Group Kriti-s of Dikshitar

P. P. Narayanaswami and Mohan Krishnamoorthy


Sri Narayanaswami is a resident of Canada and a well wisher of Carnatic Music Circle (CMC), Melbourne. He has contributed several articles to Keertana in the past.





Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775-1834 A.D.) is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the South Indian classical (Carnatic) music system. Nearly four hundred and eighty seven of his compositions are currently available (although the authenticity of some of them is questionable). In this article, we discuss the Group Kriti-s (groups of songs on a unified theme) that Dikshitar composed.


A point worth noting is that it is not clear if (and there is no evidence to suggest that) he composed all kriti-s in a group in one sitting. Nor is it clear (except in some cases) if his intention was to create a group of kriti-s on a unified theme. However, it is a useful means of classifying his brilliant compositions. Another point that is worth making a priori is that there still exists some questions regarding the authenticity of some compositions (and indeed, groups of compositions or some compositions in a group). The number of Dikshitar compositions in an authentic source like "Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini" (by Subbarama Dikshitar, 1961, Tamil script by B. Rajam Iyer and S. Ramanathan, Published by Music Academy) is much less than the number that we find in some later books (like the one recently authored by Sr Govinda Rao), which lists more then 450 compositions.


The musical Trinity of Carnatic music are well known to all Carnatic music rasika-s: Tyagaraja (1767-1847 AD), Syama Sastri (1762-1827 AD) and Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835 AD) have provided us with their monumental contributions. Of the Trinity, Dikshitar was the youngest and the most widely traveled. Dikshitar was born in Tiruvarur, which was also the birthplace of Tyagaraja and Syama Sastri.

In the book on Dikshitar's compositions by Sri T. K. Govinda Rao (Ganamandir Publications, 1997) the author writes, "If humility is the hallmark of Tyagaraja, peity the password of Syama Sastri, then Dikshitar's works are like jewels made of words that are gems, so carefully entwined with pure traditional classical music".


Dikshitar's ancestors were said to be from Virinchipuram in North Arcot district. Dikshitar's father, Ramaswami Dikshitar, who grew up in an environment enveloped in Sanskrit and music, settled down in Tiruvarur at the behest of his spiritual Guru, Chidambaranatha Yogi. Ramaswami Dikshitar had four children: Muthuswami, Chinnaswami, Balambal and Baluswami. At the request of Chidambaranatha Yogi, Muthuswami Dikshitar was sent to Varanasi for a period of five years. Here, Muthuswami Dikshitar was influenced by Hindustani raga-s and the Dhrupad style of singing. Soon afterwards, Dikshitar's prolific career as a composer is said to have commenced in full earnest.


Dikshitar's compositions are renowned for their lyrical splendour and his extraordinary mastery over the Sanskrit language. He did not fail to exploit the many literary and figurative beauties that this ancient language has to offer. He was a master of alliterations and his kriti-s, mostly in chauka kala (slow-tempo) abound in literary and artistic elements like adiprasa, antyaprasa, swarakshara, madhyamakala sahitya, gopuccha yati, srotovaha yati and so on. He had this remarkable ability of weaving the name of the raga of the composition into the text of the kriti (known as the inscription of the raga mudra). Dikshitar followed this practice in a systematic manner without having to sacrifice the lyrical beauty of the sahitya (text of the composition), many a time using the art of slesha (double meaning or pun). He also used word splits and word combinations to bring in the name of the raga. His compositions are equally renowned for their exquisite Sanskrit poetry as they are for the musical values they project.

Muthuswami Dikshitar was a composer par excellence. He was a passionate traveller and a zealous pilgrim, with an insatiable thirst for visiting sacred places. He composed and sang the glory of deities at almost all of the holy shrines he visited. From his kriti-s, it is clear that he visited a number of places of worship from the southern tip of India in Rameshwaram to the far North. Since Tiruvarur was the main centre of his activities, we find a large number of his compositions dedicated to the presiding deity of the huge temple complex at Tiruvarur: Lord Tyagaraja (Siva), and his consort, Goddess Kamalamba. His kriti-s also contain references to architectural aspects of the temples he visited. Legends and anecdotes surrounding the temples also appear in some of his compositions. Some of his compositions also contain a detailed picture of the shrine, the idol, the puranic (mythological) associations of the place, the stala vraksha (the sacred tree associated with the place), the holy tank in the temple courtyard, some special offerings to the deity, the associated temple festivals, or even the particular form of its worship.


