Hypnotizing Hindolam, Sorrowful Shivaranjani

pondWhen a friend who was leaving Manila suggested that we have a musical get together to listen to ragas Hindolam and Shivaranjani, I could not have been more delighted as they are among my favorite ragas too!

The two ragas are deeply meditative and are late evening ragas. While some suggest that the ragas evoke pathos – indeed, both ragas could be sung or played in hauntingly melancholic tunes, I found they make one reflective and draw on feelings of kindness and compassion!

Hindolam (Malkauns in Hindustani) can be serene and soulful but also endearing and energetic (particularly in Carnatic compositions). Listen to a few:

Deva devam bhaje, composed by Annamacharya, sung by MS Subbalakshmi

Ramanukku mannan mudi, composed by Arunachala Kavi, sung by Bombay Jayshree

Listen to a beautiful Marathi Abhang that I have listened to so many times – this is for my friends Aparna and Anand Chiplunkar

Anuraniya thokada sung by Bhimsen Joshi in Malkauns

Here is a jugalbandi between Balamuralikrishna and Bhimsen Joshi in a Thillana


Listen to a Sufi song – Kangna – in Malkauns by the Pakistani duo Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad on coke studio (this one is for my friend Jyotsana who is a Coke Studio enthusiast!)



A musician has written that Shivaranjani gathers strength from sadness!  The first song for this raga below is lilting, plaintive, but high on energy:-) –  in a soulful rendition by Bombay Jayshree

Kuzhalosai composed by Suddhananda Bharati

Now for two instrumental pieces;

Hariprasad Chaurasia in flute

Bismillah Khan in shehnai

Shivaranjani is a popular raga for music in films

A Tamil song from the movie Thiruda Thiruda

Kannum kannum

Listen to Yesudas who straddles classical and light music so well in the movie Chiriyo Chiri (this is for my friend Radha who is from Kerala!)

Ezhu swarangalum

My favorite Hindi movie song in Shivaranjani is

Mere Naina Saawan Bhadon

Finally the signature tune of the historic early morning Vivid Bharti program (that started in 1957 or so) on All India Radio sounds like shivaranjani….




Swati Tirunal – Musician King

swati tirunal 1Swati Tirunal Rama Varma was the Maharaja of the State of Travancore and was a great patron of music and arts. He appears to have been a social reformer, who contributed to modernizing laws, improving justice and administration, establishing a number of institutions.  In modern day Trivandrum, the Observatory, Public Library, the Zoo, Government Press, University College and the Oriental Manuscripts Library of the University of Kerala all owe their existence to Swati Tirunal. He introduced English education. Reporting on the King’s English schools in Travancore the Gardner’s Magazine of 1841 referred to the Rajah of Travancore as ‘the great promoter of science in the East’.  It is said that he was an honorary member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Swati Tirunal lived a mere 33 years (1813-1846) and had to deal with a complex web of family politics and the pressures of ruling a state under British colonial presence, initially under the regency of his mother and aunt and later on his own. Yet, over 400 musical compositions are attributed to Swati Tirunal, covering both Carnatic and Hindustani music. It is recorded that he was an accomplished and erudite King and spoke several languages. It is said that he was proficient in English, Persian, Arabic, Hindi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.   He also composed music in Manipravalam – a combination of languages, particularly Sanskrit and Tamil.

The music appreciation group met on the theme of Swati Tirunal as a composer.

The royal patron Swati Tirunal drew many musicians to his court.  Notable among them were the Tanjore Quartet of four brothers – Vadivelu, Chinnayya, Ponnayya, and Sivanandam – who were disciples of Muthuswamy Dikshitar; and Kannayya Bhagavatar, a disciple of Tyagaraja. He patronized music and literature. He was a world citizen and is supposed to have traveled out of India and to have imported European musical instruments into Kerala.

Swati Tirunal was a devotee of Lord Padmanabha (Vishnu) and many of his compositions are in praise of this Lord. Let us start with:

Jaya Jaya Padmanabha Murare in Raga Sarasangi by Dr Balamurali Krishna

Next is the very popular piece – those familiar with Carnatic music will have heard it plenty of times:

Bhavayami Raghuramam in Ragamalika by MS Subbalakshmi


kuthira malika concert venueKuthira Malika (or a Mansion of Horses, named after the large number of horses that are carved into the wooden wall brackets), is a palace that Swati Tirunal built overlooking the Padmanabhaswamy temple  in Trivandrum.  The building is in traditional Keralite style. The courtyard of Kuthira Malika palace is the venue for the annual Swathi Sangeethotsavam, the music festival to commemorate the music of Swati Tirunal.

