Carnatic Music Vol 01-షణ్ముఖప్రియ

Muthusvami Dikshitar



Experience leads to knowledge
Knowledge leads to perfection
Perfection leads to the Absolute
The Absolute leads to God



The Ladies of Prya  ஹரிப்ரியா


Aakati Vellala – Misrajoj – Adi – Annamacharya
Deva Deva -Mayamalava Gowla – Rupakam – Swathi Thirunal
Kamalamba – Anandabhairavi – Misrachapu – Dikshitar
Koluvaiyunnade=Devagandhari – Adi – Thyagaraja
Koovi Azhaithal – Valaji – Adi – Vaali
Maa Ramanan – Hindolam – Rupakam – Papanasam Sivan
Pakkala Nilabadi – Kharaharapriya – Misrachapu – Thyagaraja
Tatagat-Tumbin-(Bhajan) – Yamakalyani – Adi – Traditional


On Muthuswamy Dikshithar

(Govindhapuram, a village near Thiruvidaimarudhur
25th March, 1776  To 18th October, 1835)

The Cavery delta, peaceful and prosperous one under the administration of the enlightened Maratha kings of Tanjore, saw a huge influx consequent to  political upheaval in the surrounding areas during the year 1742.  Dikshithar ancestors too migrated at that time to the State of Tanjore and settled down in a village called Govindapuram. Ramaswamy Dikshithar, father of Muthuswami Dikshithar was 7 years old at that time. Ramaswamy Dikshithar grew up to become a great musician, believed that no music could be perfect unless it was based on a firm foundation of theory.

Muthuswami acquired profound scholarship in the ancient sastras. His father gave him intense training in the ‘lakshya’ and ‘lakshana’ aspects of Carnatic music. The lakshana geethas and prabandhas of Venkatamukhi formed an important part of the training. Raga Hamsadhwani is the creation of Ramaswamy Dikshithar. In fact, his compositions would have received far greater recognition and wider popularity had his son Muthuswami Dikshithar not overshadowed him.

Ramaswamy Dikshithar, father of Muthuswami,  was childless till his 40th year. In the month of Phalguna, the  annual Vasantotsava time  in the Thyagarajaswami temple, a baby boy was born to him, and he was named Muthuswami, after God Kartikeya. Later on, two more sons – Chinnaswamy and Baluswamy and a daughter Balambika – were also born to Ramaswamy Dikshithar.

Muthuswamy’s exposure to the East India Company at Madras and  visits to Fort St George gave him  several opportunities to listen to Western music. On the suggestion of Col Browne of the East India Company, Dikshitar composed the text in Sanskrit for English tunes. A far more important benefit that accrued from the association of the Dikshithar family with Western music was the adoption of the violin as a regular concert instrument. Muthuswami, his father and brothers, often listened to the orchestral music played by the band and were deeply impressed by the important role assigned to the violin in the concert. They wondered why the violin could not replace the veena as an accompanying instrument.

Since Muthuswami had already taken to the veena, his brother Baluswamy started  learning  violin under  an European tutor. Before long Baluswamy acquired such mastery over the instrument that he accompanied Muthuswami in a veena concert. What began as an experiment soon became a permanent feature of Carnatic music concerts.

Muthuswami, along with his two wives, went to Kasi with Chidambaranatha Yogi. He was about 24 years age at that time. Muthuswami lived  for about six years in Kasi. This was the most significant period in molding  the personality of Muthuswami Dikshitar, in whom we find. a synthesis of Veda, Purana, Alankara, Jyotisha, Agama, Yoga, Mantra, and Tantra, which are abundantly reflected in his compositions.

His exposure to Hindustani music during this period, had a profound influence on his creative genius which becomes apparent not only in his handling of the Hindustani ragas, but also in the portrayal of ragas in general. He composed a number of kirtanas in Yamuna Kalyani (Yaman of Hindustani music) and among them special mention is to be made of the kirtana Jambupathe mam pahi, for its  richness of ragabhava and grandeur. Parmala Ranganatham in Hamir Kalyani brings out the salient features of the raga as delineated in Hindustani music. Chetha Sri Balakrishnam in Dwijavanthi portrays the raga in all its varied hues.

