South Indian classical music is integrally linked with temples. In the past, it was nurtured
by them and centred around temple activities. Its great patrons as well as its audience were deeply pious people. The golden age of Carnatic music was the era of the Trinity – Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastry. They lent a fullness and an exuberant richness to Carnatic music, leaving behind a treasured tradition for posterity.
Muthuswami Dikshitar was not only a genius in music but also well versed in agama, mantra, tantra and jyotisha sastra-s as well. A Devi upasaka, he became a vaggeyakara with hundreds of compositions to his credit, with the blessings of Guru Guha or Lord Subrahmanya. He visited several kshetra-s and composed kriti-s detailing with the deities and the unique aspects of the temples such as sthala teertham, sthala vriksha, vimana, and utsavam. Minute details regarding specific features such as vimana are known only to those conversant with agama and silpa sastra. The vimana in each temple goes by a different name and is structured differently. From Dikshitar’s kriti-s, we come to know the names of the vimana-s of several temples. For instance, even though Srirangam is a very popular kshetra, few know that the vimana there is called the pranavakara vimana. Dikshitar’s kriti Ranganayakam in Nayaki contains this detail. There are several such examples.
Among the hundreds of kshetra-s Dikshitar visited, Mannargudi was one, and he composed some very beautiful kriti-s on the deity
Rajagopala, the processional deity seen standing in front of a cow, with Rukmini and Satyabhama. This idol is considered to be the most handsome and attractive among the images of Vishnu. Seeing this, Dikshitar was inspired to sing the beautiful piece Sree Rajagopala in Saveri. Along with Sreevidya Rajagopalam in Jaganmohanam, and Rajagopalam in Mohanam, it makes the Mannargudi triad.
A few other compositions are ascribed to Mannargudi, but these kriti-s contain no concrete references to the kshetra or the deity.
Muthuswami Dikshitar’s cleverness as a vaggeyakara is always the focus when we discuss his compositions. Let us digress a bit here to Padma Puranam which gives us a prescription for skillfully crafting a kriti.
Alpaaksharam asandigdham Saaravidvishvato mukham Ashtobhavana madhyastam Sootram sootravido viduhu
The verse means that a good composition must have an appropriate number of syllables, not too many, nor too few, words of clarity that convey the sense unambiguously, while the meaning itself is ever unfolding and diverse, with words that bind the verse like an unbroken strand. These
features specifically characterise Dikshitar’s compositions. In Sree Rajagopala in Saveri, he captures the beauty of the features of the idol at Mannargudi.
In the pallavi, the composer introduces Krishna, the luminescent hero of this song. In the anupallavi, Mannargudi, the place where he dwells is described and in the charanam he sings beautifully about the special significance of the place and the leela-s of the Gopalamoorti.
Every word of this kriti stands as an example of the prescription given in Padma Purana, for verse construction. Let us look at each word and phrase of this kriti.
Pallavi: Sree Rajagopala – baala – sringara leela- srita jana paala.
Sringara leela in the first line has many interpretations. In Krishnavatara there are endless instances of Krishna leela. In one of them, Krishna returns from a swim with the gopi-s and one of his ear studs is exchanged for a gopi’s ear ring. As a sign of this incident, the utsava moorti in Mannargudi is decorated with one stud and one ring in each of the ears.
Srita jana pala literally means he who protects those who seek him and surrender to him.
Anupallavi: Dhee raag raganya deenasaranya chaaru Champakaaranya Dakshina Dwarakapuri nilaya visishthaadvaitaadvaitaalaya maam paalaya
The anupallavi is a pertinent example of Muthuswami Dikshitar’s poetic prowess. Every line here represents a complementary duality.
The anupallavi begins with ‘Dheera agraganya’ or the first among the dheera-s. Dheera is a very potent word. Dhi contains sakti, it occurs in the Gayatri mantra. Dhi also refers to a combination of supreme intellect and unrestricted valour. He is first among such dheera-s.
