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Concepts, Contexts and Conflations (In the Krtis of Sri Muttusvami Diksita)

Item Code: NAL652
Author: Dr. R. Asha
Publisher: The Karnatic Music Book Centre, Chennai
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9789350879023
Pages: 287 (14 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.0 inch X 7.5 inch
Weight 700 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

Sri Muttusvami Diksita, the famous 18th century composer, blazed a trail in the field of music, striding like a colossus. Amidst turbulent times of bewildering change, he reinstated the externally relevant paths to steadiness, peace and fulfillment. He is revered for his life soaked in spirituality and his compositions, which are priceless, perennial treasures.

The Comprehensive and unique book delves into the depths of lyrical excellence in his vibrant classics, exploring their philosophic, mystic and cultural lore. It shows how with Advaita as the focal point, Diksita was able to harmonize various traditions and achieve a perfect blend of melody and mysticism. It also showcases his versatile skill in presenting vast and variegated subjects through music making it interesting and invigorating.


About the Author

Dr. R. Asha (Sivasree Gopalakrishnan) is an M.A., M.Phil and Ph.D in Sanskrit. A top ranker throughout, she was awarded for prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru scholarship for Doctoral Studies from the Jawarlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi to pursue her doctorate on the krtis of Sri Muttusvami Diksita under the guidance of Dr. E.R. Ramabai, former Professor and Head of the Department of Sanskrit, University of Madras, which she completed in 1999.

After a brief stint as a Lecturer in Sanskrit in Stella Maris College, Chennai and Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Viswa Meha Vidyalaya, Tambaram centre, Chennai, she had the opportunity to serve as the Chief Editor for a trilingual quarterly cultural magazine “Sandarshanan”. She was also an active contributor to Tattvaloka, another internationally known magazine on Indian culture. Apart from having attended various conferences, workshops and seminars, she has several writings and lec-dems to her credit. She is presently associated with Adi Sankara Advaita Research Centre, Chennai and also continues to contribute insightful articles on philosophy, religion and culture.

Dr. Asha is a disciple of musical veterans “Gana kala Bharati”, “Sangita Kala Pravina”, “Dasa Kala Ratna”, Smt. Seetha Narayanan and veena vidhushi “Diksitarini”, “Sangita Kala Acarya”, late Smt. Kalpagam Swaminathan. She is also well trained in Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Mohiniyattam.



Among the composers of Carnatic music, three saintly persons called the music trinity viz., Muttusvami Diksitar, Tyagaraja Svami and Syama Sastrigal stand much above all the other composers. This is because of the fact that they are not only outstanding composers but outstanding saints with intense devotion to God and leading a life of complete surrender to God.

Among these three, saint Muttusvami Diksitar stands apart from the other two saint composers Tyagaraja Svami and Syama Sastrigal. The compositions of these two are spontaneous outpourings in the form of exquisite compositions, raga, tala and svara blending magnificently with their emotional moods and feelings.

One can visualize Syama Sastrl confining himself to the puja room and praying with all humility and complete surrender to Goddess Kamaksi pleading for Her mercy and blessings. The songs that came out are unparalleled as sweet and moving compositions depicting his intense feelings, emotions and devotion, raga and tala serving to enhance the magic effect of the sahitya making the listener completely overwhelmed.

Tyagaraja's compositions though producing the same effect on the listener as Sastri's are not confined only to intense devotion and utmost surrender to God but have a wider coverage like dealing with the need for strict adherence to our ancient culture and tradition, the difference between real devotees and pretenders and the despicable way persons practise music without any devotion but only with the aim on publicity, popularity, ostentation and having only external marks of devotion. His compositions can be compared to a residential building which has in additon to puja room, class room, drawing room and a hall where persons can assemble to learn about the importance of classical music as a vehicle for elevating oneself to the level of an ideal devotee of God.

Diksitar's compositions can be compared to a palace with a spacious durbar hall apart from puja rooms for different Gods and Goddesses and big hall for conducting classes on wide range of subjects relating to intense devotion to God, importance of temples with all details given, containing even minute ones like the name of the tree relating to temple, historical details and the like. The importance of Sricakra puja and Devi upasana are clearly explained bringing out all the difficult forms of worship and practices with immaculate details. The importance of astronomy and astrology is also dealt with. The different forms of God-head like Siva, Devi, Visnu, Ganesa, Skanda and Hanuman are also detailed with utmost accuracy. Other aspects of our ancient culture and radition are also explained comprehensively. The result is that his compositions constitute a magnum opus covering all aspects of morality and righteousness. Apart from these, his music compositions are masterpieces of elaboration of ragas with matching talas and sahitya. One cannot but be wonder-struck about his complete mastery of the Sanskrit language, details about different forms of worship and the manner in which the excellence of the ragas is brought out. His compositions cannot therefore be emotional outpourings but a sincere well- thought -out production to educate the singers and listeners about the important messages contained in the sahityas which are in excellent and mellifluous Sanskrit. More than all these, his compositions bring out clearly his implicit faith in the philosophy of Advaita.

