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Muthuswami Dikshitar: Legend of Carnatic Music

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By Nithin Sridhar

rAkAcandramukhI rakSitakOlamukhI

ramAvANIsakhI rAjayOga sukhI

shAkambari shAtOdari candrakalAdhari

shaHNkari shaHNkara guruguha bhakta vashaHNkari

EkAkSari bhuvanEshvari Ishapriyakari

shrIkari sukhakari shrI mahAtripura sundari ||

Translation: Your face is like the full moon, you who protected Kolamukhi-Varahi. You are the companion of Lakshmi and Sarasvati. You enjoy the Rajayoga, oh Shakambari, the mother of nature, of slender waist, oh wearer of the crescent moon. Oh benevolent one, You are fascinated by the devotees of Shiva and Guruguha. You are the single syllable Om, oh Empress of the world, one who enchants Lord Shiva. You are the bestower of prosperity and happiness. You are Shri Maha Tripurasundari.

These immortal lines soaked in sublime devotion and expressed in the beautiful Raga (a type of melodic mode) Sri, were composed by Muthuswami Dikshitar around 200 years ago.

Today, the October 21, is the 180th death anniversary of the Music legend who is celebrated as one among the Trinity of Carnatic Music.

Life of Muthuswami Dikshitar

Dikshitar was born on March 24, 1775 in Tiruvaruar, in the modern day Tamil Nadu to Ramaswami Dikshitar, an accomplished musician who had created the famous Raga Hamsadwani, and Subbamma.

He was exposed to music as well as traditional Vedic learning from childhood. He was also trained in Lakshkya (aesthetics) and Lakshana (grammar) of music. His father got him married quite young and had two wives.

At the age of 25, Muthuswami Dikshitar along with his wives accompanied his family Guru Yogi Chidambaranatha to Varanasi where they stayed for 7 years. Under the guidance of the Guru, Muthuswami not only learned the intricacies of Advaita Vedanta, he was also initiated into the spiritual path of- ‘Srividya Upasana’ (wherein Brahman is worshiped as Goddess Maha Tripura Sundari seated in SriYantra).

During his stay in Varanasi, Muthuswami also came in contact with Hindustani music that had a profound influence on him. It is said that, his Guru presented Muthuswami with a unique Veena (a string instrument) and shortly thereafter left his body.

Muthuswami returned south and went to visit Tiruttani (a temple town near Chennai). It is said that, when he was immersed in meditation at Tiruttani, he had a vision of Lord Murugan (also known as Kartikeya), and composed his first Kriti (composition) ‘Srinathadi Guruguho Jayathi’ in the raga ‘Mayamalava Gaula’.

Later he visited various temples and composed and sung many devotional songs. He is estimated to have composed around 450-500 compositions and the most famous among them being his ‘Kamalamba Navavarna Kritis’ that consist of 11 compositions that is dedicated to unfolding the mystery of Sri-Yantra.

Muthuswami Dikshitar also trained numerous disciples in Carnatic music. The most renowned among them were four disciples Ponnaiah, Chinnaiah, Vadivelu, and Shivanandam, who became famous as “Tanjore Quartette”.

It is said that on the day of October 21, 1835, after performing his daily Devi Upasana (Goddess worship), he asked his students to sing the song “Meenakshi Me Mudam”. While the students were singing the song, Muthuswami Dikshitar is said to have raised his hands and called out “Shive Pahi” (Mother take me in the refuge), and discarded body.

His contribution to Music, Society, and Spirituality

He is considered as one among the trinity of Carnatic music, because of his invaluable contribution to the Carnatic music through his vast knowledge, sublime spiritual realizations, innovation, and profound musicianship.

He was not only a music composer, but was also a musician who not only sung his own songs but was also well versed in Veena. He mostly composed in Sanskrit, and along with Syama Shastri and Tyagaraja, ushered in a new era in the history of Carnatic music.

Muthuswami is also famous for “Nottuswara Sahitya”- compositions in Sanskrit and Telugu that were composed for well-known western tunes. He transformed various Hindustani Ragas into Carnatic Ragas, and synthesized both music systems.

He was a pioneer of samashti charanam krithis– compositions where in the Pallavi (main stanza) is followed by only Annupallavi (second stanza) which itself acts as Charanas (last stanza), unlike normal compositions where Annupallavi and Charanas are different.

Muthuswami Dikshitar gave form to all 72 Asampurna Melakartha Ragas, by composing in all of them, thereby providing an example for various rare ragas that could be emulated by future generations.

