Muthuswami Dikshitar (March 24, 1775 – October 21, 1835) was a South Indian poet and composer and is one of the Musical Trinity of Carnatic music. His compositions, of which around 500 are commonly known, are noted for their contemplative nature and for capturing the essence of the raga forms through the vainika (veena) style that emphasises gamakas. They are typically in a slower speed (chowka kala). He is also known by his signature name of Guruguha which is also his mudra (can be found in every one of his songs). His compositions are widely sung and played in classical concerts of Carnatic music.
The musical trinity consists of Dikshitar, Tyagaraja (1767–1847), and Syama Sastri (1762–1827) although, unlike the Telugu compositions of the others, his compositions are predominantly in Sanskrit. He also had composed some of his Kritis in Manipravalam.
Muthuswami Dikshitar was born in Tiruvarur (of Thiruvarur district in what is now the state of Tamil Nadu) to a Tamil Iyer Brahmin couple Ramaswami Dikshitar(discoverer of Raaga Hamsadhwani) and Subbamma, as the eldest son. According to the account of Subbarama Dikshitar, Muttuswami Dikshitar was born in the manmatha year, in the month of TamilPanguni under the asterism Krittikaa. He was named after the temple deity, Muttukumaraswamy; legend has it that he was born after his parents prayed for a child in the Vaitheeswaran Temple. He had two younger brothers Baluswami, Chinnaswami and a sister Balambal.
In keeping with the Brahminic educational tradition, Muthuswami learnt the Sanskrit language, Vedas, and other important religious texts. He obtained his preliminary musical education from his father.
While he was still in his teens, his father sent him on a pilgrimage with a wandering monk named Chidambaranatha Yogi to gain musical and philosophical knowledge. Over the course of this pilgrimage, he visited many places in North India and acquired a broad outlook that is reflected in many of his compositions.
During their stay in Kashi (Varanasi), his guru Chidambaranatha Yogi, presented Dikshitar with a unique Veena and died shortly thereafter. The samādhi of Chidambaranatha Yogi can still be seen in Sri Chakra Lingeshwar temple at the Hanuman Ghat area in Varanasi.
According to legend, his guru asked Muthuswami to visit Tiruttani (a temple town near Chennai). There, while he was immersed deep in meditation, an old man appeared and asked him to open his mouth. He dropped sugar candy into his mouth and disappeared. As he opened his mouth, he had a vision of the deity Muruga and Dikshitar burst forth into his first composition "Shri Nathadi Guruguho" in the raga Mayamalavagowla.
This song addressed the Lord (and/or the guru) in the first declension in Sanskrit. Dikshitar later composed kritis in all the eight declensions on the Lord. These are mostly with epithets glorifying the guru and have very few references to Lord Muruga or specifically to the deity in the saguna form, as at Thiruthani.
He then went on a pilgrimage visiting and composing at the temples at Kanchi, Tiruvannamalai, Chidambaram, Tirupathi and Kalahasthi, before returning to Tiruvarur.
Muthuswami Dikshitar attained mastery over the Veena, and the influence of Veena playing is evident in his compositions, particularly the gamakas. In his kriti Balagopal, he introduces himself as a vaiNika gAyaka, "a player of the veeNA". He experimented with the violin, and among his disciples, Vadivelu of the Thanjavur Quartet, and his brother Baluswami Dikshitar pioneered the use of violin in Carnatic music, now an integral part of most Carnatic ensembles.
On his return to Tiruvarur, he composed on every deity in the Tiruvarur temple complex including Tyagaraja (an amsha of Lord Shiva), the presiding deity, Nilotpalambal, his consort, and the Goddess Kamalambal an independent deity of high tantric significance in the same temple complex. This is when he composed the famous Kamalamba Navavarna cycle, filled with exemplary sahityas which proved to be the showcase of his compositions.
These navavaranams were in all the eight declensions of the Sanskrit language and are sung as a highlight of Guruguha Jayanti celebrated every year. He continued to display his prowess by composing the Navagraha Kritis in praise of the nine planets. The sahitya of the songs reflect a profound knowledge of the Mantra and Jyotisha sastras. The Nilotpalamba Kritis is another classic set of compositions which revived dying ragas like Narayanagaula, Purvagaula, and Chayagaula
At a young age, Dikshitar was also exposed to the music of the Western bands at Fort St. George. At a later stage, Dikshitar composed some forty songs to several (mostly western folk) tunes loosely adopted to ragas such as sankarabharaNa. This corpus is now known as nottusvara sAhitya (etym. nottusvara = "notes" swara).
The influence of Celtic and Baroque styles in these compositions is quite evident (e.g., Sakthi Sahitha Ganapatim, to the tune of voulez-vous dancer, Varashiva Balam). There is an erroneous belief that these were composed at the behest of CP Brown, the Collector of Cuddappah. This is not possible as the two could have never met. Muttuswami Diskhitar had left Madras by 1799. Brown came to Madras only in 1817, learnt Telugu in 1820 and moved over to Cuddappah the same year.
On Deepavali day, in 1835, Dikshithar performed puja as usual and asked his students to sing the song "Meenakshi Me Mudam" in the raga purvikalyani raga.
As his students sang the lines "Meena lochani pasa mochani" he raised his hands and saying "Sive Pahi" and left his mortal coil.
His Samadhi is at Ettayapuram ( Mahakavi Bharathi's Birth Place), between Koilpatti (14 km) and Tuticorin.
Muthuswami Dikshitar died on 21 October 1835. Dikshitar had a daughter but it was the descendants of his brother Baluswami who have preserved his musical legacy, and his compositions have been popularized due to the efforts of people like Subbarama Dikshitar and Ambi Dikshitar.
His total compositions are about 450 to 500, most of which are very widely sung by musicians today in Carnatic music concerts. Most of his compositions are in Sanskrit and in the Krithi form, i.e., poetry set to music. Muthuswami Dikshitar traveled to many holy shrines throughout his life, and composed krithis on the deities and temples he visited. Dikshitar is considered to have composed on the widest range of deities for any composer.
Each of his compositions is unique and brilliantly crafted. The compositions are known for the depth and soulfulness of the melody — his visions of some of the ragas are still the final word on their structure. His Sanskrit lyrics are in praise of the temple deity, but Muthuswami introduces the Advaita thought seamlessly into his songs, resolving the inherent relationship between Advaita philosophy and polytheistic worship. His songs also contain much information about the history of the temple, and its background, thus preserving many customs followed in these old shrines.
Muttuswami also undertook the project of composing in all the 72 Melakartha ragas, (in his Asampurna Mela scheme) thereby providing a musical example for many rare and lost ragas. Also, he was the pioneer in composing samashti charanam krithis (songs in which the main stanza or pallavi is followed by only one stanza, unlike the conventional two). Dikshitar was a master of tala and is the only composer to have kritis in all the seven basic talas of the Carnatic scheme. Dikshitar shows his skill in Sanskrit by composing in all the eight declensions.
For richness of raga bhava, sublimity of their philosophic contents and for the grandeur of the sahitya, the songs of Dikshitar stand unsurpassed.
Muthuswami Dikshitar composed many kritis in groups. The List of compositions by Muthuswami Dikshitar describes those groups and compositions that belong to each group. 'Vatapi Ganapatim' is regarded his best-known work.