The purpose of incarnations is very specific. It is to uplift and elevate a certain aspect of human life – be it in the form of art, culture, music or religion. In doing so, the incarnation endowed with divine purpose uplifts the lives of people forever through his contributions.
As one of the trinities of Carnatic Music, Muthuswamy Dikshitar did exactly that. The grandeur he brought to Carnatic music and the supremacy of his lyrics, the majesty in his compositions and the spiritual dedication with which he composed – all these gave him the status of a master composer.
Dikshitar’s life was equally fascinating – His father Ramaswamy was a scholar and musician himself. Ramaswami Dikshitar had to his credit a large number of Tana varnas, Pada varnas, Darus, Ragamalikas and Kirtanas. His proficiency gained him respect and admiration. He eventually settled down at Tiruvarur and married a pious girl Subbamma. But till the age of forty the couple did not have any progeny.
Ramaswami Dikshitar Subbamma His family elders then told he and his wife to worship Lord Vaidyanatha and Goddess Balambika at Vaideeswaran Koil near Sirkali. For forty-eight days they observed austerities and were blessed by the Goddess.
In 1775, during the month of Phalguna (March-April), a male child was born to the couple. Since he was born with the blessing of Lord Subramanya who is also known as Muthukumaraswami at Vaideeswaran Koil, the baby boy was named Muthuswami. The new-born brought his father luck too. Ramaswami Dikshitar was invited to give concerts at prestigious gatherings. The Tanjore king bestowed honours on him as befitting his status and dignity.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s early childhood and education
Ramaswami Dikshitar arranged to have the young Muthuswami study the Vedas and Sanskrit. Sincerely dedicated to study, Muthuswami quickly acquired mastery over the kAvyAs, alankArAs and vyAkaraNA.
The cultivation of Muthuswamy’s music philosophy began at an early age under the tutelage of his father. Although Muthuswamy’s music had its own distinct character, the depth and fluidity bore his father’s imprint.
Even while a youngster, he was sufficiently mature to be able to understand the transitory nature of worldly pleasures. Seeing Mutthswami always engaged in religious austerities, practice of music and mostly observing silence, his parents got him married at a young age. But he remained the same.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar meets his guru
Soon, destiny would support Muthuswamy to achieve his higher purpose. Chidambaranatha Yogi, a Vedantin, tantric, and a spiritually evolved sannyasi, came to Dikshitar household on his way to Kashi. It was Chidambaranatha Yogi who had given shri vidya dIkshA to Ramaswami Dikshitar, early in the latter’s life at Tiruvarur. He was therefore welcomed with deep veneration by the Dikshitar family. Chidambaranatha Yogi stayed for a few days with the Dikshitars.
It was Muthuswami who served the Yogi during his stay. The young boy, with reverence and humility, catered to the Yogi’s needs. During the Yogi’s pUjA, Muthuswami would play on the vINA and sing. The Yogi was quite impressed by the modesty, piety and the musical prowess of Muthuswami and was very affectionate towards the lad.
The time came for the Yogi to resume his tour. The Dikshitars prostrated before him and asked for his blessings. Ramaswami Dikshitar requested Chidambaranatha Yogi to ask for whatever he wanted and promised that he would fulfill it.
Whereupon, Chidambaranatha Yogi asked Ramaswami Dikshitar to send his son Muthuswami to accompany him to Kashi. The father was benumbed with shock and pleaded with the Yogi to spare Muthuswami, saying that the lad was born after a long time in their lives, that he was very young (in his late teens) and that they could not bear to be separated from him. Chidambaranatha Yogi was annoyed and told Ramaswami Dikshitar that he wanted nothing else and that if the former did not want to send his son along, so be it.
The father finally agreed to part with the son. It was a tearful farewell. Chidambaranatha Yogi accompanied by Muthuswami left on their pilgrimage to the holy city of Kashi.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s stay at Kashi with Guru
The journey to Kashi in those days involved travelling on foot for months together, sometimes close to a year depending on the weather.
Chidambaranatha Yogi and Muthuswami visited the important shrines and tIrthAs on the way.
After a few months of travel they reached Kashi. Under the benign grace of Chidambaranatha Yogi, Muthuswami lived a deeply religious and spiritual life at Kashi.
The Yogi initiated him in the Sri Vidya cult, gave him upadEsa of the ShODashAkshari mantra and trained him in the tantric mode of worship. He also taught the young lad yOga and vEdAnta.
Muthuswami spent his time in Kashi serving his guru, reciting the vEdAs, practising Shri Vidya, meditating, and singing and playing on the vIna. This kind of disciplined life resulted in Muthuswami’s acquiring a keen and perceptive intellect and a mind that was capable of probing deep into spiritual matters. Doubtless, it also sowed the seeds of vairAgya (detachment) and instilled in the young lad a sense of equanimity.