All his kriti-s contain the word "Guruguha", which he adopted as his signature. This phrase refers to his spiritual Guru, Lord Subrahmanya of Tiruttani Temple. It is said that, very early in his musical career, Lord Guruguha (Subrahmanya) appeared before Dikshitar and blessed him with musical talents, divine knowledge and scholarliness.


Groups of kriti-s on a single theme


Dikshitar was fond of composing groups of songs on the same unifying theme. Where possible, he composed these with both bhakti (devotion) and vibhakti (the various cases that occur in the declination of a noun) running parallel to each other. A striking example is the batch of eight kriti-s that he composed in praise of Lord Subrahmanya of Tiruttani and contains the noun, Guruguha, in its various forms.


Sanskrit language employs eight cases (vibhhakti-s) for the declination of a noun, namely Nominative (Prathama), Accusative (Dvitiya), Instrumental (Trthiya), Dative (Chaturthi), Ablative (Panchami), Genitive (Shashti), Locative (Saptami) and Vocative (Sambhodhana). The eight cases of the noun "Guruguha" would be: Guruguhah (Guruguho), Guruguham, Guruguhena, Guruguhaya, Guruguhat, Guruguhasya, Guruguhe and Guruguha. The following sequence of eight kriti-s contains these eight cases, one for each kriti: sri nathadi guruguho (raga: mayamalavagaula, tala: adi), manasa guruguha (ananda bhairavi, rupakam), sri guruna palitosmi (padi, rupakam), guruguhaya (sama, adi), guruguha danyam (balahamsa, jhampa), sri guruguhasya dasosmyaham (purvi, misra chapu), guruguhaswamini (bhanumati, khanda triputa), sri guruguha murte (udayaravicandrika, rupakam).


There are a few other kriti-s (some beginning with the phrase Guruguha) that do not belong to the above group, but were composed at the same temple. They are: sri guruguha (devakriya, rupakam), guruguha pada pankaja (sankarabharanam, tishra eka), guruguha sarasija (sankarabharanam, chaturashra eka), and gurumurte (sankarabharanam, rupakam).


Another group of kriti-s that follow the above bhakti and vibhakti scheme was composed at Tiruvarur, in praise of the presiding deity, Lord Tyagaraja (Siva) of the Tiruvarur temple. The noun declined in eight cases here is Tyagaraja. The kriti-s in this group are: tyagarajo virajate (atana, rupakam), tyagarajam bhajare (yadukula kamboji, misra chapu), tyagarajena samraksitoham (salagabhairavi, adi), tyagarajaya namaste (begada, rupakam), tyagaraja danyam (darbar, adi), sri tyagarajasya bhakto (rudrapriya, mishra chapu), tyagaraje kritya krityam (saranga, jhampa), viravasanta tyagaraja (viravasantam, adi).


In addition to the above, the following five kriti-s on Lord Tyagaraja are equally famous: tyagaraja palaya sumam (gaula, adi), tyagaraja mahadhvajaroha (sri, adi), tyagarajam bhajeham (neelambari, rupakam), tyagaraja yoga vaibhavam (ananda bhairavi, rupakam), tyagesham bhajare (rudrapriya, adi).


Another batch of eight compositions this time on Lord Rama features the same pattern of vibhakti. Unlike the earlier groups, these kriti-s were composed in various locations in the Southern tip of India that are associated with the epic story of Ramayana. The compositions in this group are: sri ramachandro (sriranjani, mishra chapu), ramachandram bhavayami (vasanta, rupakam), ramachandrena (manji, rupakam), ramachandraya (todi, mishra chapu), ramachandra danyam (dhanyasi, khanda chapu), ramachanderasya (dhamavati, adi), rame bharata palita (jyoti, khana chapu), rama rama (ramakali, rupakam).


Kamalamba Navavarana Kriti-s


Another batch of eleven songs is the famous Kamalamba Navavarana kriti-s in praise of Goddess Kamalamba of the Tiruvarur Temple. The huge tank near the temple is aptly called Kamalalayam. This set of kriti-s is prefixed with sri maha ganapathir avatumam (gaula, triputa), an invocation to Lord Ganesha, and is followed by balasubrahmanyam bhajeham (suruti, adi), a composition devoted to Lord Subrahmanya. The rest of this group consists of the following kriti-s: kamalambike (dhyana kriti: todi, rupakam), kamalamba samrakshatu mam (ananda bhairavi, tishra jati triputa), kamalambam bhajare (kalyani, adi), kamalambikaya (sankarabharanam, rupakam), kamalambikayai (kambhoji, ata), sri kamalambikayah param (bhairavi, jhampa), kamalambikayah (punnagavarali, rupakam), sri kamalambikayam (sahana, triputa), sri kamalambike (ghanta, adi), sri kamalamba jayati (ahiri, rupakam), sri kamalambike (sri, khanda eka).