With this elaborate introduction, let me deal with the thesis on "Krtis of Sri Muttusvami Diksita " submitted by Dr. R. Asha which got her the doctorate degree from the University of Madras.

To start with Dr. R. Asha has to be congratulated for expansive coverage of all aspects without leaving anything to be pointed out as not dealt with. This is because of her scholarship in Sanskrit and her total involvement in going through the krtis carefully with a keen eye on all important as well as even small details. The work contains five chapters and each chapter refers to all one should learn about the subjects elaborated. The two important chapters are, one on Advaita Vedanta and the other on Srividya. The songs of Diksitar on these important subjects are remarkable spiritual and philosophical treatises in correct usage of Sanskrit words, the brilliant portrayal of its contents and wonderful usage of technical words as contained in the works of the Advaita acaryas. Dr. R. Asha has brought out and explained clearly all these to educate a reader who wants to know the relevance and importance of the subjects contained in the original Sanskrit works. Srividya is a complicated subject which can confuse even a strict adherer to this form of Devi worship. Dr. Asha has brought out the underlying significance of these with commendable skill and comprehensive analysis. The book on the krtis of Sri Muttusvami Diksita has come out in the most suitable manner contributing to a good understanding of the greatness of Diksitar as a saint composer par excellence.

This book should be with every reader interested in classical Carnatic music to get a clear view of the need for practice of Nadopasana for elevating oneself to lead a life of morality and righteousness.



Sri Muttusvami Diksita is a 'perennial pravaha'. A vaggeyakara of the highest order, he blazed a trail in the field of music, striding like a colossus. His compositions are timeless masterpieces. Rich in philosophic and mystic lore, they still continue to inspire, educate and delight sahrdayas.

The present work represents the research work done by me under the guidance of Dr. E.R. Ramabai, Professor and Head, Department of Sanskrit, for the Ph.D degree of the University of Madras during the years 1994-1999 as a Jawaharlal Nehru Research Scholar.

My interest in Sri Muttusvami Diksita was kindled during the period when I was an M.A. student of the Department of Sanskrit, University of Madras. I was inspired to study Vedanta by Dr. N. Veezhinathan, the then Head of the Department, who introduced me to it and immensely impressed me by his fascinating and brilliant expositions of the subject. As I was also learning Carnatic music from Smt. Seetha Narayanan, I became slowly aware of the depths of philosophical thought in the krtis of Muttusvami Diksita. I found that they comprised many facets of Indian culture like philosophy, religion, mythology, art, architecture and astrology. Perusing through the available material on the subject, I felt that the entire range of his philosophical thought had not been given the pride of place it deserved. There seemed to be still subtleties which remained to be explored. And so, I decided to pursue research in them, focussing on the Advaitic terminology which were profusely scattered therein. At the same time, it occurred to me that the other aspects of his krtis should not be left out, though they have been dealt with to some extent by earlier scholars. So, with Advaita as the focal point, I decided to survey all of them, putting them together into an integral whole. Perceiving the need for a first-hand acquaintance with the temples and the deities glorified by Diksita, I undertook extensive field work, visiting various temples and talking to people associated with them, specifically the priests, because they are the inheritors of hoary traditions and are honed by years of worship and anubhava (intuitive experience). This work is the humble result of all these explorations.

Humble result because, I lay no claims to being an expert on topics like Advaita, Srividya etc., which to be frank, I have treated with a great sense of trepidation in this book. To borrow Sankara's words -

na janami sabdam na janami cartham

na janami padyam na janami gadyam

Everything is Guru's grace only. I am really thankful to God to have given me an opportunity to attempt to tread the path trodden by great scholars of yore. For, on the whole, it has been an educative, enlightening, extremely humbling and overwhelming experience for me, leaving me awed, astounded and keenly aware of the 'littleness' of man and the 'greatness' of mahans at the end of it all.



Since ancient times, nadopiisana in India has been regarded as a spiritual sadhana, a means to moksa. This sadhana is based on the concept of Nada or the Primordial Sound. Closely linked to the concept of Nada are the concepts of Vak and Pranava in Vedic literature and the concepts of Sabda Brahman and Sphota Brahman in later literature. The idea of Sound being the Supreme Principle, the Ultimate Essence, is explained in the Chandogya Upanisad itself as -

'om ityetat aksaram-udgitham-upasita

samna udgitho rasah sa esa rasanam rasatamah'

Borrowing from tantric philosophy and combining the principles of music, kundalini- yoga, tantra and bhakti resulted in the unique concept of Nada Brahman, which in texts such as Sangita Ratnakara came to be explained much like the Brahman of Advaita Vedanta -

'caitanyam sarvabhutanam vivrtam jagadatmana

nadabrahma tadanandam advitiyam upasmahe'

Standing as some of the outstanding exemplars of this spiritual sadhana (nadopasana}, are the famed Music Trinity of South India, namely, Tyagaraja, Syama Sastri and Muttusvami Diksita, who through their musical efflorescence have enriched the spiritual and cultural fabric of the country. They were contemporaries and the age in which they lived can be regarded 'the golden period' in the saga of Carnatic Music. They are revered not only for their contributions to music in general, but also for the range of their sahitya and their life soaked in spirituality and mysticism. Of these, while Tyagaraja and Syama Sastri composed mainly in Telugu, Muttusvami Diksita composed mainly in Sanskrit. And it is to the krtis of Muttusvami Diksita that this book proposes to address itself.


