Notes: 1) The following article was among several entries we received for
Global Essay Contest. 2) Views and opinions
expressed in these articles are entirely those of the respective authors]
[This article has
been revised by the author and a list of references added - Editor]
“The aim and final reason of all music should be
nothing but the glory of God and the refreshment of spirit.” I often wonder if
the German instrumentalist Johann Bach was actually referring to Karnatic
music. For these words of Bach capture in essence an ideal called Karnatic
music. As a student of Karnatic music I have marvelled at the loftiness of its
purpose and sublimity of its content. The system, the kritis, the composers –
everything in it fascinates me. However it is the life and works of Dixitar
that have imperceptibly overpowered me. My first rendezvous with the world of
Dixitar came when as an eight year old, I learnt “Shakti Sahita Ganapatim”.
The lilting waltz rhythm set me swaying to his tune. And since then, with
every new Dixitar kriti that I learnt, my admiration for him increased
manifold. The musical genius and the personality of Dixitar grip me in away as
no other composer does. This essay is in fact my insightful quest into the
personality & music of Dixitar.
Before I go on to explain in my
own humble way beauty of his world, it is necessary that we take a glimpse of
the times and the life of this great composer. Dixitar’s time, the 18th
century saw the consolidation of British rule in India. "The other European
powers, the French and the Dutch had been effectively vanquished" and the
British came to control almost the whole of North India. Territorial conquests
continued but at the regional level, particularly in South India, there
prevailed a general atmosphere of peace and harmony. The 17th and 18th century
also saw the Nayak and Maratha rulers of Tanjore give special patronage to
culture and art. It was into this culturally flourishing age that the
legendary Muttuswami Dixitar was born.
The youngest of the musical
trinity, Muttuswami, Dixitar was born at Tiruvarur, in 1775 into a pious
Brahmin family. His mother was Subbalakshmi and his father was Ramaswami.
Dixitar, a versatile genius himself. Ramaswami Dixitar, with his strong 'Vaidik
background led a life of piety and music' (*Dr. Raghavan). However the couple
had no children. They went to the holy shrine of Vaidyeswarankoil and
performed austerities before Lord Muttukumaraswami. One their return to
Tiruvarur they were blessed with a child. The child was named Muttuswami
'after the deity whose blessing he was believed to be and whose auspicious
birth star, Krittika, he shared' (*C. Balachandran and S. Bharadwaj)
Muttuswami Dixitar "inherited a
long and illustrious tradition of learning and scholarship, that revolved
around the Sanskrit language and drew largely upon the Hindu scriptures,
philosophy and mythology" (*C. Balachandran and S. Bharadwaj). The family then
moved to Manali on the request of Muddukrishna Mudaliar, a zamindar famed for
his patronage to music. In the company of the Mudaliars, Muttuswami and his
brother Baluswami made frequent visits to Fort St. George where they were
introduced to the European musical traditions of the English military band.
While Baluswami learnt the violin and 'pioneered its use' in Karnatic Music,
the western music zephyr unleashed in young Dixitar the springs of creativity.
He composed Sanskrit sahityas for 37 western airs. The ‘Quick March’ became
‘Sakalasurn Vinuta’. ‘Castilian Maid’ became ‘Varasivabalam’ and so on.
After a few years , Dixitar became
the disciple of Chidambaranatha Yogi and went with him to Varanasi where he
received 'metaphysical training from his Guru'. His musically sensitive and
receptive mind drew immensely upon the Hindustani musical traditions, the
impact of which is explicit in his compositions in Dwijavanti, Brindavana
Saranga and others. Returning from Varanasi,Dixitar first visited Tiruttani,
the abode of his patron deity Kumara. While he sat in "deep and solitary
contemplation, an old man appeared before him, put sugarcandy into his mouth
and disappeared into the garbhagudi" (*C. Balachandran and S. Bharadwaj). It
is this spiritual inspiration that sparked of Dixitar’s musical genius and
made him a prolific composer. His first composition “Srinathadi guruguho
jayati” in Mayamalavagowla flowed out bearing the ankita Guruguha, meaning
that Dixitar had chosen Kumara as his Guru. He used this ankita in all his
'Like the itinerant Nayanmars and
Alwars', Dixitar set out on his pilgrimages. He visited shrines at Kanchi,
Tiruvannamalai, Chidambaram, Kumbhakonam, Tiruvarur, Vaidyeswarankoil and
other places and composed kritis in praise of the numerous deities. So
exhaustive was his pilgrimage that he left no temple in his vicinity unvisited
and no deity unpraised. His stay in Tanjore brought him into contact with two
other composers of the time – Sri Tyagaraja and Sri Shyama Shastri and the
three of them were later to ber hailed as the beacon lights of Karnatic music.
It was also here that he met his illustrious disciples – the Tanjore quartet,
Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Shivanandam and Vadivelu. On his way to Ettayapuram in
search of his brother, Dixitar halted at the drought -ridden village of Sattur.
Greatly moved by the plight of its people, Dixitar prayed to Mother Goddess
seeking her grace. Torrential rains poured in the region as Dixita sang
‘Anandaamritaakarshini’in Amritavarshini. This event etched in golden letters
as the ‘Amritavarshini Miracle’ stands as a testimony to the power of the
musician and his music.
At Ettayapuram, Dixitar was
received with great honour by the king and he stayed here for several years
along with his brother. In 1834, on, the Naraka Chaturdasi day of Dipavali,
singing ‘Meenalochani Pashamochani’, Dixitar cast away his mortal coils and
reached the feet of the Goddess. As in life, so in death. His glorious life
met a glorious end. What strikes me most in the life of this illustrious
composer, is his "voluntary adoption of poverty, as an ideal of life" (*Dr.