Deenasaranya: Being a dheera, he is a compassionate protector of the weak and those who have surrendered.
Chaaru Champakaaranya: Mannargudi is called Champakaranya, as Lakshmi appeared here in the form of the unwilting, fragrant shenbagam or champaka. She is also called Shenbagalakshmi. ‘Charu’ refers to beauty and ‘Champakaranya’ is a forest or a profusion of Champaka trees.
Dakshina Dwarakapuri nilaya: This forest of Champaka is also famously known as Dakshina Dwaraka, the southern counterpart of the great city of Dwaraka.
Visishthadvaita advaitaalaya: The streams of monoistic dualism and monoism unite in him.
Maam paalaya: Protect me.
Charanam: Smeraanana sevaka Chaturaanana - Narayana taraka divyanama
paaraayana krita Naradadinuta-saarasa paada sadaa moda
nari veshadhara vama bhaaga- Murare
Sreevidya raja hare- Sree Rukmini Satyabhama srita
parsvayugala kambu jaya gala
Neera sampoorna Haridranadi teera mahotsava vaibhava Madhava
Mara janaka nata Suka Sanaka Janakaveera Guruguha mudita Ramaa sahita
Smeranana: He is of the smiling and pleasant countenance.
Sevaka chaturanana: One to whom four faced Brahma prays.
Narayana taraka divyanama paaraayana krita Naradaadi nuta: Among whose bhakta-s are great rishi-s such as Narada who chant His name constantly. The ashtakshara (eight-syllables) Narayana nama has been associated in a special way to Narada.
Saarasa paada: He who has lotus-like feet. The symbolism of the lotus to describe Narayana’s features is significant, as it is believed that whatever avatara Narayana assumes, his feet and eyes are always lotus-like. Several poets have used this symbolism.
Sadaa moda: One who exists in eternal bliss.
The Taittariya Upanishad says:
Etam anandamayam atmanam
Nari veshadhara vaama bhaga: He is decorated exquisitely as Mohini during the utsava.
Murare: He who slayed the demon Mura.
Sreevidya raja hare: He who is envisaged as the form of Sreevidya. Rajagopala’s image is partially male and partially female. It is invested with the combined powers of the Sreevidya and the Gopala mantra-s. In some spiritual traditions, Vishnu has also been considered one of the 12 Sreevidya upasaka-s. Dikshitar has thus portrayed Rajagopala as ‘Srividyarajagopalam’ in the kriti in Jaganmohanam.
Sree Rukmini Satyabhama srita parsvayugala: Flanked by Rukmini and Satyabhama
Kambu jaya gala: He is one who has a neck that exceeds the beauty of a well formed conch.
Neera sampoorna Haridranadi teera mahotsava vaibhava Madhava: The eternally replenished sacred waters of the temple tank or the sthala teertham, Haridranadi, form a beautiful backdrop to the famous two-tiered teppam or divine flotilla on which the glorious Madhava is taken in procession during the utsava months.
Mara janaka: The father of Manmatha or beauty itself.
Nata Suka Sanaka Janaka: He who is praised by rishi-s like Suka, Sanaka and Janaka.
Veera Guruguha mudita: One who has been joyfully praised by the brave Subramanya.
Ramaa sahita: He who resides with Lakshmi.
Such is Dikshitar’s unique manner of depicting the details of each kshetra in his numerous compositions. The sthala purana and and the nuanced significances of all the minute details of the physical and spiritual environ ment of the kshetra are revealed in his kriti-s. It is only a matter of how willingly and deeply we are able to delve into his songs.
It would be unpardonable not to mention the musical significance of his compositions. Each of his compositions is not merely a repository of information beautifully crafted in poetic Sanskrit, but also an archive of all that we need to know about the raga, in practice. All the pradhana prayoga-s or characteristic phrases and aesthetic singularities of the raga are recorded in his compositions, thus making them a valuable record for posterity.