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....

Muthuswami Dikshita

Dr. B. Rajani Kanta Rao

The unique feature of the 18th century of Christian Era is in the fact that in this century were born, within a span of thirteen years, three great composers of South India, namely Syama Sastri, Tyagaraju and Muthuswami (born respectively in the years 1762, 1767 and 1775) in the same village Tiruvarur, on the banks of the river Kaveri in the Tanjavur District of the present State of Tamil Nadu. They belong to the cotery of Indian music composers, technically called by musicologists (Lakshanakartas) of ancient India as “Vaggeyakara”–creators of both the literary and the musical structure of songs. The turn out of the creative work of these three composers can be compared to a reservoire vast in expanse channelised from a waterfall from a great height, connecting with immense resources of their own ingenuity, the flow of tradition foregoing to their times with the modern currents of the past two centuries. That is why even today, not a single South Indian music concert can be held, in which at least sixty per cent of its time is not devoted to the compositions of these savants. All the three belonged to Telugu Brahmin families of Andhra, but domiciled in Tamil country. Among them, Tyagaraju composed mostly in Telugu and a few in Sanskrit; Syama Sastri composed equal number in Telugu and Tamil and very few in Sanskrit, while Muthuswami composed mostly in Sanskrit and very few in Telugu. This eminent trio is, out of reverence, called the Trimurty or the Trinity of Karnataka music.

One who has been initiated into a systematic worship of Devi, the mother goddess according to what is called Srividya Upasana, is called a Dikshita. Muthuswami’s father Ramaswami, and all his sons are called Dikshitar, the ultimate ‘r’ being the honorific plural suffix, indicating that sometime or other every member in the family should undergo through the “Diksha” – initiation into Srividya.

Born on the 14th Lunar day preceding the Dipavali New Moon, as a result of prayers to Muthu Kumara deity of Vaidyanatha­kshetra and named after the deity, Muthuswami was initiated in the traditional methods of Sanskrit learning under the guidance of his father, Ramaswami Dikshita. Ramaswami was himself an erudite scholar and a composer of great eminence, having to his credit the creation of the Raga Hamsadhwani, which is the most popular Raga very frequently patronised both in the northern and the southern concerts. Muthuswami became accomplished in the Vedas. Sanskrit Grammar, Prosody, Astrology and Upanishadic philosophy, Aesthetics, Mantra Sastra and Yoga Sastra even before he passed his teens. After getting married, he was chosen by one Chidambaranatha Yogi as his disciple and initiated into the “Maha Mantra”. He accompanied his Guru to Varanasi and after a five year slay and penance, he is said to have attained the eight great Siddhis, and after attaining a mature knowledge in the Upanishadic philosophy, he returned home and performed Antar-Bahir Yagas.

When he was meditating in Tiruttani in the precincts of the temple of Subrahmanya, the Lord is said to have given him audience in the guise of a great saintly person and thrown sugar into his mouth, whereby the muse of poetry blessed him and he started composing. His first lyric came out in praise of Lord Subrahmanya. He composed eight lyrics in praise of the deity observing in each the Sanskrit case-endings (Vibhakti pratyaya) as stipulated in the tradition of Udaharana Prabandha. His first song “Srinatha guruguho jayati” came out in the Raga Malavagaula–which is the same as Bhairav of Hindustani tradition. And thereafter, “Guruguha” synonym for Lord Subrahmanya became an inevitable dedicatory symbol of Muthuswami’s lyrics, may it be in praise of any deity in the Indian Pantheon. He travelled throughout India, visited every temple–whether the presiding deity was Siva or Vishnu or Vinayaka, Kumara, or Sakti, and composed songs on all the deities in Sanskrit, each lyric having been dedicated toGuruguha, his primary worthy of worship.

