Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar- a life sketch
Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar ( 1775 (?) – 1835), one of the trinity of Carnatic Music, was a complete musician; a scholar and a Sadhaka, the one who attained his goal . The genius of Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar was that he was a remarkable synthesis of a versatile composer adept in several distinctive forms of music; of a towering scholar in Sanskrit, which adorned his music with grace, dignity and tranquility; and , of a Sadhaka steeped in devotion and good tradition (Sampradaya vit).
Each of his compositions is unique; brilliantly crafted and well chiseled work of intricate art. The most fascinating aspect of Sri Dikshitar’s songs is the grandeur and majesty of his music; the intellectually sublime lyrics; and, the overall tranquil joy.
There is hardly a composer comparable to Sri Dikshitar, in versatility, in enriching his work with such poetic imagery, technical sophistication; and, above all in permeating his compositions with soulful repose.
Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar was the son of Sri Ramaswami Dikshitar (1735 – 1817), a well-known scholar – composer- musician of his time.
Ramaswami Dikshitar is described as the son of Bhagirathyamma and Vekateshvara Dikshita, a Dravida Brahmin belonging to Auttara Kashyapa Gotra, Apastamba Sutra. Ramasvami Dikshita was born in the Saka-samvathsara 1657 (1735 AD) at Kanchipuram.
When he was of about seven years of age, his parents moved from Virachipuram (?) or Kanchipuram to Govindapuram, near Tanjavuru. In order to pursue his interest in music, Ramaswami Dikshita is said to have stayed as an Ante-vasin, a resident student, for a period of about two years, with the famous composer-musician of those times – Meratturu Veerabhadrayya of Tanjavuru; and , learnt Kritis composed by him in Rakthi and Desi Ragas. He also learnt to sing, with ease and understanding, the Svaras, Alapana, Pallavi and the Svara-kalpana.
Thereafter, he studied further under Venkata-Vaidyanatha Dikshita of Madhyarjuna (maternal-grandson of the Great Venkatamakhin). Here, for one year he learnt Veena; and, followed it up with the study of Venkatamakhin’s Chaturdandi Prakashika with its Raga, Upanga, Bhashanga Ragas, Gitas and Tala-lakshanas.
And, much later, at the instruction of his guru Yogi Chidambaranatha, Ramasvami Dikshita shifted his family from Govindapuram to Thiruvavur in the Tanjavuru district. He settled down in Tiruvavuru having gained reputation as a much learned scholar, composer and musician.
Ramaswami Dikshitar had to his credit a large number of Tana varnas, Pada varnas, Darus, Ragamalikas and Kirtanas. His Mudra, signature, was ‘Venkatakrishna‘.
[For details of the compositions credited to Sri Ramaswami Dikshitar, please check page 11 of Chapter Two of Dr. R K Dhanya ‘s research paper ]
His Ragamalika composed in 108 Ragas and set to different Taalas (Ashtottara Shatha Raga Taala Malika) was an outstanding composition, not merely for its sheer size but also for its melodic charm and rhythmic patterns; and , for deployment of some uncommon Ragas and Taalas.
Please click here for the available text of the Ashtottara Shatha Raga Taala Malika
The Raga- Tala- Malika, composed in the Telugu language, employs all the Ghana Ragas (Nata, Gaula, Varali, Shri and Arabhi), as also, many important Mela Ragas (e.g. Todi, Mayamalavagaula, Shankarabharana, Kalyani, Pantuvarali, and Gmakakriya).
In addition, many Upanga and Bhashanga Ragas are employed (e.g. Sama, Mohana, Manirangu, Bilahari, Saveri, Punnagavarali, Kuranji, Surati, Begada and Devagandhari). The Prati-madhyama Ragas used are Ramakriya, Kalyani, Saranga, Yaman and Gamakakriya.
Dr. Dhanya writes : The first 7 sections of this composition are in the Suladi sapta Taalas and the remaining in the I08 Taalas. Rare Taalas like Lali, Lakshana, Srimatkirti, Simhavikrama, Rarigalila, Kavilokita, Akshara, Kala and Sri are used in it. This is a rare composition in Carnatic music for its style, extent and virtuosity . But , unfortunately, its complete text is not available ; and, only 61 Ragas and Taalas now exist.
