The Trinity of Carnatic Music
The three great composers of Carnatic Music, namely Syama Sastry (1762-1827), Tyagaraja (1767-1847) and Muttuswami Dikshitar (1776-1835) are collectively referred to as the Trinity of Carnatic Music. Though the term was probably coined in the early years of the twentieth century, the first instance of the three being combined together as a trio, in print, was probably in Subbarama Dikshitar?s magnum opus, the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (published 1904).
There were definitely a number of common traits among the three, making way for an easy grouping. All three were born in the same town, Tiruvarur, within a few years of each other. Syama Sastry was born into a family of hereditary archakas (priests) who performed worship to the Goddess Kamakshi at Kanchipuram. In 1565, when the Vijayanagar empire fell, the family, fearing that the golden idol of the Goddess (called Bangaru Kamakshi) would suffer damage at the hands of the invaders, left Kanchipuram with the idol in their possession. There followed around two centuries of wandering when the priests and their descendants settled temporarily at places such as Gingee, Udayarpalayam and Tiruvarur, where Syama Sastry was born in 1762. A few years later, at the invitation of King Tulaja, the family shifted into Tanjore fort, where a temple was built to house the idol and a street was given for the priests to reside in. Syama Sastry was christened Venkatasubramaniam at birth and was affectionately called Syamakrishna. This became his mudra (signature) in his songs. In course of time he was initiated into music by one Sangeetha Swamin and later his art was honed by the redoubtable Pacchimiriyam Adiyappaiah, composer of the bhairavi aTa tALa varnam ?viribhONi?. Having been brought up in the pious tradition of Devi worship, Syama Sastry?s devotion found expression in songs composed on Bangaru Kamakshi, in whose temple he became the chief priest, in succession to his father. In this vocation he led a contented life which is perhaps why he did not encourage many disciples and also limited his compositions to a small corpus. Sometime in his life, Syama Sastry appears to have visited a few Devi shrines, which include Kanchipuram, Nagapattinam, Madurai, Tiruvanaikkaval and Tiruvayyaru. In Kanchipuram he also composed a varnam on Lord Varadaraja. He did not seek court patronage but however did come to its rescue when a musical challenge by visiting vidwan Bobbili Kesavayya threatened its prestige. On that occasion he composed dEvi brOva, a song set in the rare raga cintAmaNi. Syama Sastry?s forte was considered to be tALa and there are many songs of his that testify to this skill. In emoting through his songs, he was however second to none and many of the songs are plaintive in appeal. The song in this album, karuNa jUDavamma, is on the Goddess Dharmasamvardhini of Tiruvayyaru. Set in varALi, it is an apt representation of Syama Sastry?s greatness as a composer.
Tyagaraja, often referred to as the Tone Poet of Humanity, was born into a family that was known for its scholars. A few years after Tyagaraja?s birth, his father was gifted lands in Tiruvayyaru and the family settled there. From an early age, Tyagaraja was given a good grounding in Sanskrit and music, his mother being a great influence in the latter aspect. Attracted from childhood to the life of Rama, Tyagaraja made this avatAra of Vishnu his patron deity and dedicated his entire life to extolling the virtues of Rama. Like Valmiki, the composer of the Ramayana, he too resolved to repeat Rama?s name innumerable times during his daily activities. He was trained in music by Sonti Venkataramanayya, a respected musician in the Tanjore court. Tyagaraja, though a man of property, observed the ritual of unccavrrti each day, seeking alms from various houses in the area, offering what was received to the Lord and then partaking of it. Inspired by Bhadrachala Ramadasa and Purandara Dasa in particular, Tyagaraja made composing songs on Rama his life?s work. But what was interesting was that he wove details of everyday life into his songs even while singing of the greatness of Rama. Thus there are descriptions of fraudulent priests, unfaithful women, processions of the devout that passed by his doorstep, daily homilies and parables in his works.
It is no wonder that Tyagaraja was considered the king of bhAva or emotion. There are songs for every mood, ranging from shrngAra (erotic love) to raudra (anger) and dukha (sorrow).
