Songs, moving and intellectual
Muthuswami Dikshitar’s vibhakti kritis are a fine blend of devotion and philosophy.
Where the miracle happened: Tiruttani
He felt someone place a candy on his tongue. As the syrup trickled down his throat something stirred within him. The next moment Muthuswami Dikshitar spontaneously and emotionally sang, ‘Sri Naathaadi Guru Guho Jayati Jayati’ in the raga Mayamalavagowla. Dikshitar enriched the corpus of Carnatic music by his compositions (approximately 472) and the contribution was not limited to mere numbers.
Hagiography says that Muthuswami Dikshitar was born by the grace of Lord Muthukumaraswamy of Vaitheeswaran Koil; it was Guha, in the guise of an old man, who had placed the candy on Dikshitar’s tongue; this miracle had occurred at the Tiruttani Murugan temple; and that this was Muthuswami’s Dikshitar’s first composition. As if acknowledging the grace of Lord Guha who had manifested as his guru, Muthuswami Dikshitar sealed all his compositions with the epithet ‘Guruguha.’
Penchant for experiment
The first composition was followed by seven more. The lyrics of the eight compositions successively use the case endings (vibhakti-s) of Sanskrit grammar. They display the composer’s predilection for the language and his penchant for experimentation.
Subbarama Dikshitar (a scion of the Dikshitar family) in his ‘Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini’ relates that the ‘eight’ were composed at Tiruttani.
Traditional lore declares that initiation into the spiritual path signals another birth and therefore arises the need for taking another name. ‘Srinaathaadi Guruguho Jayati Jayati Chidanandanathoham...’ Muthuswami Dikshitar begins his composition by invoking his guru Chidambaranatha Yogi’s deeksha name Srinatha.
The next phrase reveals his own — ‘Chidanandanathoham’ — ‘I am Chidanandanatha.’ The composition gently unravels capsulated information on a variety of subjects. The terms ‘ajapa’ and ‘hamsadhyana’ refer to two metaphysical concepts. Ajapa means silent japa. The mantra ‘Hamsa’ or ‘Aham Saha’ (I am he) along with its corollary ‘Soham’ can be traced to the Brhaddaranyaka Upanishad.
Terma such as ‘Kaadimata’ and ‘Malinimandala’ give glimpses of Dikshitar’s in depth knowledge of the Srividya cult. The composition also alludes to his vanquishing the asura Surapadma and to the legend that he imparted knowledge of ‘Omkara’ to his father Parameswara.
Dikshitar’s choice of raga for his first composition was Mayamalavagowla. One wonders whether the age-old description of the raga as the very best amongst ragas, influenced the choice. It is common knowledge that the beginner’s lessons in music have been traditionally conceived in this raga. Interestingly, the musical setting of the first phrase of the song has the sarali varisai being rendered successively in three speeds!
The second composition ‘Manasa Guruguharoopam Bhajare Re; Mayamayahrttapam Tyajare.....Niratisayasukham Vrajare.” (Anandabhairavi) echoes the Bhagavadgita’s dictum of devotion (bhaja); attain (vraja); and renounce (tyaja). The phrase ‘Tarakeswaram’ radiates another meaning beyond the obvious — ‘the annihilator of Tarakasura.’
Lord’s limitless grace
It can also be interpreted as one who helps living beings cross the ocean of worldly bondage. Using the choicest of phrases Dikshitar draws attention to the Lord’s limitless grace. Forthwith surface in our minds the legend of Surapadma wherein Muruga offered the peacock and the cock a pride of place as his vehicle and emblem.
Infinite compassion that enveloped even His arch enemies! In fact one discovers that many of the words in Dikshitar’s kritis lend themselves to more than one interpretation.
But it is all not mere emotion. ‘Sriguruna Paalitosmi...’ (Padi) has intellect-stirring phrases like ‘Navanaatena-aadheyna’
While the first half means ‘ever-youthful Lord’, the second half apparently contradicts itself by declaring that He is the Primordial one.’ The play of words continues in the fourth kriti — ‘Guruguhaya Bhaktanugrahaya’ (Sama). The Sanskrit words ‘Sakala’ (with parts) and ‘Nishkala’ (without parts) suppressing their apparent meanings shine forth as ‘Saguna’ (with attributes) and ‘Nirguna’ (without attributes).
“I do not know of any other (Lord) than Guruguha” — Dikshitar declares loyally in his fifth kriti (raga Balahamsa) and follows it up by saying: “It is the Lord’s effulgence that lights up the world” — an idea that echoes the Kathopanishad.
If the bhakti component in Dikshitar’s kritis raises any kind of doubt about his philosophical convictions, the composition in Purvi unambiguously declares, “I am the servant of Gurugurha. Why! I am Guruguha Himself — the advaitic concept that leads one from ‘Dasoham to Soham.’
The penultimate kriti in the rare raga Bhanumati stresses that the Lord exists ‘by His own Glory,’ bringing to mind the Chandogya Upanishad. Terms like Yama and Niyama show that Dikshitar was conversant with the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali.
Dikshitar concludes this series with a kriti in the raga Udayaravichandrika. Exquisite phrases, each surpassing the other, join to make up this paean.
A variety of ragas-explored and unexplored; familiar and rare; difficult and easy provide the melodic wrap for Dikshitar’s compositions. The uninitiated rasika is helpfully provided the name of the raga but sometimes he misses the clue. For, the raga name is often smoothly woven into a phrase that is complete in meaning. ‘Prabalahamsaprakasatmanah’ alludes to the all-powerful Lord. Hidden in it is the raga name, Balahamsa. The gait of the compositions is varied and graceful, dictated as they are by apt beats.
“Lord Muruga” says Dikshitar “is one who is capable of simultaneously granting worldly pleasures as well as liberation. This description can exemplify Muthuswami Dikshitar’s kritis too. Filled with musical values and lyrical beauty, the compositions delight both the lay listener and the connoisseur.
However, for the earnest seeker, the veil of ethereal music lifts, to reveal a wealth of information that is at once mystical and esoteric; lyrical and grammatical; mythological and philosophical; poetical and musical.
The eight compositions make up the ‘Guru ashtakam’ and are popularly referred to as the ‘Guruguha vibhakti kritis.’ They are also referred to as ‘Tiruttani Guruguha vibhakti kritis.’
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