Two other remarkable creations of Sri Ramasvami Dikshitar are:
:- the Anuloma ‑ pratiloma- Daru composed in the rare Raga Ganga-tarangini, the lyrics (sahitya), of which can be read in normal order (anulomam}, as also in the reverse order (pratilomam); and, in either case it yields the same text.
:- a Svara-sthana-pada-Varna in Todi Raga, where its lyrics in Telugu skilfully uses only the seven of its letters: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma , Pa, Dha, and Ni. The Telugu words in the Sahitya of this Pada Varna are skilfully constructed using these seven letters. For instance; its Charanam reads:
marimari ganisaga nipani dagadani / maniganiga nimmanigada / mari ni pathama manigA marIniga\\
(Source; Grateful thanks to the scholar Shri P P Narayanaswami)
Sri Ramaswami Dikshitar also gained fame through his improvisations of the popular melody, the Raga Hamsadhvani. He is said to have composed a Lakshana Prabandha, in this Raga, beginning with the words ‘Chandaseya aurunda maladhara ‘ dedicated to Lord Nataraja of Chidambaram. This is said to be the very first composition set in Hamsadhvani
Sri Ramaswami Dikshitar , for a major part of his life, lived during the reign of Tulaja II , Amarasimha and the early Sarabhoji period. His other patrons were Manali Venkatakrishna Mudaliar and his son Chinnayya Mudaliar.
It was at Thiruvavur that Ramaswami Dikshitar, just past forty years of age; was blessed with a son ; who , it is generally beleived was born on March 25th, 1775 in the Manmatha year, Phalguna month , under the Krithika nakshatra , just as the annual Vasantotsava was being celebrated in the temple of Sri Tyagaraja Swamy and Sri Nilothpalambika.
Another version mentions that Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar could have been born between 9 A.M on 23rd March 1776 to 8 A.M. 24th March, Phalguna Masa, under Krittika star )
He named the baby boy as Muthuswami after his protecting deity Karthikeya. Following Muthuswamy, two sons – Chinnaswamy (formally – Venkata-vaidyanatha Sharma, named after his Guru) – (1778‑1823) and Baluswamy (formally Balakrisna Sarma) – (1786‑1859) ; and , a daughter – Balambika or Balambal – were born to Ramaswamy Dikshitar and Subbalakshmiammal . (According to some, Chinnaswamy and Balambal were twins)
[ for more details on family history : please check : http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/168455/8/08_chapter%202.pdf ]
[Unlike in the case of Sri Thyagaraja, the Shishya-paramapa (the line of disciples) of Sri Dikshitar was, mainly, his descendants. According to Dr. V. Raghavan, in his book entitled Muttuswami Dikshitar, published by the National Center for the Performing Arts, 1975 :
“The main line of Dikshitar’s pupils is represented by his own family. After Baluswami Dikshitar, there was the great Subbarama Dikshitar…. His son was Ambi Dikshitar (full name: Muttuswami Dikshitar) who succeeded him as court musician at Ettayapuram; and, stayed there for a long time. Late in life, he migrated to Madras where he lived for the rest of his life.
While in Madras he built a school around himself; and, it was the starting point of a strong and fruitful movement. The well-known Vedanta Bhagavatar of Kallidaikurichi, who also happened to live in Madras at that time, threw himself enthusiastically into this active propagation of Dikshitar Kritis.
There were two young Veena brothers of Tirunelveli, Anatakrishrna Iyer and Sundaram Iyer, who made copies of Dikshitar kritis from the manuscripts of Sri Ambi Dikshitar. These formed the basis on which they propagated Dikshitar kritis……
Of Dikshitar’s own direct line, Sri Ambi Dikshitar’s son Tiruvarur Baluswami Dikshitar is the present living representative. (Note: this article was written earlier to 1975)
It was mainly due to the devotion, dedication and efforts of Sri Ambi Dikshitar, while he was in Madras, the musical heritage of Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar came to be extended outside of the family.
In the early years, the disciples of Sri Ambi Dikshitar such as Smt. D.K.Pattammal and Justice T.L.Venkatrama Iyer did loyal service, with great enthusiasm, in popularizing the compositions of Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar.
Please also check this article.]
Apart from the traditional education in Veda and Vedangas, the boy Muthuswami received training in the lakshana and lakshya (theory and practice) aspects of Karnataka Samgita. The lakshana geethas and prabandhas of Venkatamakhin formed an important input of his training . He gained proficiency, in Veena and in vocal music as well.
