death, which falls, according to the Tamil calendar, in January. Hundreds of musicians and students of Carnatic music gather in the town and sing Thyagaraja’s songs from morning till midnight for a whole week.

As dawn breaks over the river, a procession of musicians makes the short journey from Thyagaraja’s house to the temple, singing continuously all the way. Music lovers wait eagerly at the shrine, seated on the mud floor of the thatch-roofed auditorium. To the sacred chants of priests, the stone image of Thyagaraja is ritually bathed with milk, rosewater, sandalwood and honey. The five songs known as the pancha ratna (“five gems”) of Thyagaraja, which are considered unequalled masterpieces of Carnatic music, are sung in a grand chorus by all the assembled musicians. This ceremony is an annual reaffirmation of devotion to the composer and to a great tradition of music. For music lovers from all over India, it can be a magical experience.

Also in the town is the 9thcentury Panchanandishyara Temple (“Lord of the Five Rivers”), built by the Cholas. Dedicated to Shiva, the shrines of Uttara (north) Kailasha and Dakshina (south) Kailasha, on either side of the main temple, were built by the wives of Rajaraja I and Rajendra. The temple’s huge prakara (boundary) walls, pillared mandapas and the Mukti Mandapa are immortalized in the songs of the Nayannars, a sect of 7thcentury poet-saints.

ENVIRONS: Pulainangai village, 12 kms (7 miles) northeast of Tiruvaiyaru, is noted for the Brahmapurlshvara Temple, dating to the 10th century. The temple features elegant depictions of various gods and goddesses.

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