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Dikshitar the Genius
Article by Smt.Sulochana Pattabhiraman
featured in "Bhava Raga Tala Modini" a book of articles compiled by Dr. V.V. Srivatsa circulated at the annual series of Guruguhanjali in 1998

The genius of Muthuswami Dikshitar : once or twice in a millenium the human spirit gathers itself upwards in almighty upheaval, and a poet, saint or a great spiritual leader is born. He is a rare visionary, who profoundly affects the destiny of mankind with his imaginative insight and sagacious foresight. These are the spontaneous thoughts that occur in one's mind when we remember with profound gratitude not tainted by any parochialism, the divine composer, nonpareil, Muthuswami Dikshitar.

If the art form of Carnatic Music has achieved global recognition as one of the most sophisticated disciplines in world music, it is in no small measure due to the immortal compositions of the Musical Trinity of South India. Shyama Sastri, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar. Their contribution is no less than Kalidasa's to Sanskrit, Kambar's to Thamizh and Shakespere's to English.

The family of Muthuswami Dikshitar was noted for its intellectual eminence and true to his lineage, Dikshitar was a personification of erudition - well versed in the study of Vedas, Agamas, Astronomy, Astrology and even Medicine. Mastery in playing the Veena was a family virtue and Dikshitar's particular asset. The Dikshitar family of South India, like the Bach family of Germany, is one of the most fascinating in the annals of music.

From the middle of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, the members of the Dikshitar descent, known as the 'Dikshitar Pentad' made rich and varied contributions to what may be called the Periclean age of Carnatic Music. These comprise of hundreds of compositions, 14 Ragamalikas including 2 of the longest, in South Indian music, Pada varnams suited to dance, darus and nottuswara sahityas, based on captivating English band tunes. All the 72 Raganga ragas introduced by Venkatamakhin have been covered by this illustrious family. The most renowned member of this lineage was Muthuswami Dikshitar, whose music was inseparable from the Veena as he brillinatly enriched his songs with a profusion of gamaka nuances in a manner all his own. It is readily acclaimed that he, a classicist par excellence, was on equally familiar turf in the innovation and improvisation of noveau forms within the frame work of tradition. He was completely at home while composing in rare ragas such as Andhali, Salanganata, Samanta etc., as he was with the popular and more familiar ones like Kalyani, Thodi, Sankarabharanam and Bhairavi. His master creations conceived with immaculate care and so minutely developed had a singular consummate finish.

T.V.Subba Rao in his "Studies in Indian Music" says that if it is permissible to call 'architecture' as frozen music, it will not be amiss to describe Dikshitar's music as eternal architecture of raga forms. His compositions reflecting the unqualified genius of the composer, have poetic imagery, mastery of Sanskrit, dignity, tranquility, a scholarly style and above all, steeped in devotion. The veena is the abode of Divinity and the Lord's source of happiness, says the Sangita Ratnakara. There is no doubt that Dikshitar's expertise on the veena was emphatically mirrored on the construction of his composition. They bear a peculiar splendour because of the rich combination of laya, percentage diction and a perennial majestic flow of melody. His kritis replete with soothing, sweet Sanskrit lyrics, adi prasam and antima prasam, many with winsome Samashti Charanams, a Chowka Kala Pramanam, comparable to the Dhrupad style in Hindustani Music, and prayogas that never repeat themselves, occupy an exclusive niche that would well withstand the challenging tides of time.

Dikshitar's greatest service to Carnatic Music was that that he gave body and shape to nearly 200 ragas of Venkatamakhin. He has employed 191 ragas for 460 compositions, out of which 219 have been printed with notation by Subbarama Dikshitar in his monumental "Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini". The raga and thala mudras woven skilfully into the kriti fabric are exclusive to the songs of Dikshitar. No other composer has written so many group kritis in such a planned, orderly, meticulous fashion. He was a cosmopolitan, so far as deities were concerned and he fully deserved to be called the "Shanmata Sthapanacharya", after Adi Sankara. There is such an incredible wealth of astrological details, mantra sastra data, Puranic lore, Sri Vidya philosophy and temple rituals in his songs, that it is an education by itself to study them. Rhetorical beauty occurs in plenty and he was a past master in the art of rhyming. It was said of him, "Swasam Pogira varaikkum Prasam". The means "Rhyming till his very last breath". His remarkable intellect and skill in Sahitya were revealed in the Gopuchcha and Srotovaha types of yatis in his kritis. It is said that Dikshitar's songs are summaries of Durga Suktam, Sri Suktam and Purusha Suktam - adumbrated in the Vedas.

The genius of Muthuswmay Dikshitar brings us nearer to the hidden soul, stimulates our minds and fills us with a joy that is beyond comprehension.

Dikshitar was a God - realised soul, who was not tempted by the pomp of power or by the vanity of wealth. In the Company of all time greats like Tyagaraja and Shyama Sastri, Dikshitar's genius superbly ministers to our contemporary needs of peace, sublimity and spiritual enlightenment.

Guruguhanjali - Annual Series