He also gained training in Vyakarana (through a text named Kaumudi – it could be either Siddhānta-Kaumudī by Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita or its abridged version Laghu-kaumudi by his student Varadarāja), Kavya, Nataka, and Alamkara aspects of poetics.
By about the age of sixteen, Muthuswamy had gained familiarity with Jyothisha, Ayurveda and Tantra.
Muthuswami was a studious lad; rather absorbed in himself . Concerned with the boy’s detached attitude; his parents got him married at an early age. That didn’t seem to change the young man’s attitude; and, therefore he was married the second time.
At the invitation of Muddukrishna Mudaliyar, Zamindar and an art connoisseur, Ramaswami Dikshitar moved his family to Manali, a Zamindari near Madras. Muddukrishna Mudaliyar was a Dubash (interpreter) closely connected with the East India Company. He was succeeded by his son Venkatakrishna Mudaliar, who continued the patronage to the Dikshitar family.
Venkatakrishna Mudaliar (sometimes referred to as Chinnaswami) was also a Dubash of the East India Company; and , in that capacity he used to visit, quite often, Fort St George, the official seat of East India Company in South India. He would often take Muthuswami and his brothers to Fort St. George, to listen to ‘airs’- Western Music played by Irish men in the British band. It was here that Muthuswami Dikshitar gained familiarity with Western music.
It is said ; at the suggestion of Col. Browne who was in the service of the East India Company, Dikshitar composed the text in Sanskrit and Telugu for well known Western tunes. He also composed songs in Sanskrit and Telugu based on Western notes. The collection of these compositions , numbering about forty , later came to be known as “Nottuswara Sahithya“.
Another significant fallout of the Dikshitar family association with the court at the Fort St. George was that Baluswami, the younger brother of Muthuswami became fascinated by an instrument called Fiddle whose well tuned sounds seemed to approximate human voice. Baluswami learnt the Fiddle from an Irish musician; and, soon became quite an adept in playing Carnatic music over fiddle. And , thereafter the family wondered why it could not replace traditional Veena as the accompanying instrument. They tried it out ; and, it worked very well. Since then Fiddle (Violin) has become an indispensable accompaniment for a Carnatic music concert.
[ About his uncle Cinnasvami Dıksita and his adopted father Balasvami Dıksita, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar writes in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini:
38. Cinnasvami Dıksita (Venkata-vaidyanatha Sharma)
He was Muddusvami Dıksita’s brother. He was well educated in Sanskrit and Telugu. He was an expert in music. He was a great veena player. He was a great soul who possessed expertise in vocal as well as in instrumental music. He was felicitated in the courts of Manali Cinnaya Mudaliyar, and in the court of other kings.
He composed two krtis, on Narada. One was Ganalola karunalavala, in the Raga Todi; and, the other was Narayanananta in the Raga Kalyani. He went to Madurai along with his younger brother, and passed away in his forty-fifth year.
39. Balasvami Dıksita (Balakrsna Sarma)
He was born as the third son of Ramasvami Dıksita in the Saka year 1708 (1786 A.D) in the year of Parabhava, in Mithuna rasi, Asvinı naksatram and in Kanya lagnam. He was the younger brother of Muddusvami Dıksita. He was named Balakrsna Sarma. He was an expert in Telugu and very well versed in music. He was an expert in playing the instruments such as Veena, Svarabat, Fiddle, citar (sitar) and Mrdangam . He knew the intricacies of musical laksya and laksana.
Even when he was very young, Cinnaya Mudaliyar at first arranged for him to learn violin from an English man. He learnt western music as well as Hindu music for three years and played very well in front of Manali Mudaliyar and other music-lovers. During his childhood, one day in a gathering of Mudaliyar, Sonti Venkatasubbayya played the Gıta, and Taana in the Raga Takka, looked at the Mudaliyar and told him that that Raga is known only in their family. Immediately, the young Balasvami Dıksita looked at the Mudaliyar and told him that he was going to sing that Takka Raga Gıta; and, to listen. As he sang it as, Aramajju aparadha, he was felicitated with a pearl necklace and a pair of earrings.
Afterwards, he along with his intelligent brothers lived in Kanci and other holy places ; went to Tiruvarur; and lived there for some time. Then, with a disciple called Hari, who was with him since his childhood, and with his second older brother he went to Madurai and lived there for some time. When his brother passed away, he went to Setu with Hari and from there reached Ettayapuram and visited the Maharaja.