Listen to a few performances at the Swathi Sangeethotsavam in Kuthira Mallka;

Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma is a direct descendant of Swati Tirunal (wish he would not call himself Prince Rama Varma!) and is the organizer of the annual Swathi Sangeethotsavam in Trivandrum. Apart from inviting many musicians to perform, he also gives concerts at the festival. Listen to a rendering by him at the traditional venue of Kuthira Malika – he gives a nice explanation of the piece at the beginning:

Pannagendra Shayana in Ragamalika

Next is a piece by Sanjay Subramaniam who performed at Kuthira Malika in 2013, 2014 and 2015. This musician has been chosen for the prestigious Sangeeta Kalanidhi award by the Music Academy in 2015.

Paripalayamam in Raga Ritigowla

Next is a lovely Flute Piece by Pravin Godkhindi in Hindustani style at this year’s Swathi Sangeethotsavam.

In addition to kritis for vocal performances, Swati Tirunal also composed music for dance. These include Swarajatis, Varnams, Padams and Tillanas. Rukmini Devi who founded the famous dance school Kalakshetra in Chennai, is said to have choreographed dance pieces set to the music of Swati Tirunal. She was close to the royal family of Travancore.  Kalakshetra celebrated the bicentennial anniversary of Swati Tirunal in November 2013.

Geeta Dhuniku is a very well known Thillana piece composed by Swati Thirunal – this piece was immortalized by Lalgudi Jayaraman. But, here, listen to a wonderful contemporary version of Geeta Dhuniku.

Here are a few Hindustani music inspired bhajans of Swati Tirunal by various artists:

Aaj Aaye Shyam Mohan in Raga Yaman by Pandit Ganapathi Bhatt (it’s a wonderful spirited piece, don’t be put off by the break between part 1 and 2)

Aaye Giridhara by Bombay Jayshree in her trademark evocative style

A superb rendering of Vishweshwara Darshana Kar in Sindhu Bhairavi by Sudha Raghunathan

Chaliye Kunjan mo in Raga Bridavana Saranga by Chitra (please scroll down the page for the video)


If the above seems ample diversity in musical compositions, there is more to Swati’s repertory than the selection above! He composed ‘kshetra kritis’ or compositions in praise of various temples and their presiding deities. His Navaratri compositions – 9 compositions for each day of the 9-day Navaratri festival – are in praise of the Goddess or Devi. The Navaratri Mandapam at the Padmanabhaswamy temple is the venue for the 9-day concerts which are held each year. Strict punctuality, lighting of traditional oil lamps, use of natural sound reflectors and an accent on devotion rather than musical prowess are said to be trademark qualities of the Navaratri Festival in Trivandrum. I hope that one day I will listen to concerts at either Kuthira Malika Swati Festival in January or at the Navaratri Mandapam during the Navaratri festival!

Swati Tirunal also composed the Nava Vidha Bhakti Kritanas or Navaratna Malikas, evoking nine types of devotion.  He composed 39 khyals and inspired Hindustani singers. The renowned musician Pandit Jasraj from the Mewati Gharana is believed to have announced that there should be a new gharana called ‘MeSwati’ to weave in the compositions of Swati Thirunal. But these are for another post!

I close with two soulful renderings – sit back, listen and be mesmerized:-)

Deva Deva Kalayamithe in Raga Mayamalavagowla by Shashank

Ghaffil Bhai Lo a Khyal in Raga Aadi Basant by Pandit Ramesh Narayan



Poetry and Music of Faraz

ahmad farazI was invited to an evening to celebrate the poetry of Ahmad Faraz; a group of people who are greatly enthusiastic about Urdu poetry regularly meet to recite and sing Urdu poetry.

India and Pakistan share a wonderful joint cultural heritage. Ghazal artists from Pakistan have performed to overflowing auditoriums in India – I remember a memorable performance by Farida Khanum in Delhi’s Kamani auditorium singing her favorites including ‘Aaj Jaane ki Zid Na Karo’ and various other ghazals – made even more enjoyable by a good friend interpreting the finer nuances of the lyrics to me!

Ahmad Faraz was an acclaimed Urdu poet of contemporary times (1931-2008), who followed the tradition of great poets Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The early work of Faraz was largely romantic Urdu poetry. In later years, he got to be known for his fiery, progressive and revolutionary poetry, his pen speaking out against military excesses. His harsh critique of the state landed him in jail, and he also went on a self-imposed exile for some time.

