Naadam – Music of Silence
The musical wealth of the kritis of Deekshitar is well appreciated by connoisseurs and performers of Karnatic music. Each kriti is an expression of the nuances of the raga in which it is composed. The span of ragas covered in his set of compositions is immense covering the entire gamut of the framework of classical scales.
Equal in magnitude is the lyrical wealth of these kritis; Deekshitar’s lyrics are a succinct poetic expression of the beliefs and traditions associated with the deity being extolled and the sacred space associated with the deity.
Listening to a kriti of Deekshitar (well rendered of course) is a fulfilling experience – even without the additional improvisatory frills of raga alapana, neraval or superfluous Sangatis. A musical analysis of the kritis would greatly extend the scope of this article and hence I am restricting this feature to the relevance of Deekshitar’s kritis to temples in general.
To place things in context, it must be mentioned that Deekshitar lived in the latter part of the 18th century and in early 19th century (1775 – 1835 CE), when India was being ruled by the British. Over a thousand years prior to his period, the Nayanmars and the Alwars had built upon the infrastructure of the Bhakti movement which was closely interwoven with temple worship and the Agamic traditions.
Soon after the time of the Nayanmars and the Alwars, Adi Sankara had streamlined the existing worship traditions on the Indian subcontinent and consolidated them into six distinct traditions related to the worship of Ganesha, Skanda, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu and Surya respectively. These worship systems were to prevail and the already existing centers of worship were to flourish as centers of culture and tradition- along with the growth of newer centers of worship thanks to the royal patronage.
The six worship systems were also to coexist with other belief systems involving the worship of local guardian Deities and Mother Goddesses as perceived by regional cultures.
Muthuswamy Deekshitar’s kritis cover all of the belief systems mentioned above.
The composer traveled widely and composed kritis on the presiding deities of various temples that he visited. In his songs he describes the mythological beliefs surrounding the deity, features associated with the place of worship, worship traditions and festivals etc. in sanskrit. In this sense, he writes a 2nd millennium supplement in Sanskrit to the Tamil Bhakti verses of the 63 Nayanmars and the 12 Alwars. In addition,he also covers regional belief systems that do not form part of the 6 Agamic forms of worship.
Great was his command over the language, wide and deep were his breadth and scope of knowledge of Vedic, Agamic, astrological and musical traditions. Dhrupadic (the then widely prevalent North Indian Classical music form that he trained in during his sojourn at Banares) influence is felt in the structure and flow of his kritis in ragas such as Hindolam, as well as in the use of certain ragas that were until then confined geographically to the North Indian domain.
My first exposure to the kritis of Deekshitar was through the school of music that I trained in when I was under 9 years of age. One of the songs that I had learned then, Sankaram Abhirami Manoharam – flashed back in my memory as I was authoring the page on Tirukkadavur – Abodes of Shiva (with images of my visit there in 1993), and made me stop in my tracks suddenly – as I realized with a sense of discovery that this song which was taught to me with a mention of the story of Markandeya and with a footnote that the song was a prayer for health and longevity – was actually the stalapuranam of Tirukkadavur, created (musically) at the very premises of the temple over 200 years ago.
Chintayamaa in Bhairavi celebrates Shiva as the Prithvi Lingam enshrined at Kanchipuram and as Somaskanda in the very same temple, while Jambu Pathe and Akhilandeswari are rich musical tributes to the shrine at Tiruvanaikkaval, Ananda Natana Prakasam celebrates the dance of Shiva at Chidambaram, Arunachala Natham celebrates the grand center of worship at Tiruvannamalai and Sri Kalahasteesa is in praise of the ancient Shiva temple at Kalahasti. The five temples mentioned above constitute the Pancha Bhoota Shrines held in reverence in the Saivite system of beliefs.
In the city of Kanchipuram – kritis such as Kanchadalayadakshi extol the Shakta center of worship, while Varadarajam Upasmahe is in praise of the grand Vaishnavite shrine dedicated to Varadaraja Perumaal. Ranganayakam describes the attributes of the Sri Rangam Divya Desam.
Each of the kritis mentioned above unfolds in a grand manner. With musical aesthetics, poetic nuances and lyrical content falling in place – each of these songs resembles the presentation of a well made documentary feature. It is exhilarating to realize that such a sublime form of expression – (emanating from a single individual – hitherto unsurpassed in creative brilliance) was born about 200 years ago, and that these creations have survived to tell the unchanging story of these monumental centers of worship.
The serene Kumudakriya raagam and its flow in the kriti Ardhanaareeswaram provides the appropriate background for a narration describing Tiruchengode and the shrine to the Ardhanareeswara form of Shiva – a shrine where the last puja of the night is of special significance; the mention of the Kadamba tree which constitutes the stala vriksham at Madurai – the list goes on and on.
It was Tiruvarur where the composer spent a significant period of time. 16 kritis on the various attributes of Ganesha, the nine Navavarana kritis on Kamalamba and the set of kritis on Tyagaraja – and more constitute a musical documentation of the religious life of Tiruvarur as it prevailed then. Mention must be made of the kriti Tyagaraja Maha Dwaja where details regarding the annual festival involving the procession of deities in chariots and other decorated mounts – are expressed through music. Needless to say, the Tiruvarur temple still carries vibes from this not too distant musical past (in addition to the vibes from the distant past of the Golden age of the Chola patronage).
Outside of the Agamic fold, Deekshitar’s language and music give expression to Hariharaputram – weaving beliefs centered around Dharma Sastha held in reverence as Ayyappan in Kerala. There are also kritis dedicated to Bhrahma, Renukaambaa and to Sundaramoorthy Nayanaar – of the Tevaram trinity.