There are certain groups of Kritis of Muthuswati, each depicting the praise of a particular deity. The group of Kritis in praise of sixteen various shrines situated in different places in India and dedicated to Vinayaka is called the Shodasa Ganapati Varga. The most famous Kriti among these is the one in the Raga Hamsadhwani – with the words “Vaataapi Ganapatim Bhaje-a-ham”. The same musical structure as that of the first line of this lyric is frequently heard in “Drut”, even in the Hindustan concerts of famous musicians like the late Amirkhan. “Uchchishta Ganapati” in the Raga Kasi Ramakriya, “Ganesa kumara” in Janjhooti, “Gananayakam” in Rudrapriya, “Pancha­matangamukha” in Malahari, “Sri Gananatham Bhajare” in Esa Manchari and “Sri Mahaganapati” in Gaula are some of the Kritis in this group.

Nava-aavarana Kritis is another group of nine Kritis, one such set having been composed in praise of Kamalambika, prominent mother deity of Tiruvarur, and another set in praise or Abhayambika. These temples have each nine Praakaaras encircling the sanctum sanctorum, and singing a Kriti in each Praakaara the devotee is expected to perform circumambulation and passing through all the nine compounds, having rendered each of the nine Kritis in a different Raga, he reaches the sanctum sanctorum to worship the deity.

Another group pertains to the Panchalinga Sthala Kritis. There are five famous Saivite shrines in South India, each called after each one of the five elements – Prithvilinga, Aapolinga, Tejolinga, Vaayulinga and Aakaashalinga. Yet another group of Kritis is in praise of Lord Siva (of Tiruvarur), better known as Tyagaraja and Panchanadiswara. His Kritis in praise of Siva include among other–Anandeswara, Siddheswara, Achaleswara, Hatakeswara, Valmikeswara, Matrubhuteswara, etc.

There are as many Kritis of Muthuswami Dikshita dedicated to Devi as there are Devimurtis spread all over India throughout the length and breadth, like Jalandhara Pitha Sthitha tthe Devi­murti presiding at Jullunder in Punjab), Kaamaakshi of Kanchi, Visaalaakshi of Kasi, Meenaakshi of Madurai, Brihannaayaki, Mahalakshmi, Marakatavalli, Varalakshmi, Saraswati, Durga, Nilotpala Nayika, etc.

The last but not the least to mention among these group Kritis is the group of Navagraha Kritis–in praise of the nine planets viz., Surya, Chandra, Angaraka, Budha, Brihaspati, Sukra, Sani, Rahu and Ketu, in the Ragas, Sourashtra, Asaveri, Surati Natakuranji, Athana, Farsj, Erukula Kambhoji, Ramakriya and Chamaram, respectively.

The lyric plus its music was termed as Dhruva Pada or the Prabandha, by the ancient Lakshanakartas. Bharata described various types of songs in his Dhruvadhyaya, Chando Vidhana, and Chando Vritta Vidhana. Pada and Prabandha and Kirtana were synonymous to indicate a song in the early ages, but later in the evolution of Karnataka music, the erotic song retained the title of Pada and the devotional song came to be called Kirtana or Samkirtana. Kirtanas and Samkirtanas have always God and the devotee’s appeal to his Lord or his praise of the Lord, for their theme. The musical structure of the Kirtana was more emotionally conceived and simple in its texture. But the credit for evolving the ‘Kriti’ form of song goes to the trinity of Karnataka music – Tyagaraju, Syama Sastri and Muthuswami Dikshita.

While the music was subservient to the lyric in Kirtanas, musical structure gained importance in the Kriti form and the lyric became sub-servient to the musical structure This has certainly enhanced the prestige of the musician among the musical intellectuals–since the Kriti tended to be an intellectual expansion of the Ragabhava, relegating emotional appeal to Kirtana and Padam.

