Muthuswamy Dikshitar - The Prolific Composer

Written by J. Yogakirtana on 24 March 2019

Muthuswamy Dikshitar, the youngest of the Musical Trinity comprising of Saint Tyagaraja, Shyama Shastri and himself, was born on March 24th, 1776 in the town of Thiruvarur in Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu.

Dikshitar’s father, Ramaswami Dikshitar, was an eminent scholar, and it was under his tutelage that young Muthuswamy began his first training. Muthuswami's early education comprised of learning Sanskrit language, religious texts, and fundamental musical knowledge that was imparted to him by his father.

On the Banks of the Ganges

As Dikshitar reached his adolescence, he was sent away by his family to visit several religious shrines under the guidance of Sri Chidambaranatha Yogi to broaden his viewpoint and acquire in-depth musical knowledge. Muthuswami traveled extensively to northern parts of the subcontinent. He stayed at Kasi for eight years offering worship at the “Jeeva Samadhi” after his Guru passed away. His stay in Kasi gave Dikshitar the opportunity to absorb the holy city’s musical atmosphere -for it was here that he got introduced to the Dhrupad technique, the songs of Shri Tulsi Ramayana, and others poet-saints Surdas and Meera.

It was Sri Chidambaranatha Yogi, who gave the composer his “Deeksha” or inititation name - ‘Sri Chidananda Naathoham Iti’ after initiating him into Sri Vidya Upasana, while at Kasi.

He reveals this name in his kriti, ‘Sri Nathaadi Guruguho Jayati,’ said to be his first composition.

An Encounter with Divinity

Legend has it that, after his life in Kasi, Dikshitar travels down south. During his travels, as he was passing Thiruttani, he encounters an old man who puts a sweet in his mouth. Dikshitar immediately composes his first song “Sri Nathadi Guruguho Jayati Jayati”. Many believe that the old man was none other than Lord Muruga (the presiding deity of the temple at Thiruttani) himself. This marked the beginning of his career in music and he adopted the mudra Guruguha, one of the many names of Murugan, as his signature. Almost all compositions of Dikshitar are in Sanskrit.

The True Disciple

It is evident from the first composition that Dikshitar had extremely high regard and respect for his Guru.His first composition explains the qualities of an ideal “Guru” (Teacher) – how a guru is described in the Vedas/upanishads, what the guru does to the disciples, how a guru imparts knowledge etc.

There are multiple names of the guru in Sanskrit. But the word “Srinatha” is very significant and is derived from:

·         shree – the bestower of auspiciousness

         na – the one who dwells in the Naadhaa or Sound·         

         tha – the one who blocks ignorance

The impact that his Guru left on him can be found in Dikshitar’s compositions, ‘Jambupate’ (Yamunakalyani Raga, one of the Panchalinga kritis), and in ‘Gange mam pahi’ (Jhanjuti Raaga).

The Prolific Composer

Diskhitar is said to have composed almost 450 to 500 compositions, most of which are performed till this day at music concerts. Dikshitar travelled to many holy shrines throughout his life, and composed krithis on the deities and temples he visited. Each of his compositions is unique and brilliantly crafted. The compositions are known for the depth and soulfulness of the melody — his visions of some of the Ragas are still the final word on their structure. His songs also expound the history of the temple, and its background, thus preserving many customs followed in these old shrines. Another noticeable feature in his compositions are the proficient rhyming of lines in the lyrics.

Muthuswami also undertook the project of composing in all the 72 Melakartha Ragas. He was the pioneer in composing Samashti Charanam Krithis (songs in which the main stanza or pallavi is followed by only one stanza, unlike the conventional two)

Dikshitar was a master of not only Ragas but Talas as well  and is the only composer to have kritis in all the seven basic Talas of the Carnatic scheme.

Dikshitar was fond of composing groups of songs on the same unifying theme. Some of his popular Group Kritis include :

  • Kamalamba Navavarana Kritis
  • Nilotpalamba Kritis
  • Navagraha Kritis
  • Pancha Bhootha Kshetra Kritis
  • Tiruvarur Pancha Linga Kritis
  • Abhayamba Vibhakti Kritis

The Rainmaker - Raga Amrutavarshini

While visiting Ettayapuram, a small village in Tamil Nadu, the great composer was anguished to see the arid land and people facing severe drought. Moved by their plight, Dikshitar looked up to the sky and burst forth in praise of the goddess in Raga Amrutavarshini. He prayed to Goddess to bring rain and alleviate the plight of the people. When he sang the lines ‘Salilam Varshaya Varshaya’ (let the rain pour down), the sky opened and torrential rain poured forth to nearly flood the drought-hit village.

The Navagraha Krithis

According to legend, Diskhitar was desitned to make more miracles through his music.

Tambiappan, a disciple of Muttuswami Dikshitar was suffering from a stomach ailment and for long no medicines were able to cure him.Dikshitar inspecting his horoscope inferred that the planet Jupiter was in an unfavorable position and his ailment could be cured only by propitiating the planet god Brihaspate. As laymen would find these rituals complex he created the composition “Brihaspate” in the Raga Athana propitiating the planet, and asked his disciple to sing it for a week. As ordained, his ailment was cured. This incident provided the impetus for Dikshitar to compose kritis on all the Navagrahas (All 9 planets).

The Swansong

In the year 1834, the month of Aswija, on the Chaturdashi preceding Deepavali (21st October), Dikshitar felt his end was nearing. After yogic practices, he performed the Navavarna offering to the Goddess. After the rites, Dikshithar moved on to the hall and asked his disciples to sing kritis on Devi. They began singing “Meenakshi Me Mudam Dehi” in Raga Gamakakriya. While they were singing the Sahitya of the Anupallavi “Meena Lochani Pasha Mochani”, the great composer breathed his last.