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Tuesday, December 13, 2011



The great Indian Trinity of South Indian Classical music comprised Tyagaraja(1767—1847), Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835) and Shyama Shastri (1763—1827).It is a strange coincidence that all were born in Tiruvaraur and lived in adjoining streets. While there are records that Dikshitar frequently visited Shyama Shastri and compared notes on the music of their times it is not known whether he met Tyagaraja.

Dikshitar was born in 1775 and was the youngest of the trio. While he lived only for 60 years and Shastri for 64 years Tyagaraja was 80 when he departed.

Together, the period in which they composed Karnatak music is rightly called the Periclean Age and during these 80 years Europe too had its Golden Age with Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Weber pouring out their best.

Dikshitar’s father was Ramaswami Dikshitar—an excellent Vina player and a talented composer of kritis,varnams and ragamalikas. His son overshadowed him.

Muthuswami Dikshitar accompanied a saint Chidambaranatha Yogi to Varanasi and spent five years studying philosophy .It is also likely that he went with his Guru to Badrinath, Kathmandu and other North Indian shrines.

On return to the South, he proceeded to Tiruttani and worshipped Lord Subrahmanya. Tradition has it that Dikshitar was in meditation and Lord Kumara came as an old man and put sugar candy in his mouth. He burst into song and rendered his first kriti “Sri Natahadi Guruguho” in the raga Mayamalavagaula.He fitted in his compositions the name of the raga and his Mudra-Guruguha.

Dikshitar has to his credit 500 compositions.He composed a complete series of songs to illustrate the 72 mela scheme of Asampurna Mela Paddhati. He incorporated descriptions of temples, deities, goddesses, sacred tanks, trees, local customs and even beauties of architecture.

A matter for some surprise is that Dikshitar composed Sanskrit devotional texts for tunes of the English Band of Chinnayya Mudaliar—in all 37 nottusvaras which included the British National Anthem !.

“If humility is the hallmark of Tyagaraja, piety the password of Shyama Shastri, then Dikshitar’s works are like jewels made of words that are gems, so carefully entwined with pure traditional music”, thus a perceptive critic summed up the Trinity.

Let us now turn to Dikshitar’s composition “Vatapi Ganapatim Bhaje”. Karnatak music concerts used to start with this kriti ,thanks to the efforts and example of Vidwan Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer. The song is in melodious Hamsadvani and artistically captures the playful nature of Ganesha. Now, the question is where is this statue ?.

Kalki in his great historical novel “Sivakamiyin Sabatham” presented one version. Vatapi—a corruption of Badami is located in Bijapur. After the Pallavas under Narasimha Varman I(630—638 A.D) conquered Badami, they brought an image of Ganapati to Tanjore and installed it in the Ganapatisvara temple of Tiruccengattangudi. This was the home of the Pallava general Paranjyoti who changed his name to Ciruttonda and became a Saivaite saint.

However oral traditions doubt this and believe that the Ganapati is installed in a secondary shrine.

At a later date, the idol served as an inspiration for another Ganapati in the Tiruvarur temple.This is the statue that Dikshitar made immortal with his mellifluous song, full of praise of Ganesha.

A sketch of the Tiruvarur idol appeared in the issue of Kalki dated 23 June 1946 , which also included an article by Kalki on “Vatapi Ganapati”.

The quest for the original Vatapi Ganapati is on

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