kSEtra k.rtis of muttusvAmi dIkSitar



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[Editor's Notes: 1) This article has links to audio files, all of which are in Real Audio (32 kbps, streaming stereo) format. To play these, you will need the Real One player, available for free download, from Real Networks 2) The audio clippings included in this article, are strictly for informational and illustrative purposes only 3) Click here for the standard transliteration scheme]

MuttusvAmi dIkSitar (1775 -1834 A.D.): One among the Musical Trinity, was a composer par excellence. A wide traveller and a zealous pilgrim, he chose to sing in praise of the deities present in the numerous temples he visited. In this article, we attempt a musical pilgrimage of the temples of South India through his numerous k.rtis.


Of the Musical Trinity, muttusvAmi dIkSitar was the youngest and was widely traveled.  He was a zealous pilgrim with an insatiable thirst for visiting sacred places and singing the glory of the deities present in those holy shrines.   He visited a good number of kSEtras (Hindu temples), and his compositions on temple deities  range widely in geographical areas from the southern tip of India in rAmEshvaram to the far north in kAthmandu.  Since tiruvArUr was the main centre of his activities, we naturally find a large number of his k.rtis dedicated to the various gods and goddesses in and around the vicinity of the mammoth tyAgarAja temple there.

The available number of krtis by dIkSitar varies from 217 (Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini of subbarAma dIkSitar) to a maximum of 479 (Vina Sundaram Iyer’s “muttisvAmi dIkSitar kIrtanaigaL” – the red book in Tamil).  Taking this maximum number of 479, the following is a break down of deities praised in these k.rtis:

shiva (including kAlabhairava, vIrabhadra)            131 (27.34%)

dEvi (pArvati, mInAkshi, rENukA dEvi)                 169 (35.28%)

lakSmi                                                                             9 (1.87%)

sarasvati                                                                         13 (2.71%)       

viSNu (excluding rAma, k.rSNa)                                41 (8.55%)

rAma                                                                               20 (4.17%)

k.rSNa                                                                             14 (2.92%)       

gaNapati                                                                         27 (5.63%)

subrahmaNya                                                              36 (7.51%)

navagraha                                                                      9 (1.87%)

hanUmAn                                                                      5 (1.05%)

brahma                                                                       1 (0.21%)

shAstA                                                                             1 (0.21%)

sandhyA dEvi                                                               1 (0.21%)

ga.nga dEvi                                                                   1 (0.21%)

mAya (in contempt of – not praising)                        1 (0.21%)

This list includes three compositions on dual deities  – pArvati and parameshvara, sha.nkara and nArAyaNa, and rAma and k.rSNa (counted only once in the above listing).

These k.rtis can be further classified under several headings:

  • Group k.rtis on a single god/goddess or a single theme (kamalAmbA navAvaraNam, guruguha series, gauLAnta k.rtis on nIlotpalAmba, navagraha k.rtis, and so on)

  • Individual k.rtis on a particular deity in a particular temple

  • k.rtis with no clear information on a particular temple location

  • k.rtis of a general nature, praising (or seeking blessings of) a particular deity, without referring to any particular temple location.

  • k.rtis on rare themes

  • k.rtis associated with some anecdotes in dIkSitar’s life.

Among these 479 k.rtis, 160 are of a general nature, with no reference to any specific temples.  This includes the bulk of  40 k.rtis in sha.nkarAbharaNam, known as noTTu svara sAhityams (western melody). and all the five compositions on hanUmAn.  The remaining 319 k.rtis are on about 70 temple locations covering around 150 deities.  (dIkSitar might have visited all these temples, but we are unable to conclude whether he visited northern India a second time after his return from kAshi to compose k.rtis on pashupathinAtha (kASmIr), vishAlAkSi (kAshi) etc. With his razor-sharp memory, he might have composed on these gods/goddesses while staying in south India.).  Also, the exact temple locations in many k.rtis are difficult to figure out, either:

  • for want of details in the sAhityam, or

  • the sAhityam provides adequate information, but the temple of that description could not be located, or

  • there is more than one temple that fit in the descriptions of the text of the k.rti.

The Appendix at the end of this write-up lists all these 70 temple locations with the names of the deities featured in dIkSitar compositions.

The real value of dIkSitar’s k.rtis lies in the fact that his compositions describe various aspects of archeological, iconographical and spiritual heritage of South India.  His k.rtis, which are the essence of kSEtra mAhAtmya (glorification of temples) contain architectural details of the temples he visited.  Legends surrounding the temples appear side by side with the musical grammar of the particular rAga in which the composition is set.  His work can be described as an epitome of the spiritual record of South India.  Among the Musical Trinity, tyAgarAja sang mostly in praise of Lord rAma (the hero of the epic poem rAmAyaNa), and shyAma sAstri chose to sing on goddess kAmAkSi of kA~ncIpuram,  whereas dIkSitar, an  advaitin (a believer in non-dualistic system of philosophy)  a tAntrik scholar, and a  j~nAni (possessed of supreme divine knowledge), composed  k.rtis glorifying almost every God and Goddess in the  Hindu mythology.  Most often, his sAhityas (text of the composition) contain a detailed picture of the shrine, the idol, the purANic (mythological) associations of the place, the sthala v.rkSa (the sacred tree associated with the place), the holy tank in the temple courtyard, some special offerings to the deity,  the associated temple festivals, or even the particular form of its worship. He has to his credit,. many compositions that are suited for every occasion, for pilgrims to sing at any shrine, on any form of the personal God. For those who had the doSa (impact, or evil effects) of the stars, he gave the popular navagraha k.rtis on the nine planets. There are a variety of  k.rtis  for use on festival occasions, at special annual  worship, and on occasions to mark special vows taken to please Lord  gaNesha, goddess  varalakSmi, sarasvati, and so on. 

As a saint, he could be easily regarded as a 64th nAyanAr for the shaivaite school of thought, and the 13th  ALvAr for the  vaiSnavaite system.  While the nAyanArs sang exclusively on shiva, and the AlvArs sang only in praise of viSNu, it is remarkable that dIkSitar made no exception, and sang on every God of the Hindu pantheon. 

Click here for Part II: The Pilgrim's Path

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