The above list of kriti-s is held in great respect and veneration, since they describe the abstract forms of the Goddess. They also contain highly sophisticated and very sacred philosophical phrases. The first song is usually referred to as a Dhyana (invocative) kriti. The ninth composition contains phrases in all eight vibhakti-s.


Nilotpalamba Kriti-s


The shrine of Goddess Nilotpalamba is situated in the same temple complex at Tiruvarur. Dikshitar composed his famous Gaulanta kriti-s on this Goddess. This is a series of eight kriti-s, all rendered in raga-s ending with the phrase "Gaula". These are: nilotpalamba jayati (narayanagaula, mishra chapu), nilotpalambam bhajare (nari ritigaula, mishra chapu), nilotpalambikaya (kannadagaula, adi), nilotpalambikayai (kedaragaula, adi), nilotpalambikayah param (gaula, rupakam), nilotpalambikayastava (mayamalavagaula, mishra chapu), nilotpalambikayam (purvagaula, rupakam), nilotpalambike (chayagaula, rupakam). It must be pointed out that purvagaula and chayagaula are rare raga-s.


Navagraha Kriti-s


The Navagraha kriti-s of Dikshitar glorify the nine planets. The first seven of these kriti-s employ (respectively) the seven suladi tala-s, namely, dhruva, matya, rupaka, jhampa, triputa, ata and eka. Further, these compositions contain the essence of Jyotisha (science of astrology). It is said that Dikshitar composed these songs in order to heal a certain type of stomach ailment of his sishya (disciple) Tambiyappan, who played the suddhamelam (a kind of drum). It is believed that the planet Brhaspati has the divine power to heal such incurable diseases; rather than composing one song just to please a single planet, Dikshitar chose to sing in praise of all nine planets. There is still some dispute regarding the kriti-s for Rahu and Ketu. Some scholars believe that his disciples composed these in order to complete the set of nine. The names of the nine planets in the Sanskrit language are: Surya, Chandra, Angaraka, Budha, Brihaspati, Shukra, Sani, Rahu and Ketu. The following kriti-s are (respectively) on each of the planets: suryamurte (saurastram, dhruva), chandram bhaja (asaveri, matya), angarakam (suruti, rupakam), budham ashrayami (nattakuranji, jhampa), brihaspate (atana, triputa), sri sukrabhagavantam (paras, ata), diwakara tanujam (yadukula kambhoji, chaturashra eka), smaramyaham sada rahum (ramamanohari, rupakam), mahasuram ketumaham (chamaram, rupakam).


Pancha Bhootha Kshetra Kriti-s


Lord Siva, according to the Hindu belief, is manifest in the form of the five basic elements -- ether, air, light (fire), earth and water -- which make up the universe. The pancha linga kriti-s are dedicated to these five forms of Lord Siva. These kriti-s were composed respectively at the temples of Chidambaram (ether), Kalahasti (air), Tiruvannamalai (fire), Kanchipuram (earth) and Jambukeshwaram (water). The five kriti-s in this set are: ananda natana prakasham (kedaram, mishra chapu on Chidambaram), sri kalahastisha (huseni, jhampa on Kalahasti), arunachala natam (saranga, rupakam on Tiruvannamalai), chintaya makanta (bhairavi, rupakam on Kanchipuram), jambupate (yamuna kalyani, rupakam on Jambukeshwaram).


Tiruvarur Pancha Linga Kriti-s


A secondary set of Pancha Linga kriti-s were composed on the five linga-s of Lord Siva located in the temples in and around Tiruvarur. These are the temples of Achalesvara, Hatakeshwara, Valmikeshwara, Anandeshwara and Siddhishwara. This set is also referred to as the Tiruvarur Pancharatna kriti-s. The five compositions in this set are: sadachaleshwaram (bhupalam, adi on Achaleshwara), hatakeshwara (bilahari, rupakam on Hatakeshwara), sri valmikalingam (kambhoji, ata on Valmikeshwara), anandeshwarena (ananda bhairavi, mishra chapu on Anandeshwara), siddhishwaraya (neelambari, mishra chapu on Siddhishwara).


