An essay on the historical context of the Nottusvara sahityas of Dikshitar. Kanniks Kannikeswaran gave a lecture-demonstration on this topic at the 81st Annual Conference of The Music Academy, Chennai in December 2007.
Muthusvami Dikshitar (1775-1835) was born in Tiruvarur and a part of his early life was spent in Manali, near Chennai, where his family lived a fulfilled musical life. It was during this phase that he came in contact with tunes played by British bands, during a political period marked by the rising star of the East India Company in India. A significant result of this exposure was the introduction of the violin into the stream of Indian classical music by Baluswami Dikshitar, the brother of the composer.
Muthusvami Dikshitar wrote lyrics in Sanskrit to many of the Western melodies that he came in contact with during his lifetime. There is a total of 39 compositions that fall under this category. This constitutes a fraction of what is regarded as the total corpus of his work.
As mentioned before, the svarasahityas are songs that consist of ancient Western melodies set to Sanskrit text. Many of these are based on the folk musictradition of the British Isles and are not from the Western classical music traditions.
Three sources of documentation are available for the nottuswara sahityas. The first is a manuscript dating back to the year 1833, that records the writing of Sanskrit lyrics by Dikshitar for 12 of these melodies, in response to a request by the then collector Carl Philip Brown. The second is a notated version of 33 of the nottusvaras without reference to the original tunes, in a supplement to the colossal work Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini authored by Subbarama Dikshitar in 1905 and the third is a work by Manali Chinnasami Mudaliar in 1893 that notates some of these svarasahityas. Prior work in this area has identified 11 of the svarasahityas with the corresponding Western tunes in a generalised context.