Thyaga-Raja is our Raja

“Under present laws, copyright protection lasts
for a period of 60 years after the death of the artiste….there are no descendants of Thyagaraja who can
claim copyright” ….“what is happening is that music companies claiming
copyright over the compositions are foo­ling the public”….”What
they are doing is known as ‘copyfraud’”…..

Most of the North-South barriers have diluted over the past six decades. Food is the first thing to have been universalized, driven by truck drivers who primarily hail from the North (dhaba culture). Side by side, here in Mumbai you have the Udupi (idli-vada breakfast) culture and the Gujarati-Rajasthani thali culture. There are now many N-S marriages in our circle and we have even Bollywood spoofs about marriages (mostly super-caste though).

The most durable division seems to us is in classical music- Carnatic vs. North Indian. There are too many super-stars and their followers who believe in rigidity and purity (nothing wrong with passion though).

It is past time to create a Classical Music Hall of Fame and for the fans on both sides of the Vindhyas to acknowledge the masters (we use Vindhya figuratively, however as Prashanth Kamath reminds us, Northern Karnataka is a hub for Hindustani music and the home of another super-man Bhimsen Joshi, thanks Prashanth). And when they do that we expect Thyaga-Raja to be the first among equals (our opinion).

As far as the  music companies are concerned they cant be faulted for engaging in standard corporate thuggery, after all everybody else does it. Youtube merely wants to steer clear of any legal battles. It is the society of fans (and  there are millions of them) who need to engage and tell the corporates to back-off. It will be also a good idea to petition to our pitiful politicians to stop the squabbling and start something meaningful to emphasize public ownership of works of (classical) art.
Early mornings in Chennai or Hyderabad, along with the azaan call and
ringing of temple bells, amidst the aroma of steaming idlis and filter
coffee, the strains of a Thyagaraja kirtanai too will waft in the air.
But who owns Thyagaraja’s music? Big music labels claim it’s theirs and
music channels on YouTube that upload videos of Carnatic music concerts
face their wrath and an unequal battle.

Parivadini, a music channel that uplo­ads performances of Carnatic
classical music, including renditions of compositions of the legendary
Thyagaraja (1767-1847)—composer of over 24,000 songs of which about 700
are extant—is the most recent victim. It had, after taking permission of
the organisers and per­f­ormers, uploaded live webcasts of concerts of
Carnatic music where Thya­garaja’s com­positions were being sung. 

month, Parivadini got a notice of copyright infr­ingement from YouTube
for a recording it uploaded, as a music label claimed the Thyagaraja
composition (and not that particular recording—they claim, ludicrously,
ownership to the original composition itself) as their property. When
contacted, YouTube responded that when Parivadini submitted a counter
not­ification, the matter was probed and the video reinstated. 

“But it
is not just a one-off incident,” says Lalitharam Ram­achandran,
co-founder, Parivadini. “It’s a constant fight between YouTube music
channels like ours and music com­panies. And this case-to-case-based
sol­u­tion by YouTube is not a permanent one. For the channels it
becomes a nuisance.” ….

Adds Carnatic vocalist Sangeetha Siva­k­umar, “It
is sad that music labels make such claims. It shows their insensitivity
and lack of understanding of our art form.”

Musicians say the algorithm which YouTube uses to identify potential
infri­ngements needs to modified to make it sensitive to the demands and
intricacies of classical music. There should not be blanket application
of technology to all forms of music without understanding the nuances.
The continuing potency of ‘copyright claims’ vis-a-vis YouTube poses
problems, threatening the very survival of music channels. 

If they
rec­eive three copyright (CR) strikes, or three legal notices claiming
copyright vio­lations, the channel itself gets terminated. Even a single
CR strike leads to loss of access to several YouTube features. Of
course, when a channel faces a partial crackdown or a total blackout, it
is denied a fair opportunity to make money too. If copyright violation
claims go undisputed, the money goes to the labels. S.A. Karthik, a
Bangalore-based lawyer and a musician, finds it hard to believe that
anybody can claim copyright over the compositions of Thyagaraja, because
they are clearly in public domain.

Clearly, there is a need to distinguish between ground-level
copyright over com­positions and copyright over sound recordings
performed by artistes. Anybody who deals in a sound recording, the
rights to which have been acquired by a recording label, without the
latter’s permission, infringes the label’s copyright. 

But anybody who
wishes to perform the same composition as that of the recording can do
so without permission from the music label, as long as it is in public
domain. This is because there can be no copyright over such songs.
“Under present laws, copyright protection on a particular artwork lasts
for a period of 60 years after the death of the artiste. But in this
particular case, since there are no descendants of Thyagaraja who can
claim copyright, and he has been long dead, there can be absolutely no
claim of copyright on his songs,” says Shamnad Basheer, formerly with
Intellectual Pro­perty Law at the National University of Juridical

“But what is happening is that music companies claiming
copyright over the compositions are foo­ling the public,” he says. What
they are doing is known as ‘copyfraud’, where they lead the public into
believing that they are the true copyright holders of var­ious artworks,
and thus extract royalty from unsuspecting small channels.

