Galaxy of composers


SYAMA SASTRI (1762 - 1827) - PART 2

- Dr. V Raghavan


The ragas in which he composed again show his essential pre-occupation with music, for almost all of them are rakti ragas. As the very symbol of the great Bhairavi in Her eternal ananda, it may be that the raga Anandabhairavi appears to be his favorite but in no raga does he fail to make his unique effect, coupled with inseparable ateeta and anagata graha-s. It appears to me that among his immediate predecessors, Pallavi Gopala Iyer (and to some extent Kavi Matrubhutayya of Tiruchi - composer of Neemadi challaga) and their style, which seems closest to Sastri's, exerted an influence on Sastri. Sastri's fascination for the rakti ragas and Misra and Chapu gaits might have fed on the Daru-s of the Nataka-s of the Bhagavata Mela.

The inimitable style of Sastri got, as it were, an expression of life in "Kumara" the great composer's son Subbaraya Sastri, whose contributions relieve to some extent the quantitative limitation of Sastri's compositions. Incidentally, it may be noted that Himachalatanaya (Anandabhairavi) bears the "Kumara" mudra. The art of compositions flourished in the next generation too and we have in vogue a few pieces of Annaswami Sastri, most of them in Sanskrit.

Annaswami Sastri's son Venkatasubramanya Sastri, known generally as Syama Sastri, was a school teacher and good in drawing. After retirement, he stayed in Madras and was a member of the Experts Committee of the Music Academy. We became friends, residing close to each other in Triplicane and messing in the same hotel; and after my marriage, he taught my wife some kritis of Syama Sastri, including a few  of Subbaraya Sastri and Annaswami Sastri. He insisted that the kritis should be sung as taught, like Veda, without any new flourishes. How is your new student? I asked him regarding another student  that I had arranged for him. His reply was, "He knows much and attempts at improvements."

Regarding the paucity of Sastri's compositions: He is said to have composed about 300 pieces; he might not have done so many but certainly they were far more than what are now in vogue. Subbarama Dikshitar said that he was going to bring out an edition of the songs of Sastrigal but unfortunately this and other volumes planned by him could not be brought out. I have examined song-manuscripts with Nagaswarakaras at Tiruvarur, the native place of the composer to which I have the honor to belong. I have myself in my collection some manuscripts collected from different sources. I have also examined  the only one palm leaf manuscript of Syama Sastri's songs in the custody of the composer's descendants. I find from all these sources a few additional compositions not yet bought to light; a Sanskrit piece in Gowlipantu, Puraharajaye palayamam, a Telugu piece, Nannubrova rada vegame neevu vinavamma Devi, noted as Gowlipantu in one manuscript and as in Kanakangi in another, a Kapi piece, Akhilandeswari (Adi tala), one on Brihadamba in Jaganmohini (Dayajooda, Adi tala), Kanakagirisadana in Kedaragowla, and possibly a few more. There is also confusion about the exact raga of a few pieces; for example; Devibrova samayamide is in Chintamani in the manuscript with the composer's descendants at Tanjavur, in Shanmukhapriya in a manuscript with a Nagaswara family at Tiruvarur, and in Padmaraga in another manuscript examined and copied by the writer. Ninnu Vinamarigalada (Ritigowla) is noted as in Abheri.

It is because of his qualitative excellence that Syama Sastri has gained a secure and luminous place among the makers of modern Carnatic music, though his contribution has not been much quantitatively. We are now in the 150th year after the passing away of this musician, it may be hoped that before it is too late we may recover more of his masterpieces and bring into vogue a type of compositions which are, let me repeat, unique in the style forged by themselves. In fact the composer himself, in his song in Anandabhairavi Pahi Sri Girirajasute prays to Mother that she may endow his genius with a unique style - Dehi mate anupama geetam".


Posted on May 13, 2002


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