Brief sketch of the life history of Muttusvami Diksita (1775-1835)

Diksita was born at Tiruvarur (near Tanjavur in South India, a place renowned for its hallowed traditions, not the least of which is that birth here ensures salvation) to Ramasvami Diksita (himself an illustrious personality in the field of music) by the grace of Lord Muttukumarasvami and Lord Siva of Vaitisvaran Koil (a well-known Siva-ksetra. At a young age, he came under the tutelage of Cidambaranatha Yogi, who took him to Kasi. He was initiated into the cult of Srividya, learnt Vedanta and other 'sastras and was blessed with a divine vina (which he obtained in the Ganges). Coming down south, he had a mystic vision of Lord Kumara at Tiruttani (a famous shrine of Lord Muruga, near Madras) which opened the floodgates of poesy and resulted in a spontaneous outpouring of divine music. He also came in contact with Upanisad Brahmendra Yogin (of Kanci), who was one of the foremost Advaitic sanyasins of his time. Travelling extensively, he then visited various shrines and was inspired to compose numerous krtis (compositions) in Sanskrit, expressing some of the most sublime thoughts and mystic experiences. During his last days, he was patronized by the Raja of Ettayapuram. Many miracles are associated with his life like the closed door of a shrine (at Kivalur near Tiruvarur) opening to his rendering of a krti, the shower of rain in response to his krti in the raga Amrtavarsini etc. He is said to have had a premonition of his time of death and shed his mortal coil attaining mukti, while hearing the strains of one of his compositions on Devi - 'Minaksi me mudam dehi' (particularly, the phrases minalocani, pasamocani, extolling the Goddess as the liberator from mundane shackles). His samadhi is at Ettayapuram near Tirunelveli and to this day aradhanas are being held in his honour. His krtis are held in great veneration and form an integral part of the present day musical circuit.

Aim of the Book

To explore the philosophical and religious background of the krtis of Muttusvami Diksita.


The corpus of krtis of Diksita numbering around 472 are voluminous in output both in terms of sangita and sahitya. The sangita aspect is outside the scope of this book as this concerns itself with the sahitya, which is well known for embodying philosophic and esoteric lore (containing as it does, philosophical concepts pertaining to advaita, agama, tantra and mantra sastras) besides details regarding temples, iconography, mythology and astrology. This study attempts to investigate the various conflations involved in the krtis in general, with reference to the philosophy of Advaita and that of tantra and mantra in particular. During the course of this study, concepts will be selected from various krtis and elaborated against the background of their philosophy. Thus, this work is a conceptual and contextual study of the conflations of traditions in the krtis. The krtis published in the 'Compositions of Muddusvami Diksitar' by T.K. Govinda Rao, 'Sri Diksita Kirtana mala' by A. Sundaram Iyer (fifteen volumes with a supplement) and 'Dikshita Kriti Muktavali' by K.N. Shrinivasan, have formed the basis of this study.




Samarpanam v
Benediction ix
Pujyasri Swami Dayananda Saraswati xi
Author's Note xix
Guide to Transliteration xxiii
Foreword xxix-xliii
Preface xlv
Acknowledgements xlix
Abbreviations liii
Introduction 01-11
Chapter I - Diksita and Advaita Vedanta 13-49
Nature of Reality 15
The essential and accidental - Definitions 17
Personal God and Attributeless Absolute 22
The Concept of Maya and Adhyasa 25
God (Isvara) and soul (Jiva) 30
Five sheaths, three bodies and three states of the soul (Jiva) 33
Cosmogony 36
Means to liberation 38
Tattvamasi 44
Liberation 47
Jivanmukti and Videhamukti 48
Chapter II - Diksita and Srividya 51-114
Devi as the Supreme Brahman of Advaita Vedanta 53
Devi as Maya 59
Devi as Kamakala 68
Advaita of Sankara and the Advaita of the Sakta 76
Devi as Varnamayi 76
Devi as Mantramayi 78
Devi as Cakramayi 85
Devi as Kundalini 94
Devi as Guru 98
Devi-worship 105
Devi-Mythology 107
Devi-Names 109
Devi-Forms 111
Chapter III - Diksita and Temples 115-160
The Guruguha vibhakti krtis 118
Other krtis on Muruga 124
Ganapati - krtis 127
Krtis on Lord Siva 135
Other krtis on Lord Siva 146
Krtis on Lord Visnu 151
Chapter IV - Diksita from Other Angles 161-179
References to the art of music and dance 163
Use of raga-mudras 168
Literary excellence 171
Group krtis 176
Other reference 177
Chapter V - Diksita - Vignettes 181-189
On Supreme 183
On karma 184
On bhakti 185
On the mystic significance of deities 186
On the purpose of human life 186
His experience expressed 187
Notes 191-211
Select Bibliography 213-221
Illustrations 223

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