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Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar

R.R. Ayyangar, Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar Aradhana Mahotsavam Souvenir, Poona, 1958

In recent times, celebrations in memory of eminent persons who are no more in the land of the living have been growing in number as well as dimensions. The Aradhanam of the shrine of Sri Tyagaraja at Tiruvayyar is fast developing into an annual carnival. A grand, spectacular festival in honour of Sri Purandaradasa stands to the credit of this great city, Poona, which has recently been adding fresh laurels to itself through the Dikshitar Day Celebrations. Such celebrations help to focus public attention on the contribution of these servants of humanity, the debt society owes them, and the need to preserve their work and follow their footsteps.


As one of the Trinity of Carnatic Music, Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar is enshrined in the heart of every true votary of art in our land. As a scholar, a devotee, and a composer, he is second to none in the musical hierarchy of the last century (19th). Nevertheless, it is a regrettable fact that he has all along received more verbal homage than proper appreciation born of discernment or deep understanding. The prolific lyrical flood that led the very author thereof to exclaim 'Aashateera dooradesahmulanu prakaashimpajesina rasika shikaamani' (Daasharathi - Todi) was like giddy wine to the aesthetic mind of the entire music world. While Tyagaraja's output gained currency in hundreds, Dikshitar's made but slow headway, so that, even today, few can sing more than a score of his compositions, while hardly four hundred songs can be salvaged.

The one peculiar feature, good or bad according to the individual bent of mind, of Carnatic Music is that most of the classical compositions are in Telugu or Sanskrit. Neither of these languages is spoken or is widely prevalent in Tamil Nadu. This has relegated Sahityam to the background, with the result that the distinction, so vital in Carnatic Music, between music with words, and that without them, has been wholly lost sight of.

This state of affairs is more deplorable when we take into account Dikshitar's Sahityam. His Swaraakshara, Raagamudra, Yati, Praasa, etc. are marvels of verbal imagery and consummate craftsmanship in musical architecture. Interesting details of topography and local history abound in his songs. The delineation of planets and satellites in the Navagraha series, the Panchalinga series, the Tyagaraja series in eight cases, and the Navagraha series, combine sweetness of music with skill in design and scientific accuracy, perfection of form and ineffable lingual charm, revealing, as they do, his mastery of Sanskrit and the Classics. In short, they are epitomes of melodic expression and ancient Hindu culture.

The common pattern of present day platform and pandal music caters in its own way for mammoth gatherings. It is a feature of modern life which is not without two sides. For the gregarious instinct is so powerful that few have the capacity to resist the urge to stand aside, study the situation and detect the red. The sanctity and reverential awe that filled the atmosphere of a music party twenty years ago appear to be a dream in retrospect, by the side of the noise and coarse levity that engulf the music hall of today. However, intense research, pursuit of higher art in all its subtleties, discussion and propagation of basic and fundamental aspects like frequency and notation, rasas in relation to Dhatu and Matu, etc., are clearly beyond the province of pandal music. It is in this field that the Dikshitar festival can find a venue for constructive work and substantial service to art. A great deal needs to be done to lift the blackout on Sahityam, which has to be restored to its rightful place, if our music is to survive.

Next to Sahityam, the Dhatu or musical rendering of Dikshitar's composition calls for notice. Standard version, Sampradayam, Suddha Patha based on Guru or Shishya Parampara - all these sound quite hollow and should get short shrift. 'Sampradaya Pradarshini' the stupendous work of Subbarama Dikshitar, contains the bare skeleton of 220 songs of Muthuswami Dikshitar. The worth and magnitude of this mighty book, considered as pioneer work, can never be over praised.

Yet, those who have mastered our system of notation - how few, alas! - will find that, on the one hand, its innumerable symbols are either Greek or superfluous, and, on the other, the Svara rendering barely touches the framework of the pieces. Attention to details is entirely lacking and whole phrases are repeated, ad nauseum, in the same song. How far the songs in the book have drifted away from the original mooring will be clear to those who remember that Dikshitar avoided iteration so scrupulously that he would not repeat the same Dhatu of the Anupallavi in the latter part of his compositions, as did Tyagaraja and a host of composers. Lastly, a few songs that have gained accuracy have far outgrown the nebulous structure found in the book. For their aesthetic beauty has been enhanced thousand fold by the magic touch of gifted musicians - Maha Vaidyanatha Ayyar, Patnam Subramanya Ayyar, Sarabha Shastri and Siddha Vidhyadhari Veena Dhanammal.

As has been mentioned before, about 400 compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar can be preserved and popularised if steps are taken to publish them in detailed notation! Top ranking musicians either do not know notation or are not disinterested enough to shoulder such a task, the writer of this article not being aware of a third category. Therefore, it behoves earnest students of classical music who have a solid background of research work, vast repertoire of classical compositions, a spirit of selfless service, and, above all, an attitude of prayerful, humble dedication to a sacred mission, to seek one another. Will the Dikshitar Day Celebrations Committee set the ball rolling in this noble endeavour?