This feature is a tribute to the composer Muthuswamy
Deekshitar, who with his monumental contribution of a diverse set of over 400
compositions in the genre of Karnatic Music created a treasure trove of music that strikes
a deep chord in the ears of connoisseurs of Indian Classical Music. Deepavali marks the
composer's memorial day (the day on which he ceased to exist as a mortal), and this
feature is timed to salute the immortal lyrical contribution of the
maestro on the occasion.
Why an article on a music composer on Templenet - a website dedicated to the temple
heritage of India? The answer is simple. A sizable chunk of the kritis of Muthuswamy
Deekshitar are dedicated to deities enshrined in temples all over India (the bulk
of them being in Tamilnadu). These
compositions are not only musically rich but are also a musical documentation of the
details associated with temples as seen by the composer in early 19th century.
The musical wealth of the kritis of Deekshitar is well appreciated by connoisseurs and
performers of Karnatic music. Each kriti is an expression of the nuances of the raga in
which it is composed. The span of ragas covered in his set of compositions is immense
covering the entire gamut of the framework of classical scales.
Equal in magnitude is the lyrical wealth of these kritis; Deekshitar's lyrics are a succinct
poetic expression of the beliefs and traditions associated with
the deity being extolled and the sacred space associated with the deity.
Listening to a kriti of Deekshitar (well rendered of course) is a fulfilling
experience - even without the additional improvisatory frills of raga alapana,
neraval or superfluous Sangatis. A musical analysis of the kritis would greatly extend the
scope of this article and hence I am restricting this feature to the relevance of
Deekshitar's kritis to temples in general.
To place things in context, it must be mentioned that Deekshitar lived in the latter part
of the 18th century and in early 19th century (1775 - 1835 CE), when India was being ruled
by the British. Over a thousand years prior to his period, the Nayanmars and the Alwars
had built upon the infrastructure of the Bhakti movement which was
closely interwoven with temple worship and the Agamic traditions.
Soon after the time of the Nayanmars and the Alwars, Adi Sankara had
streamlined the existing worship traditions on the Indian subcontinent and consolidated
them into six distinct traditions related to the worship of Ganesha, Skanda, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu
and Surya respectively. These
worship systems were to prevail and the already existing centers of worship were to
flourish as centers of culture and tradition- along with the growth of newer centers of
worship thanks to the royal patronage.
The six worship systems were also to coexist with
other belief systems involving the worship of local guardian Deities and Mother
Goddesses as perceived by regional cultures.
Muthuswamy Deekshitar's kritis cover all of the belief systems mentioned
The composer traveled widely and composed kritis on the presiding deities
of various temples that he visited. In his songs he describes the mythological
beliefs surrounding the deity, features associated with the place of worship, worship
traditions and festivals etc. in sanskrit. In this sense, he writes a 2nd
millennium supplement in Sanskrit to the Tamil Bhakti verses of the 63 Nayanmars
and the 12 Alwars. In addition,he also covers regional belief systems that do not form
part of the 6 Agamic forms of worship.
Great was his command over the language, wide and deep were his breadth and scope of
knowledge of Vedic, Agamic, astrological and musical traditions. Dhrupadic
(the then widely prevalent North Indian Classical music form that he trained in during his
sojourn at Banares) influence is
felt in the structure and flow of his kritis in ragas such as Hindolam, as well as in the
use of certain ragas that were until then confined geographically to the North Indian
My first exposure to the kritis of Deekshitar was through the school of music that I
trained in when I was under 9 years of age. One of the songs that I had learned then, Sankaram
Abhirami Manoharam - flashed back in my memory as I was authoring the page on
Tirukkadavur - Abodes of Shiva (with images of my visit there in 1993), and made me stop
in my tracks suddenly - as I realized with a sense of discovery that this song which was
taught to me with a mention of the story of Markandeya and with a
footnote that the song was a prayer for health and longevity - was actually the stalapuranam
of Tirukkadavur, created (musically)
at the very premises of the temple over 200 years ago.
Chintayamaa in Bhairavi celebrates Shiva as the Prithvi Lingam enshrined
at Kanchipuram and as Somaskanda in
the very same temple, while Jambu Pathe and Akhilandeswari
are rich musical tributes to the shrine at Tiruvanaikkaval,
Ananda Natana Prakasam celebrates the dance of Shiva at Chidambaram, Arunachala Natham
celebrates the grand center of worship at Tiruvannamalai
and Sri Kalahasteesa is in praise of the ancient Shiva temple at Kalahasti. The five temples mentioned
above constitute the Pancha Bhoota Shrines
held in reverence in the Saivite
system of beliefs.
In the city of Kanchipuram - kritis such as Kanchadalayadakshi
extol the Shakta center of
worship, while Varadarajam Upasmahe is in praise of the grand Vaishnavite
shrine dedicated to Varadaraja Perumaal.
Ranganayakam describes the attributes of the Sri Rangam Divya Desam.
Each of the kritis mentioned above unfolds in a grand manner. With
musical aesthetics, poetic nuances and lyrical content falling in place - each of these
songs resembles the presentation of a well made documentary feature. It is exhilarating to
realize that such a sublime form of expression - (emanating from a single
individual - hitherto unsurpassed in creative brilliance) was born about 200 years ago,
and that these creations have survived to tell the unchanging story of these monumental
centers of worship.
The serene Kumudakriya raagam and its flow in the kriti Ardhanaareeswaram
provides the appropriate background for a narration describing Tiruchengode and the shrine to the
Ardhanareeswara form of Shiva - a shrine where the last puja of the night is of special
significance; the mention of the Kadamba tree which constitutes the stala vriksham at Madurai - the list goes on
It was Tiruvarur
where the composer spent a significant period of time. 16 kritis on the various attributes
of Ganesha, the nine Navavarana kritis on Kamalamba and the
set of kritis on Tyagaraja
- and more constitute a musical documentation of the religious life of Tiruvarur
as it prevailed then. Mention must be made of the kriti Tyagaraja Maha Dwaja where
details regarding the annual festival involving the procession of deities
in chariots and other decorated mounts - are expressed through music. Needless to say, the
Tiruvarur temple still carries vibes from this not too distant musical
past (in addition to the vibes from the distant past of the Golden age of the
Outside of the Agamic fold, Deekshitar's language and music give
expression to Hariharaputram - weaving beliefs centered around Dharma Sastha held in
reverence as Ayyappan in Kerala.
There are also kritis dedicated to Bhrahma, Renukaambaa
and to Sundaramoorthy Nayanaar - of the Tevaram trinity.
Templenet is pleased to present this feature - that just scratches the
tip of the works of this composer on the occasion of his memorial day which falls on Deepavali
(which occurs on November 14 this year).
Post Script:My mind goes back to the Deepavali of 1972 when as a little
boy, I attended the Deekshitar memorial celebration at my teacher's
residence in George Town, Chennai. Strains of melodies of the relatively unknown Saamanta
raga kriti Viswanathena played on the Veena by my teacher against the
background of the continuous din of the competing 10,000 wallah - electric crackers set
off by competing groups of the North Indian business community that celebrated Deepavali
in the evening (as opposed to the traditional early morning celebration characteristic of
Chennaiites then), still waft through my mind today, as I type this article.