Here let us look into the music of his poetry. A critique wrote that Faraz was a poet of ghazals. To me, the poetry of Faraz seemed to invoke two sentiments – one that extols sublimity of love, arising from one who does not expect to receive anything; and another that bewails the tragedy of love, anguish and separation. (I hope experts dont scoff at this simplistic view:-).  In a homage to Faraz there is a description of how his poetry induced deep, delicious, delightful melancholia! I wonder if it is the power of his poetry that got the critic to describe melancholia in such a fashion!

The poetry of Faraz was popularized by well known singers like Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hasan, Runa Laila and Jagjit Singh. One of Faraz’s finest ghazals, possibly the most widely heard, is ‘Ranjishi Sahi’. Many artists have sung it, but by far the most popular and loved version is by Mehdi Hasan. Mehdi Hasan sang Ranjishi Sahi by Faraz and made it an iconic ghazal – he gave the ghazal a distnict stamp and made it his own. In fact until the get together to celebrate Faraz, I always knew the ghazal as one sung by the famous Mehdi Hasan!

Here is the rendering of Ranjishi Sahi in Yaman by Mehdi Hasan

Here you can hear Faraz reading his poetry and Mehdi Hasan singing it.

Listen to Asha Bhonsle and Runa Laila sing the same song Ranjishi.

Even South Indian, classical singers such as Bombay Jayshree and Hariharan, who are at the top of their craft in the main genre of music they sing, have also sung Ranjishi Sahi, but I think Mehdi Hasan’s rendering remains matchless.

Listen to another ghazal, Phir Usi Rahguzar Par Shayad, sung by Ghulam Ali in Bhairavi and by Jagjit Singh.

The ghazals of Faraz found their way into films as well. Listen to Tahira Syed sing an energetic Yeh Alam Shauq Ka Dekha Na Jaye (not sure this is a film version – can anyone confirm?).

Another ghazal of Faraz with the trademark melancholic strains sung by Mehdi Hassan Shola Tha Jal Bhujha doon in Kirwani.

Listen to a well known poem Abhi Kuch Or Karshmay Ghazal K Dekhtey Hain being recited – sad overtones again, yet in this case, there is an upbeat quality!

Ghulam Ali sings Aisay Chup Hain by Faraz

Listen to this Musical Tribute to his father Faraz by his son Sarmad Faraz

I close with a lovely rendering by Noor Jahan who sang many Faraz ghazals. Listen to Silsilay Thod Gaya Woh Sabhi Jate Jate

Singing the praise of Lord Rama

Ram lakhsman sita hanumanLord Rama is considered the personification of goodness and ‘dharma’ – in upholding duties and laws and in exemplifying the ‘‘right way of living’’. He is considered an embodiment of virtue and righteousness. One of the gatherings of the music appreciation group was close to Rama Navami, or Lord Rama’s birth anniversary, and thus took up music in praise of Lord Rama as the theme.

There are many versions of the Ramayana, the story of Rama, in different languages – some hold that there are as many as 300 versions. Valmiki Ramayana is considered the oldest and most authentic. Ramacharitamanas by Tulsidas is a widely recognized version. He composed the famed Tulsidas Ramayana in couplets or ‘Dohas’. Tulsidas and his works were part of the Bhakti movement that blended poetry, devotion and music.

Let us start with Thumak Chalat Rama Chandra of Tulsidas sung by DV Paluskar – an appropriate start with a description of Rama in his infancy. While there are multitudes of songs on Lord Krishna as a child – his pranks and activities, there are not many on Rama as a child.

Next is a devotional Bhajan of Tulsidas – Sri Rama Chandra Kripalu – listen two different version of the same song

by classical musician MS Subbalakshmi

and Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar

Now I would like to share a very popular Meera bhajan, Ram Rattan Dhan Payo, sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Meera was known primarily as a devotee of Krishna but she also extolled Lord Rama!

Another devotee of Krishna who also composed songs on Rama is Purandaradasa (see earlier post on his music in this site). Here is Purandaradasa’s Alli Nodalu Rama by Mambalam Sisters. The composer says that we can see Rama here, there and everywhere – wherever one casts one’s eyes – a function of great spiritual devotion!