Perhaps his most important contribution to music and society is his demonstration through his compositions that Music is not just an art, but is a Sadhana- a spiritual effort. He showed how music can be a vehicle for expressing sublime devotion and attaining union with God. Through his compositions, he repeatedly stressed that devotion is the key to the music, and attainment of God is music’s ultimate purpose.

For example, in his famous Kamalamba Navavarna Kritis, he dedicates nine compositions to exclusively deal with nine Avaranas (layers) in the Sri-Yantra. Each of these compositions are not only filled with details regarding geometrical shapes, the number of Yoginis and shaktis present in them, but also bring out devotion and the philosophy behind the worship of Sri-Yantra.

The compositions further bring out the tenets of Advaita Vedantic realizations. In his composition dedicated to second Avarana, he says: “Oh mind, worship goddess Kamalamba, and cast aside attachment to this illusory world.” Similarly, in composition on third Avarana, he begins by saying: “Shri Kamalambika has cast Her gracious glance on me, and now I am identified with the nature of Absolute Brahman, the fullness of existence, consciousness and bliss.”

Thus, Muthuswami Dikshitar, not only used his compositions to teach the tenets of Bhakti (devotion) and Vedanta (Non-dual philosophy), but he also effectively demonstrated that God-realization is the ultimate goal of music. Further, by his sheer dedication, devotion, and musical brilliance, he managed to start a new era in Carnatic music.

(Photo: withinandout.wordpress.com)

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Festival of India in Brazil kicks off with Carnatic Music and Gandhi Exhibition

The exhibition on the life of Mahatma Gandhi was inaugurated by Ambassador of India in Brazil Sunil Lal

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Festival of India
Carnatic Musical. Wikimedia

September 2, 2017: In the opening of the 10-day Festival of India,  an exhibition on the life of Mahatma Gandhi and an enthralling performance of Carnatic music by renowned Indian musicians in Brasilia, that was attended by senior Brazilian government officials, ambassadors, media, culture lovers and friends of India.

The event, on August 31, was held at the University of Brasilia (UnB).

Also Read: Navratri is a Festival which can be Celebrated by all, Irrespective of their Caste or Religion

The Festival of India is being organised in Brasilia, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro by the Indian Ministry of Culture and the Embassy of India in Brazil to celebrate the completion of 70 years of India’s independence, an Indian Embassy press release said.

The exhibition on the life of Mahatma Gandhi was inaugurated by Ambassador of India in Brazil Sunil Lal. The bilingual exhibition in English and Portuguese familiarized the Brazilian visitors with fascinating aspects of the Mahatma’s life and his decisive role in India’s independence. This was followed by the soulful performance of Indian Carnatic music by Anuroop Sugathan on the violin, Govindarajan and Palakal who were the vocalists and Viswanathan on the Mridangam.

In an evening marked by patriotic fervour and invocation of the divine, the Brazilian audience were treated to renditions of Vande Mataram and devotional and classical Carnatic numbers, reaching the crescendo with a rendition of the Indian National Anthem.

The group of musicians are to perform in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The Brazilian friends of India would be treated to another stellar evening of a Kathak performance by an 11-member group led by Nandini Singh in Brasilia on Friday. This would be followed by Kathak performances in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The widely appreciated exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi would also be on display in São Paulo.

The final leg of the festival would celebrate Indian literature with renowned Indian poets Siva Reddy Kolli, Shauq Mohammed Shafi Lone and Monalisa Jena sharing gems of Indian literature in Telugu, Kashmiri and Odia languages, with their translations, to introduce the Brazilian audience to the fascinating world of Indian poetry, in all the three cities. (IANS)

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Remembering Ustad Allah Rakha: Music Concert in Pune to celebrate Maestro’s 97th Birth Anniversary

'Drums of India' will feature all the genres of music from classical to folk, and from Carnatic music to jazz

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Zakir Hussain and Ustad Allah Rakha in jugalbandi. Image Source: YouTube.com
  • With the concert, Qureshi aims to give drummers a platform and endeavours to bring the talent from across the country under one roof
  • He also believes that the presence of such a diverse platform reflects the diversity of musicians and the forms of music the country boasts of
  • Ustad Allah Rakha Qureshi, famously known as Allah Rakha was a legendary tabla maestro

In a bid to commemorate the 97th birth anniversary of  Ustad Allah Rakha Khansaheb, his son, and disciple, Fazal Qureshi, is all set to organize a percussion concert ‘Drums of India – The Journey Continues’ at Annabhau Sathe Auditorium, in Pune on July 13 from 7 pm.