While bathing in Ganga, before returning from Kasi, Chidambaranatha Yogi told Dikshithar to go  three steps down in the Ganga and tell him what takes place. Dikshithar did as was told and to his great surprise, a Veena with the word Rama inscribed on it drifted into his hands,  a gift from Ganga Devi.

Muthuswami Dikshithar is a prolific composer. His compositions consist mainly of kirtanas . Besides, there are five ragamalikas, a pada varna and a daru. Dikshitar’s compositions are mostly in Sanskrit. A few of them are what are known as Manipravala compositions. The most outstanding feature of his compositions is their rich ragabhava. If a composition is hummed, leaving out the sahitya, it can easily be mistaken for a ragalapana. His kirtanas can be described as ragalapana dressed in sahitya and artistically accommodated in the framework of tala.

For  many old ragas such as Mangala Kaisiki, Narayana Gaula and Gopika Vasantha, we have to fall back on Dikshitar’s compositions to understand the lakshana aspects. There are again ragas like Saranga Nata, Chhaya Gaula, Mahuri and Kumudakriya which have been handled only by Dikshithar.

His kirtanas are  slow in tempo, ideally suited for the portrayal of ragas. The veena, his favorite instrument, is the best suited to bring out the gamakas. Accordingly, rich usage of gamaka is another outstanding feature of Dikshitar’s compositions.

Through Navagraha Kirtanas, devoted to the nine planets to propitiate the Navagraha through music, Dikshithar has shown the way to earn the divine grace of the Navagrahas through music as an alternative to the age-old mode of tantric worship.

The most famous Navavarna kirtanas based on the adoration of Sakthi  through the worship of Sri Chakra. These compositions are called Kamalamba Navavarna Kirtanas, even though they are devoted to the worship of Sri Chakra. This is because Dikshitar identified the Supreme Mother with Kamalamba, the consort of the presiding deity of Tiruvarur. The Navagraha Kirtanas and the Navavarna kirtanas are his famous group compositions.

In the month of Aswija, on the Chaturdashi preceding Deepavali, Muthuswami Dikshithar  after yogic practices  performed Navavarna pooja to the Devi (Godess) and sang  Ehi Annapoorne. After the pooja Dikshithar moved on to the hall  where, while his disciples at his request were singing Meena lochani Pasha mochani, he passed off peacefully to eternity.


Not often do you encounter personalities who create classic works of art that survive beyond their lifetime.

It is even less often that a composer creates such a classic that integrates history, tradition and musical sophistry in a complex and intriguing portrait.

It is even less often that we encounter a composer creating a group of such classics in a premeditated planned manner that integrates so many elements of culture, yet showing a thread of continuity between the individual classics.

The Pancha bhuta stala krits of the revered composer Muthusvami Dikshitar are a stunning example of such a portrayal of the stalapuranas of five distinct temples located miles apart from one another in South India, primarily in the Tamil speaking region.

Each phrase in each of these classics has a story to tell; this feature limits itself to a very brief introduction to each of the kritis and the reference to the five elements.

In his classic chintaya maakanda, Dikshitar venerates Shiva as Somaskanda (as the trinity of Shiva, Uma and Skanda) enshrined in Kanchipuram. Indeed, the juxtaposition of the Kumarakottam temple in the space between the Ekamranatha and the Kamakshi temples is a spatial illustration of the concept of Somaskanda. It is a known fact that none of the Shiva temples in Kanchi has a shrine dedicated to the mother Goddess. A Somaskanda panel adorns the sancta in a representation of Shakti united with Shiva along with Skanda. It is in Kanchi that Shiva is venerated as a representation of the element earth, that constitutes one of the five bhutas or elements that is vital to creation. It is in this composition that Dikshitar venerates the beauty of the image of Shiva in the form of Shiva, with a beautiful smile and a brilliance that shadows Kama the lord of Love. The raga mudra is brought out with the phrase ‘bhairavi prasangam’ in the madhyama kala phrases of the composition as is the phrase prithvi lingam.

