Durmarga Chara

TyagarajaHow many of us have sold out on our principles for surviving or progressing at work? or in life? I admit having much to be shamed of in this respect. I am ashamed to remember not having demurred when colleagues at work have chosen an unacceptable short-cut. I am ashamed to remember being silent in social or family situations for fear of conflict. I am ashamed to remember bowing my head to people unworthy of being bowed to.  I am ashamed, yes. Yet I view my behaviour as being ‘practical’. I suspect that I am not alone in either having such secret stories of shame or in defending such action as being pragmatic.

It is my song choice of today, Durmarga Chara by Tyagaraja (1767-1847), which has set me thinking about ideology and practice. Is it true that while we ordinary mortals cede to such practicalities of life, the great ones do not do so? Is that what sets them apart, I wonder? Today’s song does speak of devotion, but it is more to do with the poet than the God he worships, and as such rather an unusual piece of poetry for Carnatic Music. So it interests me, this rare glimpse into the uncompromising mind-set of Tyagaraja.

Tyagaraja refused to acknowledge any man as his Lord, reserving that title for God alone. It is said that in 1802 King Sarabhoji sent for Tyagaraja after hearing of his musical prowess. In those days musicians performed in court singing in praise of the King in return for royal gifts of gold and land. Tyagaraja  refused the invitation saying that he was already singing in the court of his Lord Rama and would not sing for any mortal. Takes a bit of courage to stand up to a king like that!

Durmarga Chara is set to the very enjoyable raga Ranjani. ‘I cannot call those wicked people who tread the path of vice as my Lord’ says Tyagarja. He acknowledges only God as the provider of grain and wealth. ‘I cannot praise those vile people who barter their knowledge (for wealth) and offer it to degenerate men at court’.  For lyrics and translation, see footnote. To know more about this raga, click here.

After listening to thirty odd renditions, I could not go past Maharajapuram Santhanam’s excellent one from 1981. As it is quite long, I have divided it into two sections, the alapanai and the kriti; those with limited time have the option to listen only to the latter.

For an instrumental one, I have chosen below an expert performance by M.S.Gopalakrishnan with his daughter Dr.M.Narmadha.


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Telugu, transcribed below in  Devanagari script.

दुर्मार्ग चराधमुलनु दॊर नीवन जालरा

धर्मात्मक धन धान्यमु  दैवमु नीवै उण्डग

पलुकु बोटिनि सभलोन पतित मानवुल कोसगे
खलुल नॆच्चट पॊगडनि श्रीकर त्यागराज विनुत / वन्दित

Transliteration :

durmArga charAdhamulanu dora nIvana jAlarA

dharmAtmaka dhana dhAnyamu daivamu nIvai uNDaga

paluku bOTini sabhalOna patita mAvanavula kOsagE
khalula nechchaTa pogaDani shrIkara tyAgarAja vinuta / vandita

Translation :

I cannot call those wicked people who tread the path of vice as my Lord.

O embodiment of virtue! As you are the dispenser of wealth and food (I cannot call….)

I cannot praise those vile people who barter their knowledge (for wealth) and offer it to degenerate men at court. Tyagaraja praised you who are the provider of prosperity.



Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Telugu, M.Narmadha, M.S.Gopalakrishnan, Maharajapuram Santhanam, Tyagaraja

18 responses to “Durmarga Chara

  1. Seshu

    I like this raga..Thank u.

  2. Ramesh

    Beautiful Ragam. I love this song as well as Ranjani Niranjani. Again I wonder why such beautiful ragams have so few krithis.

    I have a peculiarity that some krithis I like to hear male voices and some female !! Not sure why. This one, I like the female version better – one of my favourite versions is by Priya sisters – them being Telugu speaking, they seem to sing it with a particular verve.

    • Hi Ramesh, Ranjani seems to evoke a response in a wide audience as many people have told me in the past that they enjoy it. Though there aren’t many kritis, it seems to be a popular choice in ragamalikas at the tail-end of RTPs. I am always on the lookout for that, just a few musical phrases and Ranjani weaves its magic!

