Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Musical Compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar on Planets

Prof. Gowri Kuppuswamy and Dr. M. Hariharan


The second half of the 18th century witnessed a remarkable renaissance in the realm of Carnatic music. During this period were born the three great composers–Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syamasastri–collectively known as the Trinity of caratic music. They were outstanding both for their musical excellence and devotional fervour. While Thyagaraja voiced forth different aspects of our philosophy, Bhakti alone is the keynote of the songs of the other two composers. Dikshitar’s compositions have both a popular and a learned phase.

Among the Trinity, Dikshitar is best known for his group Kritis. Group Kritis are sets of compositions either on a particular deity or on related themes. Each set consists of 5 or 9 songs. Dikshitar’s Panchalinga Kritis, as the name itself implies, consists of a set of five compositions. According to Saivaite tradition, Lord Siva manifests himself in the form of 5 Bhutas or elements–Apah (Water), Vayu (Wind), The jo (Fire), Prithvi (Earth) and Akasa (Sky) – in the five Kshetras of Jambukesvaram, Kalahasti, Tiruvannamalai, Conjeevaram and Chidambaram respectively. The Panchalinga Kritis are on these five incarnations of Lord Siva.

All other group Kritis of Dikshitar invariably consist of groups of nine compositions. Each set is on a particular deity like Lord Subrahmanya, Madhuramba, Kamalamba or Abhayamba. They are basrd on the extra-musical concept of Vibhakti or case, a grammatical construction. Each song of these sets belongs to one of the nine Vibhaktis–nominative, accusative, etc. In the case of the Kamalamba and Abhayamba group Kritis, one can see Dikshitar’s extraordinary skill and talent in our Mantric and Tantric doctrines. In South India, in the tradition expounded by Bhaskararaya, Sri Vidya had been practised as a Sadhanamarga for salvation by the Advaitins. Dikshitar has based his Kamalamba and Abhayamba Kritis on Bhaskararaya’s precepts.

The last set of Dikshitar’s group Kritis–the Navagraha Kritis–are also nine in number, but they are not on some deity nor are they based on the Vibhakti principle. The Navagraha Kritis are on the nine Planets or Grahas–Sun (Surya), Moon (Chandra), Mars (Kuja), Mercury (Budha), Jupiter (Guru), Venus (Sukra), Saturn (Sani) and the two Chaya (Shadow) Grahas Rahu and Kethu. Dikshitar has composed this set of his group Kritis on the purely musical basis of one Suladi Sapta Tala (Dhruva Mathya, Rupaka, Jhampa, Triputa, Ata and Eka) for each of the first seven Navagraha Kritis on the seven Grahas other than the Chayagrahas. The composition of the Navagraha Kritis on the basis of Talas is particularly appropriate because Tala is a time measure and in astrology periods of time have vital significance in the context of the influence of different planets on man’s fortunes. According to astrology each Graha determines the destiny of man during its dasa which in each case extends over a definite period of time (number of years). Tala, also being a time measure can spell the vicissitudes of time during which the planets hold sway over man’s fortunes.

The division of the octave into 12 units was used by all the ancient nations of the world and is known as the premordial division of the octave. The Zodiac also has 12 divisions which corresponds to the 12 divisions of the octave and astrology has come in handy to explain the intervals of the octave and the effects produced by the Swaras. The seven planets represent the seven Swaras and the 12 divisions of the Zodiac are distributed among the 7 planets corresponding to the distribution of the 12 divisions of the octave among the 7 Swaras. Among the 7 planets the Sun and the Moon have each one of the divisions of the Zodiac corresponding to Sa and Pa in the musical octave. The remaining 5 planets have each two divisions as is the case with the remaining 5 Swaras in the musical scale. In astrology these divisions are called houses (Mesha, Rishabha, etc.) belonging to the planets. In this way one can readily see the connection between music and astrology. This coincidence between the divisions of the Zodiac and the divisions of the octave serves as the best means to explain the musical scales on a mathematical basis. The major planet being the Sun and the Moon, the basic note Sa is assigned to the prime planet, Sun, and Pa, the second important note of the octave to the Moon. The remaining 5 swaras are assigned in the following order, Ri to Budha, Gato Sani, Ma to Sukra, Dha to Kuja and Ni to Guru. Next to Sa and Pa, the most important Swara is Ma and it is noteworthy that this Swara is ascribed to Sukra, one of whose important portfolios is music itself.

Dikshitar’s Navagraha Kritis are not based on phrase borrowed from the Navagraha Stotras and Kavachas contained in our epics and Puranas. They are original poetic compositions Mantrasastra is an esoteric lore but its benefits can be derived even by the common devotee if the lore consists of ordinary hymns and songs. All the Navagraha Kritis of Dikshitar are easily accessible versions of Mantric and Tantric Sastras as they pertain to the different Grahas. For the lay public they form effective prayers to the different Grahas calculated to earn their grace.