The kriti Sri Kalahastisa in the raga useni is an offering to the veneration of Shiva as ‘Vayu lingam’ and an acknowledgement of the element ‘air’ as one of the five elements that constitutes life. Shiva’s consort here is Jnanaprasunambika and the shrine at Kalahasti is considered to be on par with Kailasha (one of the most revered places of worship in the Saiva tradition). The reference to the element air comes in the form of sameeraadhaara (the basis of the element air). The kriti also draws attention to the stalapurana that celebrates Kannappa Nayanar’s devotion to Shiva. The reference to Shiva as a personification of nothing other than true bliss (sat chit anandam) is a theme that occurs both in the prithvi linga kriti as well as in sri Kalahastisa.

Arunachala Natham is a classic that at once invokes a sense of majesty associated with the shrine at Tiruvannamalai. Shiva is venerated as the Lord of Apitakuchamba (Unna mulaiyaal). smaraNAt kaivalya (i.e. access to liberation from the cycle of birth and death upon meditating upon Tiruvannamalai) is a phrase that marks the beginning of the anupallavi of the kriti. Again the phrase ‘chidanandam’ makes an appearance in this kriti. Shiva is referred to as ‘Tejomaya lingam’ (a fiery Shivalingam as symbolified by the hill and by the annual kartikai deepam that is lit at the culmination of the bhrahmotsavam atop the hill) and the raga mudra ‘sarangam’ appears in the phrase ‘kara dhrita sarangam’ referring to the deer adorning Shiva’s arm.

Jambu Pate is a classic in the raga Yamuna Kalyani and it has reference to the water bodies such as Yamnua, Ganga, Kaveri, the ocean and it venerates Shiva as pancha bhuta maya prapancha prabhu. It also refers to the legend of the elephant that renders the name Tiruvaanaikkaval to the town, through the phrase ‘saamajaatavi’. Again, Shiva is referred to as the personification of true bliss (nijaananda).

The fifth in the series of these kritis is Ananda Natana Prakasam in the raga kedaram. Set at a leisurely pace (as are the rest of the kritis), this kriti in a seven beat cycle salutes the brilliance of the cosmic dance of the Universe and the cosmic dancer Shiva, the Lord of the chit sabha. Needless to say, the theme of supreme bliss occurs right away as the opening phrase of the kriti extoling the glory of the hoary temple at Chidambaram. It is in this kriti that an explicit reference to the non dual nature of existence (advaita pratipaadyam) occurs, although this nature of being has been implicitly referred to in the other kritis. The phrase daharaakaasam refers  to the fifth element aakaasha or space.

Listening to a dignified rendition of these kritis is a profound experience, especially if one keeps in mind the significance behind the traditions associated with the five temples that have survived the test of time, a one of a kind grouping of monuments that are linked in so many different ways not seen elsewhere in the world.

The author Kanniks Kannikeswaran is scheduled to present ‘Nottusvara Sahityas of Muthusvami Dikshitar’ – a lecture demonstration at the Music Academy, Chennai during this music season.

(Please see also :

(Co-authored by KAROL)


About RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

Ram51 is a researcher in the various fields of Musicology, Philosophy and History as well as old languages. One of his first topics is the wide scope of Indo-arabic cultures as represented in various art-forms religion and history. Below a list of selected Research topics which sum up partitionally the task of anthropological Frameworks in totaliter : Sanskrit Hinduism and Mythology Hindustani Music, The Muqhal Empire Gharanas from North India Kashmir Sufiyana The Kashmir Santoor Traditional Folk Music from USA Philosophy in Orient and Okzident Genealogy of musical instruments Ethnomusicology, Arabic Maqams, No Theatre fromJapan, North american poetry, Cultural heritage of mankind and Islamic architecture... View all posts by RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

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