The relationship between guru and sishyA was unique. Being an advanced tantric and a spiritually evolved Yogi, Chidambaranatha was intuitively aware of the tremendous potential of his disciple, the epoch-making task that Muthuswami would be charged with in future and the eternal fame that would be his lot.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar receives blessing from holy Ganga
One day, Chidambaranatha Yogi and Muthuswami went for a bath in the Ganga river. The Yogi asked Muthuswami to descend a few steps and put his hands into the water. When Muthuswami did so, his hands closed upon a vINa. Surprised, the lad turned towards his guru who gestured him up the steps. Chidambaranatha Yogi informed Muthuswami that this was Ganga Mata’s prasad to the boy and that She has blessed him.
The unusual feature of this vINa is that its yali faces upwards and has the word ‘Rama’ inscribed on it in Devanagari script. Providence had directly presented Muthuswami this unique instrument which was to partner him in his renaissance work.
At the end of the seven years, Yogi Chidambaranatha advised Muthuswami to return to South; and, to commence his music and spiritual career with the worship of Karthikeya on the hills of Tiruthani. Soon after that, the Yogi attained his Samadhi. Dikshitar performed the final rites of his departed guru and left Varanasi.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s first composition/ kriti
After his return from Varanasi, Muthuswamy shared his inner calling with parents to visit Tiruttani and have darshan of Lord Subramanya as instructed by his guru.
Muthuswamy’s parents blessed him. Together with his brothers, he left for hill shrine of Tiruttani. After having darshan of Lord Subrahmanya at the sanctum-sanctorum, Muthuswami took a vow to perform spiritual austerities for a manDala or forty days. Every morning he took his bath at the temple tank downhill and climbed the steps to begin his tapas. His time was thus spent in worship of the Lord and practicing deep meditation.
On the fourteenth day of his meditation, he was blessed by Lord Subrahmanya Himself. His joy knew no bounds. Overwhelmed, he immediately burst into an impromptu song. The first song that he composed on the occasion was shri nAthAdi guruguhO in mAyAmaLavagauLa rAga. This composition is in praise of the concept of the Guru.
On his way back home to Thiruvarur, Dikshitar stayed for some time with a Yogi in Kanchipuram. Yogi Sri Ramachandra Saraswathi, popularly known as Upanishad Brahmendra lived and taught in Kancipuram.
During his stay in Kanchipuram, Dikshitar set to music “Rama Ashtapadhi” a collection of stanzas composed by Sri Upanishad Brahmendra. Dikshitar returned to Thiruvarur in the year 1809. The Ashtapadi , sadly , is no longer available.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar – a composer par-excellence
Diskhitar is said to have composed almost 450 to 500 compositions, most of which are performed till this day at music concerts. Dikshitar travelled to many holy shrines throughout his life, and composed krithis on the deities and temples he visited. Each of his compositions is unique and brilliantly crafted.
Dikshitar was a master of not only Ragas but Talas as well and is the only composer to have kritis in all the seven basic Talas of the Carnatic scheme.
Stay at Tanjavur
Three years after Muthuswami returned to Thiruvarur (1814), his father Ramaswami Dikshitar, at the age of eighty-two, passed away in Magha-masa on the auspicious Shiva-rathri night.
The Dikshitar brothers , therefore , decided to move to Tanjavur in search of a living. Tanjavur, in those days, was relatively peaceful, secure ; and, was a center for culture and learning, while most of the Southern regions was under the threat of the Sultan.
Dikshitar during his stay in Thanjavur composed a number of Samasti Charana Kirtanas.
The Dikshitar brothers stayed in Thanjavur for about three years (about 1817 -1820).
Soon, Muthuswami Dikshitar left Tanjavur; and went on a pilgrimage visiting a number of temples; and composing kritis in honour of the deities he visited.
Years later, Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar also settled down in Ettayapuram at the request of the king. A few years later, Dikshitar’s both wives passed away.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar, a jivan mukta
Dikshitar who was an astute scholar-devotee, a Sadhaka, was a viraktha, meaning, an unattached soul to worldly possessions, to places or to emotions.
He was voluntarily poor and accepted his poverty with equanimity. He did not seek favour or patronage from anyone. He was an intense devotee; but his devotion was undemonstrative.
In his compositions, you never find despondency, helplessness or begging for divine grace or intervention. He was solely devoted to Sri Vidya Upasana and to his music which was his medium of self-expression. His works exude serene contemplation and soulful joy.
Musical legend breathes his last (Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s death)
It was on Naraka Chaturdasi ,the fourteenth day of the lunar calendar, in the month of Ashwija, the day preceding Deepavali (October 18th, 1835), Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar performed Parva Mandala puja to Devi and sang Ehi Annapurne (Punnagavarali). This was Sri Dikshitar’s last composition. Thereafter, he asked his disciples to sing Meenakshi mey mudam dehi (Purvi Kalyani) . When they sang the Anupallavi, he asked them to repeat the phrases “Meena lochani pasha mochini”. As they were singing, Muthuswami Dikshitar uttered “Shive pahi, Shive pahi, Shive pahi” and breathed his last , like a true yogi.