Abhayamba Vibhakti Kriti-s


In Mayuram (Mayavaram or Mayildutturai, as it is called nowadays), north of Tiruvarur and in the delta of the river Kaveri lies the famous shrine of Lord Mayuranatha, whose consort is Goddess Abhayamba. Here, Dikshitar composed a series of compositions known as the "Abhayamba Navavarana kriti-s". The kriti-s in this set are in heavy classical raga-s and they are: abhayamba jagadamba (kalyani, adi), aryam abhayambam (bhairavi, triputa), girijaya ajaya (sankarabharanam, adi), abhayambikayai (yadukulakambhoji, rupakam), abhayambikayah (kedaragaula, jhampa), ambikayah abhayambikayah (kedaram, adi), abhayambayam (sahana, triputa), daksayani Abhayambika (todi, rupakam). In addition to these, two other kriti-s on Goddess Abhayamba are known: sadasraye (chamaram, rupakam) and sri abhayamba (sri, adi), which is a famous Manipravala kriti (a single song employing many languages, in this case, Sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil).


Kriti-s on Lord Ganesha:


According to Ganapatyam (the science of worship of Lord Ganesha), and Tantra Shastra (the science of mystical powers), the elephant-faced Lord Ganesa has been described and worshiped in sixteen different forms (Shodasa Ganapati). Dikshitar has composed in all of these forms. The following kriti-s of Dikshitar, many of which were composed in the Tiruvarur temple, all depict the Ganapatya theme: ekadantam (bilahari, mishra chapu), gajananayutam (vegavahini, chaturasra eka), gananayakam (rudrapriya, adi), ganapate (kalyani, rupakam), ganarajena (arabhi, mishra chapu), ganesha kumara (jhunjhuti, chaturasra eka), guruguha sarasija (sankarabharanam, chaturasra eka), hastivadanaya (navaroj, mishra chapu), kari kalabha mukham (saveri, rupakam), lambodaraya (varali, khanda chapu), mahaganapate (natanarayani, adi), mahaganapatim (chalanata, chaturasra eka), mahaganapatim vande (todi, rupakam), pancamatanga mukha (malahari, rupakam), rakta ganapatim (mohanam, adi), shakti sahita (sankarabharanam, tishra eka), siddhivinayakam (chamaram, rupakam), sri gananatam (isamanohari, rupakam), sri ganeshatparam (ardradesi, rupakam), sri mahaganapatir (gaula, triputa), sri muladhara chakra (sri, adi), shwetaganapatim (ragachudamani, triputa), ucchista ganapatim (kasiramakriya, adi), vallabha nayakasya (begada, rupakam), vamangastitaya vallabhaya (atana, khanda eka), vatapi ganapatim (hamsadhvani, adi), vinayaka (vegavahini, rupakam).


Some of the above kriti-s were composed on shrines other than Tiruvarur. For instance, the kriti, lambodaraya in raga varali is on Lord Ganesha at Tirunelveli. M. S. Ramaswamy, in his book ("The Ambrosia of Muthuswamy Dikshitar", Part II, 1989) suggests that two kriti-s, namely, vinayakam bhaje (malahari), and heramba (atana), belong to the set of sixteen kriti-s on Lord Ganesha.


It is worth pointing out that in the kriti raktaganapatim (mohanam, adi), we find a geographical reference to the western coastal state of Kerala, including a reference to the particular offering that is made there (Payasanna, a kind of milk and rice pudding).


Kriti-s in Madurai


Madurai (Madhura), once ruled by the Pandyan dynasty, is the second largest city in the state of Tamilnadu. The huge and majestic temple complex of Goddess Meenakshi and her spouse Lord Sundaresvara (Siva) is situated here. The song meenakshi me mudam dehi (gamakakriya, adi) and mamava meenakshi (varali, mishra chapu) are on Goddess Meenakshi. The former piece contains the phrases "meenalochani pasamochini", the Goddess with eyes like (or as beautiful as) a fish, who is the liberator of the threads of worldly bondage. It is believed that this was the last kriti composed by Dikshitar. It is also said that he made his disciples recite this kriti during his last day in this physical world.


There is also a fine collection of songs with the vibhakti style, dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi. Following is a partial list: madhuramba jayati (paras, mishra chapu), madhurambam bhajare (stavarajam, adi), sri madhurambikaya (atana, mishra chapu), sri meenakshi (gauri, rupakam), madhurambayah (begada, mishra chapu), madhurambikayam (desisimharavam, rupakam), shyamalangi matangi (shyamala, adi), sri madhurambike (kalyani, khanda chapu), madhuramba (devakriya, adi).