With the concert, Qureshi aims to give drummers a platform and endeavours to bring the talent from across the country under one roof.

Talking about the event, he said, “The idea is to bind the drum style of India through rhythm.”

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What makes this concert stand out is its unique concept. ‘Drums of India’ will feature all the genres of music from classical to folk, and from Carnatic music to jazz. It has also welcomed various forms of fusion, which will be presented together with percussion instruments.

Ustad Allah Rakha. Image Source: onemusic.tv
Ustad Allah Rakha. Image Source: onemusic.tv

Talking about the show Qureshi pointed out, “This will also be an opportunity for the younger generation of musicians to carry forward the legacy. Of them, many are those who are continuing their musical tradition like the dholki player Vijay Chavan who is the son of renowned singer Sulochana Chavan. So in a way, he’s carrying forward his own heritage and culture.”

He also believes that the presence of such a diverse platform reflects the diversity of musicians and the forms of music the country boasts of.

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Speaking to The Indian Express, he reiterated, “Musicians from all around the country are coming together, some of their instruments may have whatsoever no connection with each other, like the khadtal and the mridangam, but will still come together as one, just like India.”

Qureshi has been organizing such events from the last six years in Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad. While it is the first time he is geared up to organize the concert in Pune, he hopes to put together these shows in other parts of the country as well.

Ustad Allah Rakha Qureshi, famously known as Allah Rakha was a legendary tabla maestro, who frequently accompanied sitar player Ravi Shankar for most of the shows.

-prepared by Bulbul Sarma, a staff-writer at NewsGram.

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MS Subbulakshmi: The legend of Carnatic Music

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Photo: www.youtube.com

By Nithin Sridhar

Most households in South India, especially those belonging to traditional families or are music lovers, wake up every morning listening to the divine rendition of Suprabhatam (early morning hymns) sung by MS Subbulakshmi.

Subbulakshmi is one of the most celebrated singers and musicians of Carnatic music in the last century who made immeasurable contributions to the cause of Indian music, its survival, and its propagation. She mesmerized generation after generation of Indian music lovers with her divine voice and a flawless singing for over eight decades.

Photo: www.msstribute.org
Young M S Subbulakshmi. Photo: www.msstribute.org

Subbulakshmi was born in 1916 in the city of Madurai, in the present day state of Tamil Nadu, to Subramania Iyer and Shanmukavadiver Ammal. Her mother was a Veena player and her grandmother was a violinist. Music was ingrained in her entire family.

She started learning Carnatic music very early and recorded very first album at the age of 10. She gave her first public performance in Rockfort Temple, Tiruchirappalli in 1927, at the age of 11. She received Carnatic classical music training under the famous Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and later she even learnt Hindustani classical music under Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas.

Subbulakshmi was a lifelong devotee of Kanchi Shankaracharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, and she made music her life and her Sadhana (spiritual quest). After hearing her sing the famous bhajan (devotional song): “Vaisnava janato tene kahiye, jo pir paray, jane re” (Only those who understand the pain of others are called as devotees of God), Mahatma Gandhi had remarked: “To sing a bhajan is one thing, but to sing it by losing oneself in god is another.” Similarly, Jawaharlal Nehru had stated: “who am I, a mere prime minister, before a queen of song?

She gave public performances and mesmerized the audiences across the world. She performed at UN General Assembly, New York in 1966, at Royal Albert Hall, London in 1982, and at Festival of India in Moscow in 1987.

MS Subbulakshmi In "Meera". Photo: dbsjeyaraj.com
M S Subbulakshmi In “Meera”. Photo: dbsjeyaraj.com

She also involved herself in the film industry for a brief period. She acted in a handful of movies like Sevasadanam, Savitiri and Meera. She recorded numerous albums and gave hundreds of public performances. But, she stopped giving public performances after her husband Kalki Sadasivam’s death in 1997.

Subbulakshmi received numerous awards and honorary doctorates in recognition of her music talent and her innumerable contribution of Indian music and culture. She was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1998. Before that, she had received Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Sangeetha Kalasikhamani, and Ramon Magsaysay award. She was also honored as an ‘Asthana Vidhwan’ (resident scholar/artist) by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.

On this day, eleven years ago in 2004, Indian Music lost this nightingale of Carnatic music. Some of the most famous sons sung by her include: Suprabhatam, Bhajagovindam, Kurai Onrum Illai, and Vishnu Sahasranamam.

Here is a video of M S Subbulakshmi singing ‘Bhajagovindam‘ taken from Youtube: