Author: Lalitha Sri; Photo Courtesy:

Editor’s Note: Apart from the various music and dance concerts that one can choose from, there is a lot of learning, discussion and knowledge sharing that happens through interesting talks, lec-dems and conferences. In this article, our Friend of Margazhi Lalitha Sri captures the highlights of a presentation by Chennai’s much loved and respected V Sriram on the Life and Times of Shri Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Read on and you are sure to get a lot of the insights even if you missed the actual program.

The Life and Times of Shri Muttuswamy Dikshitar came alive in V Sriram’s presentation at NGS Mini Hall on November 30. It was a dispassionate historian’s view based on known facts and records, yet a passionate story telling woven around the amazing accomplishments of a musical genius that was no myth or mystery, but haloed history.  If the full house turnout at the start of the lecture was heartening, the engaging delivery and arresting visuals ensured the crowd stayed till the very end. Sriram’s commitment, effort and zeal were evident, as he recounted the travails of following Dikshitar’s trail up  unknown hillocks and around temples and dwellings in search of hidden treasures. The speaker’s personal involvement was so contagious, the crowd caught on and  echoed the excitement.

SG # 803 (1976), Muthuswami Dikshitar

Some nuggets:

  • Ramaswamy Dikshitar, father of the more illustrious Muttuswamy Dikshitar, was a classical music exponent in his own right. He was part of the famous lineage (shishya parampara) of the great Venkatamakhin.
  • An astute man of the world, he was quick in reading the tide of events, and shifting quarters to beat or benefit from the geo-political compulsions of the era. From his early life base-station of Kanchi, he moved to Govindapuram, then to Tiruvarur, and back north to the Madras region.
  • Ramaswamy Dikshitar is credited with codifying the temple singing structure which continues till this day in Tiruvarur. He also composed the phenomenal 108 raga malika.
  • We all know of Muttuswamy Dikshitar’s prolific musical capabiities. Little known is the fact that he was also expert in kavya alankara sastras, as well as ashta mahasiddhis,  which he learned under the tutelage of Chidambaranatha yogi, who took him to Varnasi. He returned to Madras with his famed Veena, (a smaller version compared to today’s instrument) that is still with his descendants in Coimbatore. Dikshitar went to Tiruttani, where he composed Srinatadi guruguho, embodying the highest philosophy of the guru leading the spiritual path.
  • Thus started Dikshitar’s magnificent contribution to carnatic music. He then moved to Kanchi (where he composed the less known Rama ashtapadi), and then to Tiruvarur which we all know and celebrate as his hometown.
  • Contrary to the image of medieval orthodoxy, he was unconventional in practices like teaching music to women (including Tiruvarur Kamalam.) Invited by the King, Dikshitar moved to Tanjore,and taught four brilliant students, who later came to be known as the Tanjavur quartet. This was done thru’ a fun-project, composing 72 mini kritis on temples around Tanjore, to keep the youngsters engaged while learning.
  • To Dikshitar’s family goes the credit of carnaticizing the violin, which his brother first learned from a German during their Madras sojourn. The adaptation to our music was wholly the work of their genius. And so we owe much to the Dikshitars for yet another constituent of today’s concert platform.

( Lalitha Sri is a journalist and writer of significant experience and many of you may have read many of her articles in one of Chennai’s leading newspapers. She has come on board as content crew member for this season as a rasika who loves to soak in soulful music and who enjoys learning every single day. )