National Centre for the Performing Arts, Bombay deserves all praise for devoting the September
1975 issue of their quarterly journal to Muttuswami Dikshitar, whose 200th birth anniversary was observed with eclat all over the country last year. As rightly pointed out in the Foreword, Dr. Raghavan is eminently suited to be the author of this venture.
This is perhaps the only book wherein a student or any lover of music can get such authentic and almost exhaustive information on Dikshitar. Hailing from Tiruvarur, where Dikshitar himself was born and wanted to live most of his life, Dr. Raghavan gives us enlightening details upon both Dikshitar and Tiruvarur in an inimitable manner. Few people, for instance, would know that Dikshitar has composed a song on the great Saivite saint, Sundaramurthy Nayanar; that there was a patron called Nagalinga whose name has suggestively figured in two kritis—Abhayamba in Kalyani and Abhayamba Nayaka in Anandabhairavi. The telling description of Ajapa Natana, Hamsa Natana and all such grandeur of the temple rituals at Tiruvarur which inspired Muttusvami Dikshitar to pour out many gems of kritis, could have come naturally only to a Tiruvarurian author, who in the concluding sentences gives touching reminiscences of his boyhood days.
The appended bibliography and discography are of immense value to students of music. Another very useful and flawless portion of the book is that of the Navagraha kritis of Dikshitar given in swaralipi (notation). The index at the end gives an exhaustive list of kritis of not only Muttuswamy Dikshitar but also Ramaswami Dikshitar, his father, and all the younger Dikshitars. The chapter on Dikshitar’s shishya parampara is highly informative and interesting.
While speaking or writing about music almost everybody falls into a rut of resorting to what can be called ‘musicological cliches’—like trying to equate Brahma-Vishnu-Rudra trinity to Syama Sastry-Tyagaraja-Dikshitar musical trinity, or compartmentalizing them into bhava-raga-tala ‘specialists’. The analysis of Dikshitar’s forte being raga—bhava and tala being ‘allocated’ as it were to his illustrious compeers Thyagaraja and Syama Sastry—is one such virtuosic argumentation. A more plausible explanation for less of bhava in Dikshitar’s kritis lies perhaps in the medium chosen. Telugu, the lingua franca of most other composers, is a spoken language. Prosaic, conversational bhava-laden passages of such a language can be employed to great effect and appeal in a musical composition, which is not so natural to Sanskr.it, the dialect of the divine, that Dikshitar chose to compose in. Is it possible to say with music Ninendu vedakudura (where am I to go in search of you?) or Palukavemi na daivama—Parulu navvedi nyayama (How come, you are not talking, my Lord, is it fair to leave me as a laughing stock like this?) with equal facility and effect in Sanskrit? One doubts it. Dr. Raghavan himself has touched upon this point from another angle.
‘Between the kriti and alapa, the former is the ready and tangible one’ is a quotable sentence. While dwelling on the many-splendoured greatness of Dikshitar’s kritis the author has un- wittingly done injustice by equating them to Lakshana gitas, which are musicological pieces with very little music. ‘Neraval can be done in any passage’—is a sweeping observation, and only a creative artiste is the best judge in selecting the passage for neraval for which the aptness of lyrical contents is just one of many other considerations.
Dikshitar and Ponnayya Pillai have not always used the raga mudras ‘along with the Ka,tapayadi prefixes’. The prefix Dhuni is not to be found in the former’s Chidambaresam and the latter’s Sri Guruguha, both in Dhuni Binna Shadja Raga. It is intriguing to note that in kritis like Hariyuvatheem Harimavatheem and Sri Soolineem, Dikshithar has employed the other nomenclature used by Tyagaraja.
It is not clear why Dikshithar’s stay at Tanjore should be linked to the corpus of kritis in the 72 melas and Lalithopakhyana series. Even Venkatamakhin, the father of the 72 melas scheme has said in his Chaturdandl Prakasika that during his time the majority of the 72 melas formulated by him had not gained currency. It is possible that in Dikshitar’s days too all of them had not come into vogue and hence the incompleteness of that list of kritis.
A howler on the very front page of this otherwise beautifully produced book could have been avoided. The misspelling of Dikshitar’s name in Devanagari script must have originated from the accompanying English transliteration, which needs rationalization.
T.R. Subrahmanyam is in the Department of Music, University of Delhi, Delhi.