A scholar has said that Tyagaraju, Muthuswami and Syama Sastri did the amplest justice to Bhava, Raga and Tala, each of these elements dominating in the work of each composer respecti­vely. There is more subjectivity in the compositions of Tyagaraju and Syama Sastri, while most of Muthuswami’s work is objective description of the deity concerned. In all his Kritis, there is an inbred thread of Advaitic philosophy, as propagated in the Upanishads. Glimpses of his knowledge in Astrology, his mastery of Mantra Sastra, and iconography can be gauged through his Kritis on various deities. His composition in the Raga Amrita­varshini is said to have caused rain, when he sang in a drought-­stricken village near Ettayapuram. He praises every deity according to the tenets of Sagunopasana (worshipping the concrete form) describing every detail in the form. The mental attitude of the composer is neutral in case of Dikshita, as far as emotional involvement is concerned, while in case of Tyagaraju it is an out and out subjective experience in which the composer is fully involved. Dikshita’s compositions exude a feeling of “Soharn Brahma”, that is, “I am the Creator.” As such, his Kritis are praises made with a detached mind. Everywhere can be noticed in his Kritis his control over the Sanskrit diction, in creating beautiful, long compounds blending malleably with the Ragabhava, and his mastery over the prosodical intricacies.

He composed Kritis in all the 72 Melakarta Ragas according to Venkatamakhi’s system, showing utmost facility in the “Prayoga” of such intricate Ragas consisting of Swaras having the so-called “Vivadi” relationship. I don’t like to call it Vivadidosha unlike some of the purist pandits, since great composers have purified those Ragas with their compositions and Prayogas. We come across at least 200 Ragas (both of Janaka and Janya variety put together) utilised by Muthuswami Dikshita in his compositions, with the difference that they carry the nomenclature as stipulated by the Venkatamakhi school of Chaturdandi Prakasika, (Kanakambari, etc.) while those used by Tyagaraju, Syama Sastri and other composers carry the other more prevalent nomenclature (Kanakaangi, etc.) as stipulated by Givinda school (of Samgraha choodamani).

He resuscitated the Prayogas in the Gita, Thaya and Prabandhas of his preceding age and incorporated most of them in his compositions, thereby establishing continuity of flow in the tradition of practical music. He could create living Raga forms of excellent appeal out of dry combinations of very meagre set of notes. To quote the late Sri T V. Subba Rao, his “Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charana have each a different Dhatu. His songs are fashioned somewhat on the archaic type like Gita and Prabandha with varied Khandas and Angas. Rhythmic variety is provided by quicker tempo in parts of the song. The Niyama of Yati and Praasa, however, as in the case of the typical Kirtana is scrupulously observed. His compositions are endowed with such excellences as “solkattu” Swaras (consonantal combinations indicating drummer’s rhythmic patterns) and with that musical and literary figure of speech known as “srotwana” and “gopuchchayati” where the Swaras and syllables are arranged in increasing or diminishing quantities.

His style of music is characterised by power. It is the Vainika’s style–manly and vigorous. Most of Muthuswami Dikshita’s compositions like the northern Khyals and the Southern Padas, and unlike the compositions of most other composers of the south, must be rendered in Vilambita Laya. In Vilambita Laya he employs slide and the continuous transition from note to note simultaneously so that the characteristic of the Karnataka style is admirably maintained. In the same Kriti “the mitras”, where the lyrical passages are to be rendered in double speed coming to the Vilambit Pallavi, provide immense aesthetic pleasure.

The unique distinction that the trinity of Karnataka music was provided with unlike most of their counterparts of previous generations was a very efficient batch of disciples and their successors, each one of them being able to see the bulk of the compositions in authentic musical notations of the composer preserved and passed on to posterity intact. Thus out of hundreds of Kritis of Muthuswami Dikshita, we have the fortune of listening to the authentic versions of at least 400 preserved and propagated through the successive generations of his disciples. We find his lyrics not only exemplifying each one of the 72 Melakartas but many Ragas of Vakrasanchara, and those of meagre sets of note combinations of the Shadava and the Audava variety.

The compositions of Muthuswami Dikshita are melodic tone poems presenting rich and gorgeously chiselled patterns of aesthetically the most balanced imagery of traditional architectural forms of the south.

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