3.4: TRINITY OF CARNATIC MUSIC
Thiagaraja (1767 - 1847), Shyama Sastri (1762 - 1827) and
Muthuswamy Dikshidar (1775 - 1835) form the well-known Trinity.
Thiagaraja, the great celebrity in the world of Carnatic music was born in Tiruvarur but lived all his life in Tiruvaiyaru on the banks of the Kaveri, both places known for their traditions of learning and spirituality. He started composing devotional music even while in his teens. In him was seen the rare combination of a complete knowledge of philosophy, devotion, musicology and poetics and a talent of singing his own compositions in the most moving voice. Most of his compositions were in Telugu and were composed and sung while he was in trance. He would be thrilled at the very thought of the Lord. We owe the propagation of his songs to his pupils who came from far and wide. He would not sing the praises of mortal men for favour of riches and presents. He is said to have composed 24000 songs out of which 800 or so are extant. His songs have not only a great spiritual value and an excellent variety but a remarkable musical excellence, coming as they did as a natural climax in an age of giants at Tanjore. He introduced the technique of sangati in Carnatic music by which the composer already conceives the variations and finer modulations of a phrase. He did not strive hard to create his compositions. The poetic words came to him in simple and emotional language, coupled with elegance. The simplicity of style can be inferred from the hundreds of kritis of his which are easy enough even for beginners. Disciples flocked to him, paired themselves and learnt the pieces then and there as and when they were spontaneously composed and sung by the saint-musician. They in their turn passed them on to worthy students and through them to the rest of the world.
The infinite excellences of the name, form, glory and majesty of Rama get infinitely multiplied by the traditional musical techniques which Thiagaraja imparted into his divine compositions and the nuances which he himself gave in singing them. According to Thiagaraja, God is the fittest object of music and music bereft of devotion is lifeless and useless. God protects those who combine divine love with music. 'I pray for nothing more than that my tongue should be given to continuous repetition of the name Rama' says Thiagaraja. It was in the hands of Thyagaraja that the soft-flowing Telugu as a medium of music reached a high level with a distinct form and independent status. Lofty thoughts were clothed in simple words of lyrical sweetness. Though he employed the diction of the spoken language of the layman, the poet in him could evoke the entire gamut of emotions such as love, joy, pleasure, wonder, petulence, sorrow, disgust and reverence.
He lived to the ripe age of 80. Ten days before his demise he announced it to a congregation of friends. On the day previous to his siddhi he requested his disciples to conduct akhanda-bhajan – non-stop chanting of devotional songs – so that he would be immersed in the music of the names of the Lord ringing in his ears to his last breath. People gathered in large numbers to witness the miraculous event of light emanating from the skull of the saint and to perform the rites to his mortal remains on the banks of the Kaveri.
Shyama Sastri was (also) born in Tiruvaroor on April 26, 1762. The formal name given was Venkatasubrahmanya while the pet name was Shyama. Sound education in Sanskrit and Telugu ws given by father Viswanatha Iyer, who had the hereditary responsibility of doing Puja to Bangaru-Kamakshi of Tanjavoor. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the political turmoil due to Muslim invasions caused the Bangaru Kamakshi to move from north to south. After staying in several places, the idol reached Tanjavoor where a temple was built with the help of Tulaja Raja the then ruler of Tanjore, at the close of the 18th century. Viswanatha Iyer had the benefit of a munificent royal donation for managing the temple and the Pujas with great devotion. At his home also the daily routine of puja was strictly observed with extreme piety accompanied by hymns sung for the Devi. When Shyama was eighteen, one Swamiji known as Sangeethaswamy stayed for four months in Tanjavoor and taught music and intricacies of rhythm to his one and only disciple Shyama.
Among the Tamil-speaking Brahmin Smarta community, the honorific ‘Iyer’ is indicative of respectability. An ‘Iyer’ who is well-versed in the Vedas and observes codes laid down by the ShAstras is styled a Shastri or a Dikshidar. A youngster however is not referred to as Iyer or Shastri. But Shyama in his early twenties won the admiration of one and all through his personal conduct, education and intellectual attainments and was always rfeferred to with respect as Shyama Shastri.
As advised by his guru, Shyama Shastri cultivated the friendship of the Tanjavoor Court musician Pachimariyam Adiyappiah, a Madhva Karnataka Brahmin, held in high esteem by musicians and composers -- who is universally remembered for his immortal creation of the Bhairavi varnam ‘Viribhoni’. The spiritual fervour of Shyama Sastri and the intellectual eminence of Adiyappiah complemented each other by this association and Shyama Shastri grew into an enlightened personality very soon.