This is not unique to classical music. A lot of collecting societies
(those who man­age the rights to music on behalf of labels) have been
doing this—they extract money from restaurants, clubs and so on,
claiming copyright over the music being played. 

Copyright lawyers say
the reason why it still continues is because big labels still haven’t
been confronted by an opponent strong enough for a bare-knuckle showdown
in court. “These are big com­panies with resources, unlike small music
channels like us, who often do not engage in fightback,” says

The need perhaps is for small cha­nnels to come together and fight as
a group. At stake is the survival of a relatively niche space like
Carnatic music on YouTube.

[ref. Wiki] Kakarla Tyagabrahmam (May 4, 1767 – January 6, 1847), colloquially known as Tyāgarāju or Tyāgayya in Telugu, Tyāgarājar in Tamil, was one of the greatest composers of Carnatic music or Indian classical music. 

He was a prolific composer and highly influential in the development of the classical music tradition. Tyagaraja composed thousands of devotional compositions, most in praise of Lord Rama, many of which remain popular today. Of special mention are five of his compositions called the Pancharatna Kirtis (English: “five gems”), which are often sung in programs in his honor.

Tyāgarāja began his musical training under Sonti Venkata Ramanayya,
a music scholar, at an early age. He regarded music as a way to
experience God’s love. His objective while practicing music was purely
devotional, as opposed to focusing on the technicalities of classical

He also showed a flair for composing music and, in his teens,
composed his first song, “Namo Namo Raghavayya”, in the Desika Todi ragam and inscribed it on the walls of the house.

After some years, Ramanayya invited Tyagaraja to perform at his house in Thanjavur. On that occasion, Tyagaraja sang Endaro Mahaanubhavulu, the fifth of the Pancharatna Kritis.
Pleased with Tyagaraja’s composition, Ramanayya informed the king of
Thanjavur of Tyagaraja’s genius. 

The king sent an invitation, along with
many rich gifts, inviting Tyagaraja to attend the royal court.
Tyagaraja, however, was not inclined towards a career at the court, and
rejected the invitation outright, composing another kriti, Nidhi Chala Sukhama (English: “Does wealth bring happiness?”) on this occasion.


Angered at Tyagaraja’s rejection of the royal offer, his brother threw the statues of Rama Tyagaraja used in his prayers into the nearby Kaveri river. Tyagaraja, unable to bear the separation with his Lord, went on pilgrimages to all the major temples in South India and composed many songs in praise of the deities of those temples.
It is said that a
major portion of his incomparable musical work was lost to the world
due to natural and man-made calamities. Usually Tyagaraja used to sing
his compositions sitting before deity manifestations of Lord Rama, and
his disciples noted down the details of his compositions on palm leaves.
After his death, these were in the hands of his disciples, then
families descending from the disciples. There was not a definitive
edition of Tyagaraja’s songs.

The songs he composed were widespread in their popularity. Musical experts such as Kancheepuram Nayana Pillai, Simizhi Sundaram Iyer
and Veenai Dhanammal saw the infinite possibilities for imaginative
music inherent in his compositions and they systematically notated the
songs available to them. Subsequently, indefatigable researchers like K.
V. Srinivasa Iyengar and Rangaramanuja Iyengar made an enormous effort
to contact various teachers and families who possessed the palm leaves.
K. V. Srinivasa Iyengar brought out Adi Sangita Ratnavali and Adi Tyagaraja Hridhayam (in three volumes). Rangaramanuja Iyengar published Kriti Mani Malai in two volumes.

Out of 24,000 songs said to have been composed by him, about 700 songs remain now. In addition to nearly 700 compositions (kritis), Tyagaraja composed two musical plays in Telugu, the Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and the Nauka Charitam. Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is in five acts with 45 kritis set in 28 ragas and 138 verses, in different metres in Telugu. Nauka Charitam is a shorter play in one act with 21 kritis set in 13 ragas
and 43 verses. The latter is the most popular of Tyagaraja’s operas,
and is a creation of the composer’s own imagination and has no basis in
the Bhagavata Purana.

Tyagaraja Aradhana, the commemorative music festival is held every year at Thiruvaiyaru
in the months of January to February in Tyagaraja’s honour. This is a
week-long festival of music where various Carnatic musicians from all
over the world converge at his resting place.
On the Pushya Bahula
thousands of people and hundreds of Carnatic musicians sing the five
Pancharatna Kritis in unison, with the accompaniment of a large bank of
accompanists on veenas, violins, flutes, nadasvarams, mridangams and ghatams.

A crater on the planet Mercury is named Tyagaraja.





Brown Pundits