There, when he played Fiddle, the instrument that was new for those times, the Maharaja was very pleased and felicitated him greatly. He also recognized his talents in laksya and laksana, and his delicate playing on the Veena. The Maharaja also built a house for him, made him the court musician and got him married a second time.
The oldest son of the then Maharaja, Kumara Ettappa Maharaja (who was later coroneted) , learnt laksana and laksya of music from him. For the krtis he had composed in Sanskrit, in many Ragas following the patterns of Varnas, he (Balasvami) composed Muktayı svaras with intricate innovations, which pleased the Maharaja. Apart from that, he composed Kırtanas in Telugu on Srı Grdhracala Kartikeya in the Ragas Saranga, Darbar, Kannada and Rudrapriya.
With the permission of Kumara Ettappa Maharaja, who was well versed in astrology, he took me under his wings as his grandson, and initiated me to Brahmopadesa, taught me Veena and educated me in musical laksya and laksanas. He composed an Atta tala Varna in the Raga Naata, and made every Svara in that Tana Varna shine magically and in the last four Avarta Svaras he embedded the four Jatıs, one in each of the Avarta. After hearing this Tana Varna, the Maharaja felicitated him with a pair of todas (bangles), which were valued at one thousand gold coins and which were adorned with rubies and the face of lion. He also presented him with a pair of valuable (shawls) cloths. He also rewarded the disciples who sang the Varna.
After that Maharaja, his brother was crowned; and, he too learnt music from him. He composed Darus on Venkatesvara Ettappa Maharaja, who was the embodiment of music, in the Ragas Rudrapriya, Darbar and Vasanta, with Muktayi svaras with paatava. After listening to them, the Maharaja felicitated him by presenting him with two shawls and thousand gold coins for each Daru. He used to sing Gıtagovinda (Astapadi) ; and chant the name of God on every ekadasi day without fail. As the days passed thus, in the Saka ´ year 1931 (1859 A.D) in Pingala year and on Kumbha Rasi, Shukla trtıya day, he attained the heavenly abode.
Balasvami Dıksita adopted his youngest daughter’s son – Subbarama Dikshita , the author of the monumental Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini.
Sri Subbarama Dikshita writes about himself:
72 . Subbarama Dıksita
With the name ‘Balasubrahmanya Sarma’, I am the adopted son of Balasvami Dıksiita, the youngest brother of Muddusvami Dıksita. Balasvami Dıksita’s youngest daughter’s name was Annapurniamma. Her husband was Sivaramayya who belonged to Bharadvaja Gotra, and Drahyayana Sutra. They had two sons. Ramaswami Ayya, who was their first son, was very talented in music and Veena was felicitated by kings and attained heavenly abode at the age of 45. And, Ramasvami Ayya had two sons, Veena Cinnasvami; and, the other was the third principal of the Maharaja’s High School and musical connoisseur, Venkatarama.
I was born as the second son (of Sivaramayya and Annapurniamma) in Tiruvarur in the Saka year 1761 (1839 A.D.) during the year of Vilambi, Tula Rasi, and Hasta Nakshatra.
When I was five years old, Balasvami Dıksita took me to Ettayapuram, and got me tutored in Sanskrit, Telugu, and music. At that time, Jagadvıra Rama Kumara Ettappa Maharaja, who was very well versed in astrology, summoned the great astrologers, and studied my horoscope. He looked at Balasvami Dıksita, and told him, “The bearer of this horoscope is the son to all the three of you. So, adopt him. He will be famous like Dıksita.” Just as his command, my maternal grandfather, Balasvami Dıksita adopted me during Plavanga year, Makara Rasi; and , initiated me into Brahmopadesa and Srı Vidya-upadesa. I learnt the sciences of epics and drama, great epics like Manu Caritra and Vasu Caritram, Grammar, and poetic meters from Vilattikolam Krsnayamatya, who was a great Sanskrit and Telugu scholar. I not only learnt Veena from my father, but also learnt in detail the secrets (intricacies) of laksya and laksana of music. ]
[Please also read the analysis , made by Sri Vishnu Vasudev, of the life of Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar based on his biography by Justice T.L. Venkatarama Aiyer, in a series of posts (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4)]
When Muthuswami was about 25 years of age, he accompanied his family guru Yogi Chidambaranatha to Varanasi, in obedience of the guru’s wish. Muthuswami’s wives too followed their husband. Muthuswami spent seven fruitful years in Kashi. Those were his most wonderful and educative years ; and , left a lasting influence on his life and works. A whole new world opened to Muthuswami at Kashi. During this period, Dikshitar acquired a wealth of knowledge under yogi’s tutelage. The yogi taught him Advaita Siddhantha, Tantra; and , also initiated him into Sri Vidya Upasana.