The duty of performing the daily puja to Bangaru Kamakshi devolved from father to son in the Shastri family. The practice of Devi worship and the Tantric mode of worship to the nine seats constituting the Shri chakra, were making Sastri’s inner self harmonious and integrated. And this transcendent self-effacement poured itself out perennially in the form of musical compositions. He was probably the first major composer handling the worship of the Mother Goddess. However his compositions are not as popular as those of Thyagaraja, mostly because Sastri’s style of music is of a type which cannot be mastered quickly and that was one of the reasons why he did not have many disciples. Further it appears he was a stern taskmaster who demanded more talent from his students. It was ue to his son Subbaraya Sastry, whose intellect was equal to that of his father, and who himself had learnt from Thyagaraja and who was very much influenced by Muthuswamy Dikshidar, that many of Sastri’s kritis were handed down to posterity. Of the two sons of Shyama Shastri, it is the younger son Subbaraya Shastri who held aloft the torch of the musical heritage of the father. Shyama Shastri produced in all about 300 compositions, most of them in Telugu, some in Sanskrit and a few in Tamil.
Muthuswamy Dikshidar was (also!) born in Tiruvarur in Tanjore District. His father Ramaswamy Dikshidar himself was a versatile composer whose famous compositions include long Ragamalikas, one on Goddess Meenakshi with 40 ragas. and one on Lord Venkateshvara of Tirupati with 48 ragas. Ramaswamy Dikshidar with his Sanskrit and Vaidic background led an austere life enriched with the practice of music. He had three sons Muthuswamy, Chinnaswamy and Baluswamy. The family spent some time in Manali, near Madras, which by that time had started playing an important part in the patronage of music. It was in Manali that Baluswamy learnt European violin. It is only after him, the use of violin as an accompaniment for Carnatic music gained vogue. During the same time Chidambaranatha Yogi took Muthuswamy to Kashi where Muthusamy had the opportunity to be exposed to Hindustani music. After five years Muthuswamy returned to the South, first to Tiruttani. That is where Lord Subrahmanya blessed him in the form of an elderly person putting sugarcandy in his mouth when he was in meditation. The first compositions (out of a total of 430) of Muthuswamy Dikshidar were born here, with the eight declensions of Sanskrit beginning with the Nominative, on Kumara. And Dikshidar took ‘Guru-guha’ as the mudra in all his songs from then on. Then the family went on to Kanchi where they stayed for four years. Here Muthuswamy met the famous Upanishad Brahma yogin. Later they all went to Chidambaram and then on to Tiruvarur. At each place Muthuswamy composed songs on the deities of the places he visited; because being a Devi-worshipper, the Devi deities at each place inspired him to compose. The single largest group of songs by Muthuswamy Dikshidar is, however, on Thiagaraja and Kamalamba of Tiruvarur. While staying at Tiruvarur he regularly visited all the nearby shrines. His life was a continuous series of pilgrimages. He helped to organise the music of the Thiagaraja temple. It is the practice of Nagaswaram artistes of the temple to play particular ragas and compositions of Dikshidar at specific places in the temple and at specific times of service and processions. The practice started in this period under the guidance of the Dikshidar himself.
The musical style of Muthuswamy Dikshidar is not simple; a correct rendering of his music is considered to be rather difficult. The sublime dignity in the music can be recognised even by the general public but to appreciate and understand the details of the intricacies of the rendering one has to spend hours of concentrated study. His compositions, in addition, are packed with details tagged on to the praise of the deity of the locality. Biographical data could be built up by following his travels and the songs composed in each place.
It was during his sojourn in Tanjore that Dikshidar came into contact with the other two members of the Carnatic music Trinity. At this time the two younger brothers left for Madurai. During Muthuswamy’s visit to Madurai he learnt that Chinnaswamy had died and Baluswamy had left for Rameswaram. After a pilgrimage to Rameswaram Muthuswamy learnt that Baluswamy was in Ettayapuram, in Tirunelveli District. Ettayapuram is also famous for its patronage of musicians, dancers, poets and composers. On the way to Ettayapuram, Dikshidar halted at a place called Sattur where he found the countryside parched by failure of rains. A miracle is recorded of Dikshidar singing a new song (‘Anandamrita-karshiNi’) there and inducing rainfall. The raga itself is called Amrita-varshini, a creation of Dikshidar. There followed pilgrimages to Tiruchendur, Tiruvananthapuram, Guruvayoor and Sabrimala – each contributing to a wealth of compositions from the maestro. In 1834 on the day of the Dipavali festival, the end of Dikshidar came when he was in the midst of the worship of Devi.