Laksmanacharya wrote something called ‘Nama Ramayanam’, a condensed version of the entire story of Ramayana as told by Valmiki, in the form of 108 invocations of the name of Rama. Set to great meter, this shloka – Shuddha Brahma Paratpara Ram –  is sung beautifully by MS Subbalakshmi. Each of the ‘kaandams’ or episodes in the life of Rama is set to a different raga. I revived childhood memories of listening to this song scores of times in an old spool tape recorder.

Tyagaraja, one of the musical trinity of Carnatic music, was a devout follower of Lord Rama – he is said to have chanted the name of Rama 960 million times (phew!) – see the earlier blogpost, Tyagaraja 101 on this site. Here is a nice composition of Tyagaraja – Sujana Jivana in raga Saveri sung by TM Krishna.

Tyagaraja, however, was pre-dated by an equally staunch Rama-devotee – Bhadrachala Ramadas. His original name was Gopanna. He became an ardent devotee of Rama, and composed several songs on Rama. He is said to have built a temple for Rama in Bhadrachalam. Apparently, when the money he collected to build the temple ran out, he took some from the tax revenues of the province and was unable to return them. The Nawab of the time imprisoned him for this. But Ramadas continued his devotional lyrics on Rama in prison– his songs implored the Lord to pay attention to his plight in prison! Lore has it that a couple of strangers came to his rescue by bringing gold coins to pay off his debts. The coins had Rama’s coronation imprinted on them (believed to be Ram tanka coins) and these were paid by the strangers for the release of Ramadas. This episode moved the Nawab so much that he not only released Ramadas from prison but also granted lands in Bhadrachala for him to continue his devotional music. Present day musician Balamurali Krishna is credited with popularizing the songs of Bhadrachala Ramadas. Listen to a couple of nice pieces below, which are not in the heavy classical genre but are Bhajans. These too have been part of my growing up years of listening to music. It must be the imprint of youthful memory that when I heard these Bhajans again after years, I recalled exactly the rhythm of accompanying instruments. At that time, I did not have access to lyrics like we now do instantaneously thanks to the internet, so I never learnt the sahitya of the Bhajans but only the tunes!

Pahirama Prabho – Madyamavati

Paluke Bangaramayena Kodandapani – anandabhairavi

Bhadrachala Ramadas inspired Tyagaraja to improve the kriti style of music but also the quality of devotion he practiced. In the composition of the kriti ‘ksheera saagara sayana’, Tyagaraja, who apparently was in a state of distress, extols Lord Rama’s compassion in freeingBhakta Ramadas from prison, and implores that he relieves Tyagaraja too of his distress. Listen to this kriti of Tyagaraja in Devagaandhaari by MS Subbalakshmi and Balamurali Krishna.


What is the relevance of Lord Rama’s qualities in today’s times? Sometimes I feel that the perfect persona or ‘adarsha purusha’ that Lord Rama is extolled to be, is too black and white to suit today’s world. Yet, mindful living, upholding duty, noble friendship, courage to defy the wrong are good things to strive for. Moreover, the quality of devotion of people who composed and sang the praise of Lord Rama also teaches us something – such sublime faith and belief in goodness cannot fail to ennoble one’s life – right? ?

Listen to this lovely instrumental piece, a LP 1967 recording – violin (by Lalguidi Jayaraman), venu (flute by N Ramani), and veena (by M Venkataraman) – the kriti Mohana Rama by Tyagaraja in Raga Mohanam. Courtesy – Rasikas.org (Carnatic Music Forums)

Priest Composer: Syama Sastri

syama sastri

The music appreciation group took on the last of the Trinity of Carnatic Music, Syama Sastri (1762-1827). Syama Sastri was the oldest of the Trinity of Carnatic music but did not come from a family of musicians. He came from a priestly family. Despite being groomed to be a priest, he had keen interest and talent in music that he went on to develop, while performing his priestly duties. It is recorded that his way of reading mantras to the deity was through music which moved many a devotee visiting the temple.

He was not as well traveled as Muthuswamy Dikshitar or Tyagaraja nor are his works as extensive as the other two of the Trinity. He is said to have composed about 300 pieces. His music, like Muthuswamy Dikshitar, is considered to be weighty with a scholarly approach. Particularly noteworthy in his music is the use of complex talas or rhythm.

Another common feature with Dikshitar is that Syama Sastri was also a great worshipper of Devi, the Goddess. Specially venerated by him is the Bangaru Kamakshi temple in Kanchipuram – the temple in which he was a priest following the footsteps of his father. As head priest of the Kamakshi temple, he led a fairly comfortable life.