[ It is said; upon his initiation into Sri Vidya Upasana , Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar was assigned the ordained name ‘Chidananda-natha‘.
In the Pallavi of his first Kriti ‘, ‘Sri Nathaadi Guruguho Jayati,’ he refers to himself by his Diksha-name (rahasya-nama) as : ‘Sri Chidananda Naathoham iti’- श्री चिदानन्द नाथोऽहमिति.
The noted scholar , Dr. V Raghavan , in his Sanskrit Mahakavya devoted to Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar (chapter 8) mentions : “dadau yathavad vara sakta-deekshaam sakam Chidaananda rahasya-namna.”]
During these years, while in Kashi, Dikshitar visited several holy places in the Himalayan region – such as , Badrinath, Kedarnath and Pashupathinath; and , worshiped the deities in those shrines.
During his stay at Varanasi, Muthuswamy Dikshitar had splendid opportunities to listen to Hindustani music in its pristine forms. He seemed to have been greatly impressed by the ancient Drupad form of singing and of playing the string instruments; particularly by its elaboration of Raga (Aalap), the measured tempo and the structure of the lyrics. This had a profound influence on his creative genius; and, apparently on his portrayal of Ragas in general ; and, in transforming the Hindustani Ragas into their Carnatic form, in particular.
[ It is said that while in Varanasi , Sri Dikshitar stayed with his Guru Sri Chidambaranatha yogi in a house situated in one of the lanes near Hanuman Ghat. Attached to the house is the temple of Sri Chakra Lingeshwara worshiped by Sri Dikshitar and his Guru. The temple had fallen into ruins for many years. In the year 1936, when Kanchi Kamakoti Maha Periyava Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal visited Varanasi , he identified this temple and arranged for its restoration. Thereafter. Sri T M Arunachala Sastrigal of Tanjore and his descendants devoted themselves for the worship and maintenance of the temple.
The remarkable feature of the Sri Chakra Lingeshwara is that the Linga is embedded with Sri Yantra.
Next to the Linga is the image of Sri Dakshinamuthi swaroopa Ardhanarishwara worshiped by Sri Dikshitar.
The image panel on the temple wall includes a portrait of Sri Dikshitar.
[Source : I gratefully acknowledge the web-page of Dr Meera Rajaram Pranesh at
At the end of the seven years, Yogi Chidambaranatha advised Muthuswami to return to South; and, to commence his music and spiritual career with the worship of Karthikeya on the hills of Tiruthani. Soon after that, the Yogi attained his Samadhi. Dikshitar performed the final rites of his departed guru and left Varanasi.
Yogi Sri Chidambaranatha’s Samadhi is located within the temple near Hanuman Ghat on the banks of the Ganga.
The family at Manali, in the meanwhile, had fallen on bad days. The life there was becoming increasingly difficult ; and, Ramaswami Dikshitar too was in poor health. The family therefore, decided to return to Thiruvarur. After making arrangements for the family’s return to Thiruvarur, Muthuswami headed straight to Tiruthani as ordained by his Guru.
It is said; immediately after being blessed by the Lord there , Dikshitar started composing kritis. The first kriti he composed was Srinathadi Guruguho jayathi in Raga Mayamalava-gaula. His first group of kritis called Guruguha vibhakti krithis were also composed in Tiruthani. It was here that Dikshitar became a proper Vak-geya Kara, the composer who sets his lyrics to music. The Mudra, his signature to his creations was Guruguha, which approximates to ” the Guru dwelling in the cave of my heart”. Dikshitar was then around 33 years of age.
[ Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD) is an encyclopedic work, written in Sanskrit, covering a wide range of subjects. Its Chapter Three: Prakirnaka: deals with topics such as: Guna–Dosha (merits and de-merits) of Vak-geya-kara (composers who set songs to music). The text grades the composers (Vak-geya-kara) into three classes. According to its classification, the lowest is the lyricist; the second is one who sets to tune the songs written by others; and, the highest is one who is the Dhatu Mathu Kriyakari – who writes the lyrics (Mathu), sets them to music (Dhatu) and ably presents (Kriyakari) his compositions.
Sri Dikshitar was indeed an Uttama-Vak-geya-kara of the highest order.]
On his way back home to Thiruvarur, Dikshitar stayed for sometime with a Yogi , Sri Ramachandra Saraswathi, popularly known as Upanishad Brahmendra who lived and taught in Kancipuram.
[Incidentally, Sri Upanishad Brahmendra was also an early teacher of Sri Tyagaraja , the great composer musician.]
During his stay in Kanchipuram, Dikshitar set to music “Rama Ashtapadhi” a collection of stanzas composed by Sri Upanishad Brahmendra. Dikshitar returned to Thiruvarur in the year 1809. The Ashtapadi , sadly , is no longer available.
The years at Thiruvarur were very productive. Here, Dikshitar composed sixteen Kritis on the various attributes of Ganesha; eleven Kritis of Navavarana group on Sri Kamalamba; and, a set of Kritis on Thygaraja and Nilothpalambika the presiding deities of the town. The Nilothpalambika set of krithis enlivened certain rare Ragas like Narayanagowla that were almost fading away.
Three years after Muthuswami returned to Thiruvarur (1814), his father Ramaswami Dikshitar, at the age of eighty-two, passed away in Saka-Dhatu-Nama- samvathsara 1739 (1817 AD) in Magha-masa on the auspicious Shiva-rathri night.
Further, it was becoming increasingly difficult to carry on life at Thiruvarur. The Dikshitar brothers , therefore , decided to move to Tanjavur in search of a living. Tanjavur, in those days, was relatively peaceful, secure ; and, was a center for culture and learning, while most of the Southern regions was under the threat of the Sultan.
[ It is said that at Thanjavur, the Dikshitar-brothers met Sri Shyama Sastry, another of the Trinity; and, the four , together, composed/completed a Varnam. It is said ; that the Chowka Varna, ‘Sami ninne kori‘, in Sriranjini Raga composed by Sri Ramaswamy Dikshitar, had only one Svara passage. And, to that Sri Shyama Sastry added by composing the second chararna-svara; while Sri Chinnaswami Dikshitar added the third charana-svara; and, Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar contributed the fourth. (please check page 47 of Justice venkatarama Aiyar’s biography of Sri Dikshitar)
The association of Sri Shyama Sastri and Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar in Thanjavur is indeed one of the most fascinating aspects in the history of South Indian Music. ]
At Thanjavur, the Dikshitar-brothers , in order to earn a living, began to accept students interested in learning music. They were then approached by one Mahadeva Annavi (Subbarayan), a Veena player and a dance-master (Nattuvanar) to teach his sons. His four sons who became disciples of Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar and propagated his musical compositions – Chinnaiah Pillai (1802-1856); Ponnayya Pillai (1804-1864); Sivanandam Pillai(1808-1863) and the legendary Vadivelu Pillai (1810-1845) – gained great fame as Thanjavur Quartet. Of these , Chinnaiah and Sivanandam were Bharatha_natyam masters and composers of some popular Tana Varnams, Pada Varnams, and Thillanas etc.
They were the pioneers of the Bharatanatyam Margam as we know it today. This Margam includes Alarippu, Jathiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam, Padam/Javali, Tillana and Shloka. Many of these dance items were composed specially by Ponnaiya Pillai, As he was a musician, the names for the dance items follow their musical forms.
Chinnaiah , the eldest of the four, was a great teacher of dance; and, he later moved to the Mysore court of Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1794-1868) who was a great patron of art and literature ; and , who was himself a poet and an author of many works . Some of Chinnaiah’s compositions are dedicated to Wodeyar. He also wrote a Telugu work called Abhinaya Lakshanamu, a version of the reworked Sanskrit text Abhinayadarpana of Nandikeshvara .
Ponnaiah was a composer of great merit. Several of his kritis , including Ambaneelambari’ (Neelambari), ‘Satileni’ (Poorvikalyani) and Tillanas as also other Nrtta compositions (Jatisvarams and Thillanas), are popular among musicians even to this day.