The first composition in the group, “Suryamurthe” on the Sun is in Saurashtra Raga and Dhruva Tala. This Raga is a Sampurna Raga in Dikshitar’s school, fit to be sung at all times. It is a Janya of Mayamalavagaula, the first Raga practised by musicians. The Tala is the first among the Suladi Sapta Talas and has the highest number of Aksharakalas. The words “Saurashtrena mantratmane” denotes that the Sun is the Adhipati for Saurashtra Mantra and in this way, incidentally, the name of the Raga has also been skillfully woven into the text of the Sahityas. The Uttaranga delineates Vira Rasa and the Purvanga Bhakti Rasa. The phrase ‘namostute’comes in descending order from Madhyasthasthayi to Mandrasthayi, reflecting the obeisance of the singer to the Sun.

The second composition “Chandram bhaja “ on the Moon who is the Lord of mind, is set to Asaveri Raga and Mathya Tala, the second among the Suladi Sapta Talas. Asaveri is a very soft Rakti Raga portraying Karuna Rasa and is eminently suited to the hymn on the Moon.

The third song, ‘Angarakam’ on Kuja is set toSurati Raga and Rupaka Tala, the third among the Suladi Sapta Talas. In spite of the phrase “Mangalavaram” “Angarakam asrayamyaham”, Mangalavaram is really not considered auspicious. Again Surati Raga is sung for Mangalam; still nobody teaches this Raga directly to the students and in this way this Raga is also Amangala. The selection of this Raga which is at once Mangala and Amangala for a song on this Graha which is also Mangala and Amangala the same time is a masterstroke of Dikshitar’s genius. Unlike other Suladi Sapta Talas, Rupaka Tala begins with dhrutam followed by laghu. The use of this time beat with inauspicious vilakshana for the composition on this Amangala Graha also bears eloquent testimony to Dikshitar’s skill and imagination as a composer.

The next song “Budham asrayami”on Budha is set to Natakuranji Raga and Jhampa Tala, the fourth of the Suladi Talas. This Kriti contains soft tender words like “Kamaniyatara mithuna kanyadhipam madhura kavitapradam,”etc., and the mood of the Rakti Raga Natakuranji admirably suits the diction.

The fifth song in the group, “Brihaspathe” on Guru is set to Athana Raga and Triputa Tala, the next Tala in the Suladi Sapta Tala series. Astrologically Guru is considered a very beneficial planet capable of getting rid of all Doshas and ending all miseries. While Athana itself means getting free from imprisonment or in other words getting rid of the fetters of Samsara. This Raga portrays Adbhuta and Vira Rasas. The choice of this Raga admirably suits singing such Sahitya phrases as Mahabalavibho gishpathe, jagatrayaguro, niramayaya, etc.

The next song in the series, “Sukra bhagavantam” on Sukra itself contains many astrological terms. Actually Sukra is Rakshasaguru accepted as one of the Navagrahas. This song is set to Pharaz, a Desiya Rakti Raga and Ata Tala, the sixth Suladi Sapta Tala. In fact Pharaz is a foreign Raga adopted to the Carnatic music fold. It is highly appropriate that Dikshitar has used this Raga for his song on this Graha who is the Rakshasa guru and also the Karaka for Kalatra, marital happiness and last but not the least, for musical abilities.

The seventh song is “Divakaratanujam”on Sani, the universally feared Graha. It is set to Yadukulakambhoji Raga and Eka Tala, the last (seventh) of the Suladi Sapta Talas. Yadukulakam bhoji is common in the folk music of most countries. Songs in this Raga are invariably sung in Vilamba Kala or slow tempo and its mood also fits in well with the notoriously slow movements of this Graha.

The last two Grahas, Rahu and Ketu, are different from the other seven in that they are minor planets or Chayagrahas as is evident from the fact that unlike the others, these two Grahas do not have any days of the week named after them (Bhanuvara, Somavara, Mangalavara, Budhavara, Guruvara, Sukravara and Sanivara). It is believed that these two Chayagrahas do not have any individual status of their own but share the same body Dikshitar has chosen different categories of Ragas and a Vilakshana Tala for his compositions on these Grahas to pin point this variation in their nature. The songs “Smaramyaham”on Rahu and “Mahasuram”on Ketu are set to two Pratimadhyama Ragas in contrast to the compositions on the other seven Grahas which are all in Suddhamadhyama Ragas. “Smaramyaham” is in Ramamanohari (Ramapriya) Raga and “Mahasuram” is in Chamaram (Shanmukhapriya) Raga. Pratimadhyama Ragas do not belong to the ancient group of Ragas; they have come into vogue only in comparatively recent times. Again the Tala of both these compositions is Rupaka which is the Vilakshana Tala in the Suladi Sapta Talas series (also used for the Navagraha Kritis on Mangala). The genius of Dikshitar as a composer lies in the fact that he has effectively brought out the difference of the two Chayagrahas from the rest by adopting Pratimadhyama Ragas and the Vilakshana Tala for his compositions on these two Grahas.

It can thus be seen Muthuswami Dikshitar has not only takenpains to choose appropriate Ragas for his compositions on each of the nine Grahas but also used all the Suladi Sapta Talas enumerated in the famous Tala aphorism for his Navagraha Kritis. The adoption of this Tala principle for this set of group Kritis bears testimony to his outstanding abilities in music and unparalleled gifts as a composer. A noteworthy feature or interesting coincidence is that the sum total of the Aksharas of all the Talas used in these Kritis is 81,which is a multiple of 9, the number of all the Grahas.

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