Tyagaraja is also credited with introducing fresh rAgas into the Carnatic mode and there are at least nine instances of rAgas which were first handled by him. Like Syama Sastry, Tyagaraja eschewed court patronage and preferred to lead a life of simplicity. However, from his songs one is able to glean that he did suffer at the hands of his brother and that there were problems relating to the property he inherited from his father. Tyagaraja, late in life went on a fairly extended pilgrimage that took in Madras, Tiruvottiyur, Kovur, Kanchipuram and Tirupati. Besides he also visited Nagapattinam, Srirangam and Lalgudi. At all these places he composed kritis. Besides he composed many songs on the deities at his native Tiruvayyaru. But the bulk of his oeuvre is on Lord Rama and at least six hundred songs of his have survived till date. In all his songs Tyagaraja used his own name as mudra. ?nIvaNTi daivamu?, a piece set in bhairavi is an example of his complete surrender to Rama. Tyagaraja became famous in his own lifetime and attracted many disciples. He was revered as a saint and two days before his death he had himself initiated into sanyasa. On his death his body was interred in Tiruvayyaru and the samAdhi is the venue for an annual festival in his memory. Today his life is the subject of several discourses on devotion and piety and many legends and myths have sprung up around him and his songs.
Muttuswami Dikshitar was born into a musically renowned family, his father Ramaswami Dikshitar being a musician of repute in the Tanjavur region. Muttuswami and his brothers Baluswami and Chinnaswami and sister Balambal were all named after deities in the Vaitheeswarankoil temple, the parents attributing their progeny to the divine grace of that shrine. While Muttuswami was young, his father was invited to shift to Madras by Manali Muttukrishna Mudaliar, a merchant attached to the East India Company. In the year 1795, a saint Chidambaranatha Yogi by name arrived at Madras and spent time with the Dikshitar family. On his departure to Benares, he took Muttuswami Dikshitar along with him. Dikshitar spent five years in Benares and by 1799, when he returned he had not only honed his music, learnt under his father and later the yogi, but was also the proud possessor of a Veena acquired in Benares. His first composition, set in rAga mAyAmALavagauLa was created at the steps of the Tiruttani temple and extolled the virtues of the Guru or preceptor. Unlike Tyagaraja and Syama Sastry who used Telugu as the medium of expression, Dikshitar composed largely in Sanskrit. He however did compose a few songs in a mixture of languages (maNipravALam) as well. He used the mudra guruguha in his works. In Madras, Dikshitar and his younger brother Baluswami worked on the western Violin and adopted it to the Carnatic system. Dikshitar gave Sanskrit lyrics to the tunes of the western bands to help students learn to perform on the violin. By 1800, Dikshitar and his family moved back to Tiruvarur, the place of his birth. En route they visited many temples at all of which Dikshitar composed songs on the deities enshrined. At Tiruvarur, which was to be his base for most of his life, Dikshitar composed extensively on the deities at the Tyagaraja temple, creating group kritis on Tyagaraja, Kamalamba and Nilotpalamba. Besides he composed songs on the guardian celestials of the seven days of the week. Dikshitar became very popular as a Guru and being a broad minded person he taught disciples of all castes. He even composed varnams in Telugu set in the shrngAra mode for his dEvadAsi disciples. But grinding poverty was Dikshitar?s lot and soon his brothers left for Madurai to try their luck there. Dikshitar followed them and composed at Madurai and nearby shrines before coming to know that Baluswami was living under the patronage of the Ettayapuram Raja and that Chinnaswami had passed away. Dikshitar moved to Ettayapuram and it was en route to it that he visited Darbhasayanam (Tirupullani) where he composed shrIrAmam in rAga nArAyaNagauLa, which is featured in this album. Dikshitar passed away at Ettayapuram in 1835. His music is marked by a clear structural format with great emphasis on prosody. The rAga element in music was his forte.
The Trinity, coming as they did at roughly the same time, marked a great watershed in Carnatic Music. The art form was never the same again. Almost all the works of composers prior to them were eclipsed and those that came later had to suffer comparison with the Trinity. Their music stands out and is truly immortal. In today?s concert platform, their works form the bulk of the song lists. One can only wonder that such great men walked this earth.