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Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar - an introduction

This (Aippasi) is an improtant month for the Carnatic music lovers. As per  the Tamil calender, Naraka chaturdasi which is celebrated as  Deepavali falls in this month.  According to the Puranas,  Narakasura was killed by Sri Krishna on this day and it is also  on this day that the King Mahabali's ego was shattered by Sri Vamana murthi, in  Trivikrama avatara. It  has other Puranic backgrounds as well.   Generally, it is considered symbolic of victory of Understanding over Ignorance or Good over evil. Sri Ramana composed a small poem on the significance of Deepavali with an import that it is relinquishing the “I am the body” idea.


Now, what is the connection between Deepavali and carnatic music? Yes, it is on this sacred day in the year 1835, that Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar, the youngest of the trinities of carnatic music, gave up his physical body and merged with the Nada Brahman, listening  to his disciples reciting  “Meena lochani pasa mosani”,  the anu pallavi lines of his Meenakshi memudham kriti in the raga Gamakakriya.  For such highly evolved beings, it must have been more difficult to hold on to the physical body than give it up. He lived for 60  eventful and productive years with the aim to help and guide people to get rooted in Bhakti as an end in itself with dispassion (vairagya) and discrimination (Viveka) and he did this using music as a tool. This was probably his main aim. The 500 odd Kritis composed by him in various ragas have been the secondary aim of this musical genius and for this the entire  music world is for ever indebted to him. Can any one think of carnatic music bereft of the kritis of the Tritnities?

In the sahityas, apart from Bhakti,  Sri Dikshitar packs a mine of information about the various Godheads, temples, sthala puranas (Puranic sotries associated with temples), Ithihasas, Puranas Vedic and Upanishadic truths, astrlogy, mantra and tantra sastras and much more. There is a seamless transition from Sagunopasana (worshiping God with attributes) to Nirgunopasana (worshiping God without attributes) in many of his kritis.  A Guru will initiate the disciple by giving him the mantra, the way to chant it, the meaning of it and also describe the fruit of chanting. One can follow a similar pattern in many of   Sri  Dikshitar's kritis. They are spontaneous outpourings from his heart cave (Guha). Sri Ramana says such poetry are expressions of  the highest spiritual experiences and not deliberate attempts to write beautiful poetry to attain something. “Petraidai PAdinar, PAdi peravillai” (They sang what they experienced and not sang to experience) Such music takes one from sound to silence which is the birthplace of all music.

The selection of ragas for the kritis is not random but seemes to be based on many intricate aspects.  He integrated other forms of music also in his kritis. One can find reflections of Hidustani music and Western concert music in some of the kritis. His music also shows the impact of his wide travels across India from South to North and his meetings with other contemporary composers. It is said that he had  many exchanges with Sri Shyama Sastri and at least one meeting with Sri Thyagaraja. 

He lived during the time of political turbulance with the transition of power from the Nayakas to  Maratas then to the East India company. In the world scene, he lived during the time of American and French revolutions. It will be interesting to know that the western composers Mozart and Beethoven were contemporaries of Sri Dikshitar.

It will be a worthwhile and enjoyable experience to read the biography of this Great musical genius and trace his travels and visit the temples he had sung about. It is will be a surreal experience to listen  to his kitis in the temples where they were composed. Many great stalwarts have sung his kritis and the least we can do is to listen to them and experience the bliss.

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