A Divine Form So Tasty!

Sri Tyagaraja Swamy is revered, even today, as Sadhguru. And it is not just because of his prodigious musical creativity or for being a great Rama Bhakta. He is a Sadhguru because, like all great gurus, he has shown boundless compassion without restriction (avyaaja karuna) and taught great spiritual truths in simple krithis. He taught them in such a way that even a lay person could understand easily and follow. We shall examine one such krithi in this essay - anuraagamu leni, composed in Saraswathi ragam and Rupaka talam.

anuragamu leni manasuna sujnaanamu raadu
ghanulaina antar jnaanulaku eruke gaani .. anuragamu leni ..
vaga vagagaa bhujiyinche vaaniki trupti yau reeti
saguna dhyaanamu paini soukhyamu tyagaraja nuta .. anuragamu leni ..
The literal meaning is like this:
Real knowledge (sujnaanamu) does not arise (raadu) in the mind (manasuna) which does not have love (anuragamu leni)
This is known (eruke) to great (ghanulaina) beings who achieved inner realization (antar jnaanulu)
Just like a fellow who eats a variety of items (vaga vaga) in a meal (bhujiyinche) is satisfied (trupti), such is the great pleasure (soukhyamu) to be gotten from meditating on (the Lord with) form (saguna dhyanamu).
At the outset, this sounds like a conundrum. Why is Tyagaraja advocating love? Isn't love a form of attachment? Isn't it binding and therefore, limiting?

All the great philosophies glorify the paramatma, the Universal Soul, as nameless, formless and characterless. "It" is beyond all bounds. The great Upanishads exhort the spiritual seeker to develop detachment (vairagya) to attain the inner realization (jnaana) that is liberation (moksha). So, it sounds like Tyagaraja is advising us to go in the opposite direction - why?
The answer lies in the very tasty and down-to-earth simile he uses in the charanam. For a seeker, trying to practice vairagya is like fasting. To paraphrase local idiom, it is like eating air. What sort of fulfillment does one experience by eating air? One has to eat something substantial to be fulfilled. If he eats a laddu, he says I've tasted sweetness. If he eats pulihora, he says I've tasted salt and sour. Yet, after such single item meals, some craving still remains, that he hasn't experienced other tastes.
Now, let us say, he is served a full meal with a dozen items, representing a variety of tastes - how does he feel? He is so completely satiated .. experiences trupti at such a level .. that no expression is sufficient to describe it.
Similarly, the seeker's mind is full of spiritual cravings. If you try to feed it with air, with the nameless and formless Paramatma - forget about achieving jnaana or moksha - it will just remain empty and will continue to crave this or that. Instead, firmly establish a (divine) form in your mind's eye and meditate upon it. Nurture your love towards it. Countless are the ways in which one can rejoice - you can chant the divine name - you can describe the divine form - you can sing the praises and glories. How wonderful this practice is! How satisfying! Such is the power of saguna dhyaana, worship of a form. Such is the power of love (anuraagamu).
Alright, we accept that love is powerful. It is one thing to say ‘love is one powerful method to realization’, and it is quite another matter to say ‘without love, there is no realization.’ Why does Tyagaraja proclaim so emphatically that love is a necessary condition to achieve realization? We only have to look up to Sri Adi Sankara for this answer. The greatest vedantin and proponent of advaita, not only composed prodigious amounts of devotional poetry, but also preached ‘bhaja govindam’ – the ultimate call to prayer and the substance of all Vedanta. Without devotion, people only get twisted up either in physical knots of yoga asanas or in the mental knots of logic, but do not advance even one inch in their spiritual sadhana.
Essentially, giving a form to the limitless divine helps the seeker to anchor the wandering mind. It is the right kind of attachment to the right kind of form - that is love, that is anuraagamu. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, in the modern times, taught the same approach of love and devotion, in the form of Divine Mother.