Song of Surrender

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Who’s who in Indian classical music

By V Ramnarayan

Muttuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835)

Born on 24 March 1775 at Tiruvarur to Ramaswami Dikshitar and Subbamma, was the youngest of the three great composers hailing from his home town who went on to be celebrated as the Trinity of Carnatic music.

Named after the temple deity, Muttukumaraswamy of the Vaitheeswaran temple, Dikshitar had two younger brothers Baluswami and Chinnaswami and a sister Balambal.

Belonging to the priestly Dikshitar tradition, Muthuswami learnt Sanskrit, the Vedas, and other religious texts, and music from his father, who was an accomplished musician and composer, besides discharging administrative duties at the Tiruvarur temple.

While he was still in his teens, Muttuswami’s father sent him on a pilgrimage with Chidambaranatha Yogi, a wandering yogi, to learn both music and philosophy. The duo visited many places in north India before settling down for a long stay at Kasi. Dikshitar’s eclectic sweep of thought as reflected in his grand compositions was a result of the north Indian sojourn.

His five years at Kasi exposed Dikshitar to dhrupad, India’s ancient form of classical music. Many of his slow songs known for their grandeur and relatively straight notes show a remarkable resemblance to the dhrupad tradition.

A Srividya upasaka, or follower of the cult of devi worship, Dikshitar was a deeply religious person and mystic, who visited several temples and composed songs in praise of the deities there in a spontaneous expression of his devotion. Thus most of his compositions are marked by a deep sense of reverence and calm. Trained in veena playing, he developed a combination of the vocal and instrumental styles in his compositions—around 500 in number—marked by rich gamaka, a majestic gait, and a general preference for the chauka kala. He employed the signature Guruguha.

Muttuswami Dikshitar taught the four dance masters from Tanjavur who came to be known as the Tanjore Quartet. Dikshitar passed on to them the 72-mela-raga tradition of Venkatamakhi, which (unlike Tyagaraja), he followed. Sivanandam, Ponnayya, Chinnayya and Vadivelu were the star foursome who spread the Muttuswami Dikshitar legacy all over the south.

Evidently fond of Mayamalavagaula, Dikshitar composed several songs in such ragas. and ragas derived from it. Many of his songs were in Sanskrit, and were of the samashti charana variety, opening with a pallavi, eschewing the middle section or anupallavi, and ending in the samashti charana section. His songs can be divided into several groups, with the major Guruguha group including such sections as the Kamalamba Navavarna kritis and Navagraha kritis. He composed as many as 26 songs in praise of Vinayaka or Ganapati.

During his travels, Muttuswami Dikshitar was fascinated by the music of the British military band, which he heard at Madras, and inspired by them he created some 40 songs, of which 36 have survived as nottu swara sahitya. Some of the songs are set to familiar English numbers like God Save the King, but are odes to Hindu deities, including Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Some of these songs are taught as early lessons to students of Carnatic music.

Baluswami Dikshitar is credited with adapting the violin to Carnatic music, which was further popularised by Vadivelu. The descendants of Baluswami Dikshitar are said to be responsible for keeping alive the Dikshitar sishya parampara.

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