Raghavan) Unlike his father, Dixitar never courted patrons or praise. In
Tiruvarur, his disciple Kamalam, moved by his poverty , offered to sell her
jewels to help him. Dixitar refused .With the unflinching faith of a child, he
placed himself at the feet of the Divine Mother, shunning all human help and
sympathy. “Hiranmayim lakshmim ashrayami, hinamanavasayam tyajami”, he
declares boldly in one of his kritis. From what followed we know that the
Mother did not for sake him. The Tanjore official cancelled his visit to
Tiruvarur and the provisions bought for him were sent to Dixitar. Unperturbed
by any 'pecuniary' or other upheavals, Dixitar rose above all trivial
considerations, 'roasting all conflicts in the fire of vairagya'.
Like the Lord Tyagaraja, Dixitar
too was a Tyagaraja –King of Renunciation. Dixitar’s life as a musician is
rather unique and so is his style. In style, diction and presentation, we find
a juxtaposition of the seemingly opposite classical and the revolutionary. The
choice of Sanskrit for his compositions is classical. His own father and the
other Sanskrit composers did have their impact on him. His religious
upbringing, his purely classical frame of mind deeply soaked in the Vedanta
naturally prompted him to use the Devabhasha. It also gave him the 'felicity
of expression, dignity of diction' and elevated his kritis to a higher plane.
Dixitar chose to follow in his compositions, the mela paddhati of
Venkatamakhin to whose shishya parampara he belonged. If Harikamboji is the
territony of Tyagaraja. Mayamalavagowla is Dixitar’s forte (*Dr. Srivatsa)
This is clearly brought out in his 47 and odd compositions in this raga & its
derivatives including rare ragas like Saalanga Nata, Paadi and Mangala
Kaishiki which would have been last to posterity but for his compositions.
Raga, bhava, taala and sahitya form the 4 pillars on which the citadel of
Karnatic music stands. Dixitar’s music is rich in all these dimensions. (*C
Balachandran and S Bharadwaj).
Each kriti portrays the raga at its best. With the
crystalline raga delineation there is also a wide raga repertoire in him. He
sings an unfamiliar raga like Aardhradesi or a Hindustani raga like Dwijavanti
with the same ease as that of Bhairavi or Shankarabharana. The credit of
breathing life into several musical scales and elevating them to the position
of ragas goes to him. This speaks volumes about the genius that Dixitar was.
Looking at the tala aspect, the influence of Purandaradasa is unmistakable.
Like his predecessor, he composed in the Suladi Sapta talas and also in other
unconventional talas. Bhava in Dixitar is very different from that of his
contemporary Tyagaraja. His kritis were not meant to give vent to his 'rajasic
emotions'. On the contrary, they express an unswerving faith and devotion in
Raghavan says, Rather than emotional outbursts, they exude serene
contemplation embodying the satwic quality of Shanta at its highest. Sahitya
is another specialized area of Dixitar. The tightly woven sahitya abounds in
Vedantic, mythological, astrological, yogic , tantric and iconogrophical
details and every kriti is a vast treasure house of knowledge. The kritis take
after the veena style where each note is embellished with gamakas. The use of
raga mudra, madhyamakala sahitya and samshthi charana are his special
contributions to Karnatic music. The group kritis is another realm where
Dixitar excels. His group compositions include those on Tyagarajaswami,
Kamalamba, Nilotpalamba, Abhayamba Ganapati and the Navagrahas. These kritis
show, in the choice of raga, tala, and diction, a perfect blend of his musical
skills and sharp intellect.
The complexities in Dixitar’s
kritis have lent weight to the comparision of his style to the Narikelapaka.
But what joys exist when the shell is broken and the springs of elixir come
cascading down! Only an ardent pursuer shall know. As I journey into the soul
of this great composer, a whole new world unfurls before me. Dixitar
represents a revolutionary mind revolving around the classical ethos and
within the classical frame work, his creativity known no limits. Ultimately I
see his kritis and his music as the hallmarks of the Advaita philosophy that
recognizes the One Omnipotent spirit pervading the entire universe. He is
perhaps the only composer to have composed in praise of almost all deities of
the Hindu pantheon. But underlying this apparent diversity is the Realised
Soul of a Yogi. To me, he is the Royal Falcon soaring high above the mundane,
radiating the bliss of equipoise and unqualified tranquility. To understand,
said Raphael, “is to equal”.
As Joseph Machlis says :When we
completely understand a great work of music, we grasp the “moment of truth”
that gave it birth. We become, if not the equal of the master who created it,
at least worthy to sit in his company. We receive his message, we fathom his
intention”. To receive the Master’s message is all I desire.
1. Muttuswami Dixitar's Navagraha Kritis -
Nagalakshmi Suryanarayan - Sangeeta Sudha issues - Feb, Oct, Dec 03 & Feb, Apr
2. Muttuswami Dixitar's tribute to
the Panchabhutas - Ravi and Sridhar - Ananya Abhivyakti issues - Feb, Mar 04
3. Dr. Raghavan's works on Dixitar
4. Geography as melody in
Dixitar's Indian Musical works - C. Balachandran and Surinder Bharadwaj
5. Dixitar's Sangita in Karnataka
- Dr. V. V. Srivatsa - Sangeeta Sudha - June 04
6. The Enjoyment of Music - Joseph