      As to songs in male and female voices – absolutely! I too have my preferences on that front and for this song, it is the male voice I prefer 🙂

  3. sandhiya

    Hi Suja,
    Excellent work! I did want to mention that the rendering of Durmargachara by maestro T.N. Krishnan is very soulful…wondering if you might know where to find Lalgudi Jayaraman sir’s revathy thillana played by himself?
    Thank you

    • Hi Sandhiya, Thank you. I should listen to one of T.N.Krishnan’s rendition; I have heard it but not recently. Thank you for reminding me.
      As to Lalgudi’s Revati Thillana, which by the way I just adore and have plans for featuring in my blog soon, I have it in a three-CD set called Paddhati which I purchased quite a few years back. It is from a live recording. It includes a nice Ritigowla (Janani Ninnuvina), an excellend Hemavati, a detailed Mohanam rendition and a RTP in Nattakurinji. A strong recommendation for Lalgudi fans, for that matter all Carnatic Music fans. Cheers. Suja

  4. jay


    I was stunned when I read the first para. I am facing just such a (very difficult) situation in my work right now and I was just discussing it with a friend, when I happened to come to your blog and read your post. About the situation, I am in no mood to “bow” to someone who is unworthy as you put it, and it can have consequences which may make life difficult for me. This is perhaps the first time that I am facing such a level of intensity and high stakes. I was telling my friend that the situation is about three things:
    1. the question of principle
    2. the fight itself
    3. the fear of consequences and submitting/not submitting to the fear

    There is a fourth thing, which is that if one “wins”, the ego tends to take over very quickly and one risks becoming arrogant and taking on fights just for the “high” of it. That obviously is wrong, and spiritually destructive and we all have seen people like that too.

    Going by Tyagaraja’s example, I guess I should not lose too much in the long term? What do you think?

    Another thing is, this thing can get really ugly (already has to quite an extent), and its a hard thing to do the right thing and not getting carried away by the ego. Very unpleasant overall.

    • Hello again Jay, I am sorry to hear that you are in such a difficult situation at work. The question, as in most such cases, is between ideology and pragmatism. It is always very difficult to know what to do. On one side, looking at the practicalities, the consequences of action are such that one is between the devil and the deep blue sea; the known devil starts looking attractive as compared to the unknown depths of the sea. On the other side, looking at the ideology, the consequences of not acting can be as hard if submitting takes away our pride in ourselves, leaves our ego bruised, make nonsense of our principles. As I wrote, I have shamed myself many times in my life and it is a burden I carry on my soul. Which then is more important, the practical situation or the principle ? What action is for the greatest good of all the people involved, directly or indirectly ? Which action will you be able to live with? Will your action harm your opponent, and do you want the karma-phal of such action? When the questions are so difficult, my counsel would be to pray and listen for an answer. Life is so hard sometimes Jay! I hope you find a virtuous solution to your problem soon.
      Cheers. Suja

      • jay

        Thank you for the reply. What action I’ll be able to live with and whether i will harm my opponent, these are good questions. But so far it has felt like I didn’t have much choice and just had to do what I did. I don’t think I am doing anything wrong, but it’s simply disturbing because it is so hard to keep the ego out of such situations. The mind keeps thinking on and on about it and it is hard to be relaxed. I hope its over quickly.

    • Seshu

      You live what you believe and there no further rules for living.

  5. harish somayaji

    such a beautiful composition. thanks for this.

  6. Hari

    I just learned this song. Never thought about the song like this, it’s wonderful how you show these compositions in a new light.

    And this is just my love for the art speaking, but I love how you love Carnatic music so much! 😀

    • I am glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 How very lucky you are that you have the musical talent to learn and sing this! I am forever on the other side of the window, looking in! Yet it makes me more passionate about the music, not less so 🙂 Cheers. Suja

  7. R Parvathy Devi

    I was just watching a you tube video of a lec dem in RR Sabha by Mr. Lalitha Ram on Brahmasri Balakrishna Sastrigal especially with reference to his Tyagaraja Ramayanam. I came to your web site while searching for the lyrics and meaning of this song which Balakrishna Sastrigal has beautifully referred to while explaining Maricha’s thoughts when Ravana asks him to transform into a deer and lure Rama away. Though I have heard this song many times in concerts, never paid attention to its meaning. What a profound meaning this lovely song has!

    • Welcome to my blog Parvathy Devi! Indeed the lyrics of this song are thought provoking. I too used to listen to many performances without taking interest in the meaning. But when I did start looking into it, I started enjoying the music even more. That is when I started writing this blog, to share my marvel at how understanding the lyrics adds another dimension to the appreciation of music. Interesting to hear that this song was used to illustrate the state of mind of Maricha…..I should check out this lecture you mention..
      Cheers. Suja


    Without Mentioning the Legendary Madurai Mani Iyer, who popularized the Raga Ranjani, and the Kruthi, Durmagachara, this article would be incomplete. If you hear his rendering, all other renderings would be a distant second. I am telling this, with due respect to other artists.

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