Tanjavur and the Melakarta Project


Tanjavur (Tanjore) has always played an important role in the cultural and spiritual history of South India. It is a city of temples, and is the home of the majestic Brihadishwara Temple, built by King Rajaraja Chola, of the Chola dynasty. This temple complex is a great archiological treasure house. It is also here that Dikshitar is said to have come in contact with the dance masters of the Tanjavur court: Ponnayya, Chinnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu. In the kriti rajarajendra (gundakriya, triputa), Dikshitar mentions the Chola rulers and their connections with the contemporary ruler King Sarafoji. Again, it is believed that he came into contact with Tyagaraja and Shyama Shastri during his stay in Tanjavur, but no proof is available to substantiate such a claim.


Dikshitar adopted the 72 melakarta raga (parent scales) and the corresponding janya raga scheme (derivations) proposed by Venkatamakhin, the great grammarian of the Carnatic music system. There are various deities in Tanjavur and in nearby temples, on whom Dikshitar composed excellent kriti-s in this mela scheme to illustrate the immense possibilities of the Venkatamakhin system of classifying the 72 mela-s. He has composed in all of these 72 mela-s. The 40 vivadi mela raga-s that he handled, are a class in themselves.


Nottu Swara Sahityam (Western Melody)


Dikshitar had occasion to listen to Western Music when he came in contact with officials of the East India Company and their English Musical band. His younger brother, Baluswami Dikshitar, who was initiated to learn European violin by the patron Manali Chinnaswami Mudaliar, introduced the violin into Carnatic music. With this influence, Dikshitar composed many kriti-s under the classification of Nottu Svara Sahitya-s, all in the raga sankarabharanam in different tala structures. All of these are extremely melodious, and some of them resemble Western tunes. For example, the kriti "santatam pahi mam sangita shyamale" is a Marching Song, which can be sung in a chorus, to the tune of "God save the King"! The following is a complete list of kriti-s in this group (note that since all of these songs are in raga sankarabharanam, we only provide the tala-s in this list): anjaneyam (tishra eka), chintayeham (chaturashra eka), dasharate (tishra eka), dhinabandho (tishra eka), guruguha sarasija (chaturashra ekam), guruguha pada pankaja (tishra ekam), gurumurte (rupakam), he maye (tishra eka), jagadisha (chaturashra ekam), kamalasana (chaturashra eka), kanchisa (tishra eka), maye chitkale (tishra eka), muchukundavara (tishra eka), pahi durge (chaturashra eka), pahimam (tishra eka), pankajamukha (tishra eka), paradevata (tishram), paradevate (rupakam), parvatipate (chaturashra eka), pitavarnam (tishra eka), rajivalochanam (tishra eka), ramachandram (chaturashra eka), rama janardana (tishra eka), sadashiva (chaturashra eka), sakalasuravinuta (chaturashra eka), shaktisahita (tishra eka), samaganapriye (chaturashra eka), shankaravara (rupakam), santanasaubhagya (tishra eka), santatam govinda (tishra eka), santatam pahi mam (tishra eka), somaskhandam (tishra eka), sri shankara (tishram), shyamale meenakshi (chaturashra eka), vagdevi (chaturashra eka), vande meenakshi (chaturashra eka), varadaraja pahi (tishra eka), varashivabalam (chaturashra eka),




Tyagaraja composed mostly in praise of Lord Rama, and Syama Sastri chose to compose and sing on Goddess Kamaksi of Kanchipuram. Dikshitar, an Advaitin (a believer in non-dualistic system of philosophy) and a Gnani (possessor of supreme divine knowledge), composed kriti-s glorifying almost every God in the Hindu pantheon.


In this article, we have attempted to document some of Dikshitar's Group Kriti-s in a simple attempt to glorify his greatness. The above illustrations amply show Dikshitar's meticulousness in concept and grandeur in execution. He was a spontaneous composer but he could also set himself specific goals and achieve his targets in a very structured and elegant manner.




"Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar Keerthanaigal (Tamil)", Veena Vidwan A. Sundaram Iyer, Music Book Publishers, Madras (1989).

"Dikshitar Kirthana Mala, (Tamil and Sanskrit)", Veena Vidwan A. Sundaram Iyer (15 volumes and a special volume), Music Book Publishers, Madras (1941, 1951,1965 --1977).

"Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini" Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (5 volumes), Music Asademy, Madras (1961, 1963, 1968, 1977 and 1983)

"Muthuswami Dikshitar", National Centre for Performing Arts, Bombay Editors: V. Raghavan, V. Narayana Menon (1975).

"Nottu Swara sahitya-s of Muthuswami Dikshitar", V. Raghavan, Music Academy, Madras (1977).

"Muthuswamy Dikshitar", T. K. Govinda Rao, Ganamandir Publications, Madras, 1997.

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