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The golden era

T. S. PARTHASARATHY

This year, the anniversaries of the music giants fall on April 2, 29 and May 4.



THE TRINITY: Dikshitar, Tyagaraja and Syama Sastri.

The period from 1750-1850 A.D. is considered the golden age in the history of music not only in South India but also in Europe where masters like Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Weber flourished. In Tamil Nadu, the Trinity — Syama Sastri, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar — lived and shed lustre on Carnatic music which started flowing along fresh channels ever since their time. The anniversaries of these musical giants fall close to each other, on April 2, 29 and May 4 this year.

Syama Sastri (1763-1827) was the eldest of this Triad and was a contemporary of the other two. Although the total number of his compositions is around 50, his claim to be ranked as one of the Trinity is based on the quality of his inspired songs. There is an individuality about his pieces which are replete with raga bhava and sahitya excellence. He specialised in the slow tempo and had a preference for the Chapu tala. Syama Sastri addresses the goddess as a tender child seeking Her affectionate protection. His kritis, if correctly rendered, cannot but touch the heart of the listener. His three swarajatis in Todi, Bhairavi and Yadukulakambhoji have not been excelled so far for their harmony of raga, bhava and tala.

Tyagaraja (1767-1847) was the greatest among the music composers of South India and one of the musical prodigies of all time. He is, perhaps, remembered today only as a singer and a composer. But on a closer analysis, his greatness passes beyond the horizon of a mere composer and enters the domain of the seer and the mystic. He treated music purely as a sadhana. But the musical legacy he has left to posterity is priceless and has revolutionised the very nature of Carnatic music. His songs are accepted today as the most adequate interpretation of classical Carnatic music both from the music and the sahitya points of view. It was Tyagaraja's music that exerted the greatest influence upon musical art in South India during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Unique balance

In the music of Tyagaraja, tradition and innovation found a unique balance. He wrote only one type of composition — the kirtana or kriti and in about 700 of that form he packed all the nuances of Carnatic music. He made endless experiments and was always striking out along new lines. His masterpieces include the pancharatna kritis in the five Ghana ragas. He has employed over 200 ragas in all and followed the nomenclature of the `Sangraha Chudamani' of Govinda. His two operas in Telugu reveal another facet of his many-sided genius.

The Dikshitar family, like the Bach family of Germany, is one of the most fascinating in the history of Carnatic music. For about a century and a half, from the middle of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, its members were composing and playing music, making rich and varied contributions to what may be called the Periclean age of Carnatic music.

Its most illustrious scion was Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835) who was cast in a different mould when compared to the other two members of the Trinity. Dikshitar was a close follower of the Venkatamakhi tradition as spelt out in his `Chaturdandi Prakasika.' Except one or two pieces, he composed only in Sanskrit and inserted the name of the raga into the song. His mudra was Guruguha and most of his kritis have a madhyama kala passage at the end.

Muthuswami Dikshitar has also left behind a rich treasure of group kritis, ragamalikas, dance compositions and songs based on tunes played on the brass band called nottu swara sahityas. No other composer of his time has tried his hand at so many varieties of compositions and with such signal success.

The outstanding feature of Dikshitar's compositions is that they present a vivid, accurate and total picture of the raga employed and not merely some of its facets. His kritis bear the imprint of arduous veena practice and are noted for the graces and glides which are possible only on the veena.

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