Syama Sastri’s music has many layers and needs to be slowly unraveled and savored. While initially the weightiness of his compositions may not quite appeal to the layperson, listening to them several times reveals the nuances of his music. He composed three famous Swarajatis also referred to as “Ratnatrayam” or three jewels.

Let us start by listening to some pieces:

Kamakshi – Swarajati in Raga Bhairavi by MS Subbalakshmi

Himadrisute pahimam in Raga Kalyani by TV Sankaranarayan

Sankari Sankuru in Raga Saveri by Ranjani and Gayatri

In addition to being born in the same area, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri also appear to have visited the same shrines. They both composed a song on ‘Akhilandeswari’ although set to different ragas but to the same deity at Jambukeshwara temple. He composed another 4 songs on Akhilandewari. Syama Shastri went on to compose many more weighty songs on the Devi – particularly noteworthy are 8 songs on Madurai Meenakshi. In Tanjore, the famous Brihadeeswara temple is known for the worship of Lord Shiva – but Syama Sastri composed kritis on his consort, Brihannayaki – Dayajooda in raga Jaganmohini.

A couple of more songs by Syama Sastri:

Saroja dalanetri in raga Sankarabharam by MS Subbalakshmi

Marivera gathi in raga Anandhabhairavi by violinist TN Krishnan


I close with two favorites:

Janani Ninnuvina in Raga Rithigowla by Maharajapuram Santhanam

Devi Brova Samayamidhe in Raga Chintamani by MS Subbalakshmi


Tyagaraja 101


How can one do justice to the great composer Tyagaraja in one session? So let us take this as a starter! Tyagaraja was probably the most famous of the Trinity of Carnatic music, known for composing a wonderful collection of kritis thatremain evergreen to this day, his devotion to Lord Rama and for his ascetic and simple life. I don’t believe there is any other musician in the world who is commemorated year after year by a vast congregation of leading musicians who put aside their differences to come together to sing the Pancharatna Kritis of Tyagaraja in unison. This year, the Tyagaraja Aradhana festival that takes place each year at his place of birth in Tiruvaiyaru was celebrated for the 167th year! Astounding is it not?

He is most known for his devotion to Lord Rama to whom he consecrated most of his compositions. Aside from composing a large number of kritis in praise of his favorite God, or Ishtadaiva, he also infused individual compositions with a multitude of invocations to Lord Rama. There are 108 names of Rama in the composition Jagadanandakaraka. He was a great musician and a saint – yet, very simple at heart; he was seriously pious, yet could be greatly affected (when the idol of Lord Rama disappeared from his house – his brother threw the idol into the river Kaveri, when Tyagaraja refused to sing in the King’s court – an idol he would discover again through the sheer power of his imploring songs). It is said that he chanted the name of Rama 960 million times!

Listen to a collection of kritis in praise of Lord Rama

Balakanakamaya in raga Atana and Rama Nannu Brovera in raga Harikamboji by MS Subbalakshmi

Ramuni Maravakave in raga Pantuvarali by Maharajapuram Santhanam

Nannu Palimpa in raga Mohanam by Dr Balamuralikrishna

Dayarani in raga Mohanam in flute by kalpathy sooryanarayanan

A number of pieces by Dr Balamuralikrishna

A wonderful Evarura Ninnuvina in raga Mohanam in Flute by Shashank


Tyagaraja eschewed wealth and fame. When the prevailing ruler asked him to sing in his court, not only did he refuse to do that, he burst into an evocative song which asked “Is wealth the source of happiness or proximity to God?” Listen to MS sing a really long version of Nidhi Chala Sukhama in raga Kalyani. He took forward the Bhakti tradition in music and in that journey was highly influenced by Purandaradasa whose compositions and philosophy were mirrored in the compositions of Tyagaraja as well.

He sang to his personal God Rama in anguish, in supplication but also in very familiar terms, almost addressing God as ‘hey boy’ (in Ela ni dayaradu) or in great joy. Complete surrender to God was his creed. He also wrote several dance dramas.

He composed several thematic kritis in batches of five. The Ghana raga Pancharatnas are the most popular which are sung annually at the Tyagaraja Aradhana festival:

Jagadananda Karaka – Ragam Natai

Duduku gala – Ragam Goula

Sadhinchane – Ragam Arabhi

Kanakana Ruchira – Ragam Varali

Endaro Mahanubhavulu – Sri Ragam

Listen to the Ghana Pancharatna kritis.


Another group of five compositions are called Kovoor pancharatna kritis in praise of the deity at Kovur temple. Listen to a lecture demonstration by Jayalakshmi Shekar on Kovoor Pancharatna kritis.

