Dikshitar, Muttusvami

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DĪKSHITAR, MUTTUSVĀMI (1775–1835), South Indian poet and composer Muttusvāmi Dīkshitar was the youngest of three nineteenth-century poet-composers (vāggēyakāra) hailing from Tiruvārūr, reverentially called the "Trinity" of South Indian music. He used the mudrā (signature) "Guruguha" in his lyrics, and he contributed more than four hundred songs to the concert repertoire of Karnātak music. Compared with the lively and emotional style of Tyāgarāja, many of Dīkshitar's songs are more tranquil, though they conclude with a distinct feature called madhyama kāla sanchāra (phrases in a faster tempo). His songs are based on the kriti format (the principal compositional form of Karnātak art music) and have Sanskrit lyrics, except for some in Telugu.

In his kriti "Bālagōpāla" (rāga Bhairavi), Dīkshitar refers to himself as vainika gāyaka, a "singer and player of the long-necked lute" (vīnā, the principal instrument of Karnātak art music). Interestingly, several embellishments (gamaka) of Karnātak music are reminiscent of the playing of a vina, and through Dīkshitar's songs both vocalists and instrumentalists stay sensitized to the aesthetic value of intricate gamakas.

Dīkshitar was initiated into Srī vidyāupāsana, the Tāntric Dēvī cult, followed by five years of studies in North India (Varanasi). To modern listeners, his Sanskrit lyrics may be reminiscent of a remote past, as they describe specific images and stories of deities associated with the temples he visited. Yet he also subscribed to Vedānta philosophy, which postulates an impersonal Absolute (parabrahma) behind all phenomena, including the various deities he praised in his lyrics. It is evident that frequent pilgrimages and exposure to diverse cultural traditions left their mark on his personality and music. Several of his famous songs are based on Hindustani rāgas. His progressive outlook is corroborated by the rapid integration of the violin in South Indian music: his brother Bālusvāmi Dīkshitar and Vādivēlu, one of his famous disciples, became the first South Indian violin exponents to become known by their names. At the request of the Collector (the British chief administrator of district), he even wrote Sanskrit lyrics for about fifty English tunes (nōttusvara sāhitya, or note-lyrics).

Through his compositions he defined the melodic "shapes" (rāga rūpa) of several rare rāgas for the first time, particularly those derived from the mēlakarta rāga paddhati (scheme of 72 scale types). In contrast to Tyāgarāja, he did not embrace a later version of the mēlakarta rāga scheme, one that is entirely based on heptatonic scale types (sampūrna paddhati). Dīkshitar adhered to the earlier scheme known as asampūrna paddhati (nonheptatonic arrangement), and the rāga nomenclature is therefore peculiar to his compositions. This difference is ascribed to the fact that through his father, the composer Rāmasvāmi Dīkshitar, he belongs to the parampara (musical lineage) of Venkatamakhī. This influential theorist had outlined his innovative mēlakarta scheme in a treatise titled Chaturdandī Prakāshikā (Four-fold explanation) as early as 1660.

Through his disciples, notably the four brothers known as the Tanjore Quartet, Dīkshitar also contributed to the field of dance music. Being leading figures in the fields of dance and music, the Tanjore Quartet succeeded in redefining and enriching the repertoire of temple and court dance. As demonstrated by T. Bālasarasvati, the legendary dancer, this program format continues to inspire Bharata Natya dancers and their accompanists.

Ludwig Pesch


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Raghavan, V. Muttuswami Dikshitar. Mumbai: National Centre for the Performing Arts, 1975.

Seetha, S. Tanjore as a Seat of Music. Chennai: University of Madras, 1981.

Srivatsa, V. V. Monograph on Muttuswami Dikshitar. 54th Annual Festival of Music and Dance. Tirupati: Sri Tyagaraja Festival Committee, 1996.

Srivatsa, V. V., ed. Bhava Raga Tala Modini: Monograph cum Index of Muttuswami Dikshitar's Compositions. Chennai: V. V. Srivatsa, 1996–1998.

Venkatarama Aiyer, T. L. "Muthuswāmy Dīkshitar." In Composers, edited by V. Raghavan. New Delhi: Publications Division, 1979.