Nottusvara Sahityas of Dikshitar Part III – Content and Significance

Madurai TempleAn essay on the content and significance 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.

All of the music of the svarasahityas is based largely on the Major Scale, which is the melodic scale of the raga Sankarabharanam. All of the original tunes are from the folk music repertory of the British Isles from the late 18th and the early 19th centuries. While there is no rigorous grammar behind the folk melodies, the rhythmic structures can be classified broadly into waltzes, jigs, reels, marches and other miscellaneous tunes in common time and swings. Somaskandam, Muchukunda Varada, Jagadisa Guruguha, Santatam, Syamale, Sadasiva Jaye constitute an example of each kind.

In some cases, the composition resulting from the superposition of Sanskrit lyrics has caused no variation to the original tune, while in some cases, the changes are apparent. It is to be noted that it is quite common for folk melodies in the Irish tradition to undergo mutation in rhythm and in tempo. By and large, the ‘airs’ sustain by themselves with or without accompanying lyrics. It is not unusual for a melody to occur in two different occasions with vastly different lyrics both in content and in context.

In the context of Dikshitar, the svarasahityas constitute a microcosm of the entire body of work of the composer given the volume, melodic, lyrical and contextual sophistication of his kritis. Dikshitar is known as the eternal pilgrim in the sense that he visited several shrines and composed masterpiece kritis in praise of the enshrined deities. His kritis represent his pluralistic approach to religion and his grounding in non-dualistic monoism. It is interesting to note that such complex concepts are couched playfully in a reel such as ‘Jagadisa Guruguha’. The nottusvara sahityas are dedicated to the various manifestations of the oneness of creation (Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Skanda, Ganesha, Bhairava, Anjaneya, Rama, Krishna) and as with his kritis, many are related to shrines visited by the composer.

Significance of the nottuswara sahityas:
In conclusion, the nottusvara sahityas reveal a glimpse into the world of Dikshitar’s sahityas, that are rich in lyrical content. The sahityas also reflect the universalistic outlook of the composer, who was open to using alien melodies in his creative expression, in addition to the large body of highly sophisticated (beyond compare) melodies of his own creation. Above all, it reveals the pluralistic approach of Indian culture and the unique ability of the culture to transform an alien concept into something that is totally uniquely Indian. From a practical standpoint, they constitute a series of exercises that introduce the beginner to the fascinating world of Dikshitar’s classical music.

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