During their stay at King Serfoji’s Durbar in Tanjavur, they brought into use western musical instruments such as violin and clarinet , as an accompaniments for Carnatic music and performance of dance. Sivanandam , in particular, is credited with introducing the clarinet to Carnatic music.
Vadivelu Pillai, the youngest, was a virtual genius , praised by Dikshitar as eka-sandhi-grahi , one who grasps immediately after just one listening. Vadivelu contributed significantly to Dance also. The great Tyagaraja too admired Vadivelu’s musical skills. A Lutheran German protestant missionary Frederick Schwartz is said to have taught violin to Vedanayagam Shastriyar; and, he, in turn, taught the instrument to Vadivelu. Thereafter, Vadivelu popularized violin among the Carnatic musicians. He soon became a favorite of Swathi Thirunal Maharaja who appointed him his Court Musician. It is said ; in 1834, Swati Thirunal Maharaja gifted him a rare Violin made of ivory (which is now said to be placed in the Quartet’s ancestral home at 1818, West Main Street, Behind Brihadeswara Temple). Both these geniuses, sadly , died at their young age – Swati Thirunal at 34; and, Vadivelu at 35.
The brothers propagated the famed Pandanallur style of Bharata Natyam. The renowned Nattuvanar Sri Meenakshisundaram Pillai descended from the Thanjavur Quartet.
They were the first to formalize the performance pattern of Bharatanatyam, and codify lessons called Adavus (basic steps and the different categories of rhythm patterns) required for the same. They were the ones to plan and set the order of the different items of the repertoire in performance. The order they set is as follows.
Melaprapti, alarippu, jatiswaram, sabdam, swarajati, chaukavarnam, ragamalika, padam, javali, and tillana.
They also composed several pieces for each category set to different ragas and talas (rhythm structure). The compositions were in Telugu, their mother tongue, and they addressed their family deities, Sri Brihadisvara and Brihannayaki, as well as the kings and ministers who patronized them and also the different deities whom they worshipped during their travels. All of these were presented by them in the performing art tradition, earning wide fame and reputation. They were invited by the royal patrons of Thiruvananthapuram and Mysore, as sitting doyens of art, to spread the art in those regions, while the king also popularized it by arranging performances in all the temples.
Sri Dikshitar during his stay in Thanjavur composed a number of Samasti Charana Kirtanas.
[A kriti generally follows a certain structure: Pallavi the opening passage of two lines is followed by Anupallavi. Raga is introduced with the cyclical rendition and improvisation of Pallavi and Anupallavi. The body of the kriti is its Charanas. Each Charana usually has four lines. The final Charana contains the Mudra or the signature of the composer.
However, certain kritis of Dikshitar have only two segments Pallavi and Anupallavi, where the latter acts as the Charana. Such kritis are called Samasti Charana Kritis. They perhaps represent a stage in the evolution of the kriti format. E.g.Anandamritakarshini (Amritavarshini); Hari Yuavatheem Haimavathim (Hemavathi) etc.]
Dikshitar brothers stayed in Thanjavur for about three years (about 1817 -1820).
Baluswamy who was proficient in Veena, Swarbat, Sitar and Mridangam, along with his brother Chinnaswami joined the court of Venkateshwara Eddappa I [1761 – 1839] the Raja of Ettayapuram (Tirunelveli district) , as Asthana Vidwans of Ettayapuram Samsthanam.
Soon after that, Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar too left Tanjavur; and, he went on a virtual pilgrimage visiting a number of temples; and composing kritis in honor of the deities he visited. In a way of speaking, his life was a long pilgrimage.
Years later, Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar also settled down in Ettayapuram at the request of the king. A few years later , Dikshitar’s both wives passed away. Some sources mention that Dikshitar had a daughter and she lived in Tiruchirapalli; but, not much is known about her.
Dikshitar comes through as a very astute scholar-devotee, a Sadhaka. He was a viraktha, unattached to possessions, to places or to emotions. He was voluntarily poor and accepted his poverty with equanimity. He did not seek favor or patronage from anyone. He was an intense devotee ; but, was undemonstrative. In his compositions, you never find despondency, helplessness or begging for divine grace or intervention. There is certain composure, measured grace, dignity and a mellow joy in his works as in his life. He was solely devoted to Sri Vidya Upasana and to his music which was his medium of self-expression. His works exude serene contemplation and soulful joy.
It was on Naraka Chaturdasi ,the fourteenth day of the lunar calendar, in the month of Ashwija, the day preceding Deepavali (October 18th, 1835), Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar performed Parva Mandala puja to Devi and sang Ehi Annapurne (Punnagavarali). This was Sri Dikshitar’s last composition. Thereafter, he asked his disciples to sing Meenakshi mey mudam dehi (Purvi Kalyani) . When they sang the Anupallavi , he asked them to repeat the phrases Meena lochani pasha mochini. As they were singing, Muthuswami Dikshitar uttered “Shive pahi, Shive pahi, Shive pahi” and breathed his last , like a true yogi.
Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar had been yearning for Videha Mukthi. For instance; in the Kriti Sri Rajarajesvarim (Madhyamavati), he requests the Mother to protect him by granting the Videha-mukthi [videha kaivalyam aasu ehi dehi mam pahi – विदेह कैवल्यं आशु एहि देहि मां पाहि] ] . He beseeches the Divine Mother repeatedly and addresses her as the one who grants Videha mukthi (Mamaka videha mukthi sadanam– Ranganayakam-Nayaki); the bestower of videha mukthi (vikalebara kaivalya danaya-Guruguhaya-Sama); and , at times, he feels he is nearing videha mukthi (Videha kaivalyam yami-Tyagaraje-Saranga).
Videha mukthi is a concept of the later Advaita schools. It believes, one can attain liberation (moksha) from attachments even while still encased in a body. Such an attained one is a Jivan Muktha. The body continues to function till its Prarabdha Karma is exhausted; thereafter, the mortal coils fall away. Videha mukthi , that is to say , is shedding off the body by a Jivan muktha, the one who has already attained liberation.
In the Sri Vidya tradition, a jivan muktha is a devotee, a Bhaktha as well as a Jnani the wise one. Here, the wisdom consists in realizing his identity (sva svarupa prapti) with the Mother goddess. It is this wisdom that liberates him (jivan Mukthi). This liberating wisdom is granted to him by the Mother out of pure love, when he completely surrenders to Her in absolute faith and loving devotion.
Jivanmukthi, emancipation while yet alive, is also a concept of the Tantra Siddantha which believes that it is possible for a person to transact with the world without getting involved in it. In other words; one lives on actively and cheerfully, amidst distractions and confusions of the world without letting his self reflect them. His moorings in the phenomenal world have withered away; and, his instinct of self-preservation and insecurity has minimized. He is alive only to essential thing , the very source of life. The real world continues to exist for him; but, he does not rest in the world; instead, he rests in himself (Svarupa pratishta). Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar, either way, was a jivan Muktha.
The king and Baluswami Dikshitar performed the last rites of the departed genius. The Samadhi of Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar is at Ettayapuram; but, it appears to be in a rather poor condition. In a petition submitted to Shri. Abdul Kalam then president of India, the petitioners submitted
“It is the fervent desire of all music lovers as well as all lovers of Indian culture across the world that this Samadhi be declared as a heritage site and treated as a National Monument, ideally with a beautiful museum. We are extremely concerned that there has been a move made to demolish this important cultural and artistic memorial.”
Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar was a many splendored genius. He redefined the paradigm of Carnatic music. Each of his compositions exemplifies the essence of Raga Bhava and captures the depth and soulfulness of the melody. His vision of some of the Ragas and their structure is sublime. He achieved what the revered Venkatamakhi, at one time, thought was not possible; he gave form and substance to all the 72 Melakarta-ragas. Besides, he breathed life into several ancient Ragas that were fading away from memory. His compositions are crisp and well chiseled. His Sanskrit is delightfully captivating. His synthesis of Carnatic and Hindustani Music systems is creative and original. His kritis replete with soothing, graceful Sanskrit lyrics, many with winsome Samashti Charanams, comparable to the Dhrupad stanzas, occupy an exclusive niche in the world of Indian Music. The technical sophistication, intellectual brilliance and the majesty of his music is unsurpassed. Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar is indeed a crest jewel of Indian music and spirituality.
Continued in Part Two:
Sri Dikshitar and Western Music
Map: courtesy of http://www.carnatica.net/special/md-kshetra-ii.htm
I gratefully acknowledge Shri S Rajam’s paintings of Shri Dikshitar’s life-events
All other pictures are from Internet