Special Features



Editor's note: Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar occupy a lofty position in the Carnatic music firmament. While Tyagaraja's compositions are described as Drakshapakam (grape fruit), signifying the ease with which one can learn and understand the beauty of his compositions, Dikshitar's are aptly described as Nareekelapakam (coconut), indicating the effort required to break through the layers to reach the hidden treasures  embedded in his compositions. Deepavali is generally associated with Muthuswami Dikshitar, who it is said, attained immortality on this festive day. Perhaps foreseeing his end, he asked his disciple to render 'Meenakshimemudam dehi', and at the Anupallavi line 'Meenalochani pasa mochani', he breathed his last. 

Carnatica thought it appropriate to bring you a multi-part article on this occasion, written by the well-known musician-musicologist Prof. S R Janakiraman comparing and contrasting the works of these two equally eminent composers.


The technique of the music of a particular age means and includes the summary of the music of the preceding age plus the conventions engrafted from time to time upon the original stock by the masses, enabling them to attain an ideal dimly seen in the distance. A real musician cannot, therefore, afford to ignore the aspirations of the people at large, fly at a tangent and pooh-pooh the technique of his age which is the growth of years and sometimes of centuries to which he is tied and bound, whether he wills it or not. Off and on, a genius arises and gives his countrymen not only the summary of the music of the past, but also a detailed programme for the music of the future. Such a phenomenon is due to the fact that a particular genius had the intuition to see and realize for himself that all the possibilities of the code and convention had been exhausted, that the period in which he had to live had come to a natural end, and that he was impelled to inaugurate a fresh era with the new vistas of technique that arose, as it were, from “the ashes of the old”. These two portfolios were respectively taken as their forte by Muthuswami Dikshitar and Tyagaraja.

The supreme position occupied by Dikshitar and Tyagaraja in Carnatic music is due to the fact that they pursued the ideal of depicting raga bhava steadfastly and brought to bear the highest imagination in their art. Their compositions have remained unrivaled as shining monuments of ragas in our music.

Scales are legion but ragas must be created out of them. The plethora of scales concretised by Tyagaraja into solid structures with full form and vitality will survive the test of time. Dikshitar chalked out a different programme for himself. He consolidated the music of his times, reviewed the past and passed it on to posterity. He resurrected those ragas which existed prior to his time and which were almost going into oblivion.

Raga Bhava:

It is a fact that the musical style of Dikshitar is different and distinct. Dikshitar was an epic composer who reveled in slow tempo. Not only his musical style, but also Dikshitar's bent of mind, mode of approach to God, revelation of bhakti, and above all, the theme of sahitya are the other important factors contributing to the  distinctive modes of presentation of the same raga in different phases. 

Dikshitar was initiated into Srividya Maha Shodasakshari Diksha. He practiced yoga and was known as the Yogeeswara of Tiruvarur. He would often enter into moments of meditation in undisturbed 'samadhi' and when he came out of the trance, he burst forth into song in praise of the deity, full of that ecstasy which great philosophers and high-minded souls experienced when they realised the God-head. Dikshitar's handling of bhakti was subdued and undemonstrative. This, in turn, had a tremendous influence on his depiction of ragas. He conceived the raga in full and featured it in all its aspects. In his kritis, the raga taken up at a particular point, hovers like a satellite over the entire emotional landscape in a magnificent survey, leaving an indelible impression. This is why Dikshitar's kritis have a ponderous length, with "linked sweetness long drawn out". 

Theme of Sahitya:

What sort of man was Dikshitar? His kritis will tell us if we read between the lines. He had at his command the entire body of ancient learning. Music and devotion were in his blood. Even from his infancy he developed a sense of vocation which neither grinding poverty nor worldly material advancement could obscure. He straightaway prepared for his life's work, like the great epic poet Milton. But unlike the English poet, nothing could sour his sweetness of disposition. Even Lord Sanaischara (Saturn), for whom a lay man rarely has a good word, gets a tribute from Dikshitar. This reflects his philosophic temper and unbounded faith in the providence as much as his astrological faith. If Dikshitar underwent any emotional crisis or spiritual storm or stress, it left no trace in his kritis. There it is all serenity and poise. So much so, there are also some who complain that he is a little cold and that had he been a little human, he might have moved us profoundly. But this criticism is a basic misconception of his mind, heart and art. His music appeals for the most part to the contemplative element and its prime virtue lies in his strengthening that tendency. 

The subject matter of his compositions looks at first sight narrow and the treatment, pedestrian. In fact every song of his, is a hymn or praise, an invocation to some deity or other.  It has even been said by some scholars that all his compositions are the 'Mampahi type'. To put it in a dignified garb, it may be said that Dikshitar's music consists of impersonal art forms.

His life was one long pilgrimage and at every shrine he made his offering of song incorporating in loving detail the customs and tradition of the temple focusing his attention on the special attributes that find expression in the local deity. He was no sectarian. His catholicity of outlook is however not a cloak for indifference but tthe outcome of spiritual realisation.

The language as befits his theme is spare and austere.  It reflects his deep familiarity with Mantra and Yoga Sastras. His Kamalamba Navavarana kritis and those on the seven main planets are first class evidence in point. The charana of the Gowri kriti "Gowri girirajakumari" reproduces word by word a famous stanza from the soundaryalahari of Adisankara. His kshetra kritis constitute sthala-mahatmyam. While utilizing in full all the musical resources and metrical devices of the language, he does not attempt at producing complex rhythms in poetry. Where even musical affect demands it he does it to sacrifice literary elegance. Just as Tyagaraja has produced some Samkshepa Ramayana Kirtanas in "Sri Rama Jaya Rama" in Yadukulakambhoji, "Vinayamunanu" in Sowrashtra, Dikshitar has produced "Balagopala" in Bhairavi and "Chetasri Balakrishnam" in Dwijavanti etc.


To be continued


Posted on 13th November 2001


More featured articles