Tyagaraja had some illustrious disciples such as Veena Kuppayyar and Lalgudi Ramayya – it was for the latter that Tyagaraja composed the Lalgudi Pancharatnas which were to be popularized by violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman. There are other themes on which Tyagaraja composed 5 kritis, but that is for a future post!


Badrinath to Rameshwaram with Dikshitar


The Music Appreciation group in Manila picked Dikshitar as the theme composer for a series of composer-based musical get-togethers.

Muthuswamy Dikshitar (March 24, 1775 – October 21, 1835) was one of the famed Trinity of Carnatic music – the youngest of the three. He was scholarly in his pursuit of music and his compositions were mostly dedicated to gods. In fact, Dikshitar traveled to many parts of the country and composed kritis in praise of the presiding deity of the temples he visited. While he spent most of his time in different places in South India, he had also traveled up north to Kashi or Varanasi where he spent time learning music and to Kashmir and Badrinath.

His repertoire is rich with salutations to various Gods and Goddesses – whether Sri Satyanarayanam in raga Sivapantuvarali (or Shubha Pantuvarali) on Lord Vishnu at Badrinath (sung by Bombay Jayashri here) or Ramanatham Bhajeham in raga Pantuvarali on Rama at Rameswaram in deep South India (sung here by MS Subbalakshmi).

He was adept in composing a number of kritis around a common theme: particularly well-known group compositions are on the Panchabhuta Stalams. There are five shrines dedicated to Shiva signifying the 5 elements and Dikshitar composed one kriti for each of the Stalams – Wind (Kalahasti: Sri Kalahastish a in raga huseni)), Water (Tiruvanaikka, Jambukeshwaram: Jambupate in raga yamuna kalyani), Fire (Tiruvannamalai: Arunachala natham in raga Saranga), Earth (Kanchipuram: Chintaya makanta in raga Bhairavi) and Space (Chidambaram: Ananda Natana Prakasham in raga Kedaram). You can listen to Panchabhuta Kritis sung by T.M. Krishna – they are in rather slow tempo. Arunachalanatham by Hyderabad Brothers is an upbeat rendering.

The other well-known cluster of kritis relates to the 9 Kamalamba Navavarana Kritis. The gender specialists of today will appreciate Dikshitar as he was a great ‘Devi Upasaka’ or devotee of the Goddesss and composed maximum number of songs on goddesses, followed by compositions on Shiva. He composed iconic kritis on the Devi: Listen to Ms Subbalakshmi render Akhilandeswari in raga Dwijavanti, Bombay Jayashri sing Kanchadalayadakshi in raga Kamalamanohari and Maharajapuram Santham render Sri Chakra Raja Simhaneshwari in Ragamalika.

You can download a vast number of Dikshitar kritis here

Dikshitar was an accomplished veena player so a tribute by Veena exponent S. Balachander to Dikshitar is quite apt! While Muthuswamy Dikshitar played the Veena, his brother Baluswamy Dikshitar was initiated to violin and it is said that it was because of this that the violin, which had hitherto been a largely western musical instrument was inducted into Carnatic music. The violin is now omni-present in most Carnatic concerts. This also led Dikshitar to expound on western notes – and develop something unique called Nottu Swaram.

The music appreciation group was lucky to have Kanniks Kannikeswaran, a musician, composer and writer, join the discussions through Skype from Cincinnati by waking up very early! He has lectured at the Music Academy and other places on Dikshitar’s Nottu Swaras and on other aspects of music and shared his thoughts with us. He has an informative website www.templenet.com which explores the confluence of music and temples in Southern India. Listen to Kanniks’ daughter render nottu swara.

Dikshitar was scholarly – his compositions reveal the mastery of his craft. He was highly proficient in Sanskrit which is the predominant language of his compositions. He also used Manipravalam which is a mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil. His compositions span the entire 72 melakarta ragas and all the 7 basic talas. He was also well-versed in astrology – the lore is that he even predicted his own death and just as he was about to die, he asked his students to sing a favorite song ‘Meenakshi me mudam dehi’ and passed away while it was being sung! I recently came across an interesting anecdote – that Rabindranath Tagore, when invited to visit Chennai by Rukmini Devi, composed some songs mean for dance based on the Carnatic tradition and one of them was based on Meenakshi me mudam dehi! Listen to the Bengali version of the song set for dance which is so close to the Dikshitar original! (authenticity of the Tagore story not known!)

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