Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906)
Composer, and Author of Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini
In the history of Indian music in modern times, four
musicologists stand out most prominently; but for their pioneering labours the continuity
in our musical tradition would have been seriously impaired and the revival in the art
that took place would have suffered in quality and substance. In the North, it was first
Rajah Sir Sourindra Mohan Tagore and then Pt.Bhatkhande; in the South, Sri A.M.Chinnaswami
Mudaliar first and then Vidvan Subbarama Dikshitar. The last was perhaps the greatest as
he was an immediate scion and successor of the great composer Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar
(1775-1835) and himself a musician and composer, "the direct representative of one of
the most scientific of our Beethoven and Mendelssohn families", as Sri Chinnaswami
Mudaliar described him. His Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini can be compared to a huge and
permanent dam which impounded and preserved the music of the golden age of Karnatic music.
Practising musicians, theorists, editors and publishers of recent times have been
continuously drawing sustenance from it.
Subbarama Dikshitar would not have undertaken this magnum opus but for the prompting and
insistence of Sri Chinnaswami Mudaliar, a Superintendent at that time in the Madras
Government Secretariat, a Christian with a consuming passion for Karnatic music. Having
started on his gigantic project of presenting Oriental Music in European Notation, he
sought out representatives of the direct shishya-parampara of Tyagaraja like Walajahpet
Krishnaswami Bhagavatar and wrote out 800 pieces of Tyagaraja and other composers in Staff
Notation, checking his scripts with the aid of violinists trained in Western music who
were asked to play them by sight.
Chinnaswami Mudaliar circulated widely the first issues of his "Oriental Music".
The public response was meagre though leading men of culture, as also the Press, did
praise him for his monumental undertaking. The publication and Mudaliar's undaunted
pursuit of his objective produced a result of momentous significance, namely his coming
into touch with the Ettayapuram Samsthanam and the court-musician there, Vidvan Subbarama
Dikshitar. In The Hindu and in the pages of Oriental Music, these two figures, Subbarama
Dikshitar and Chinnaswami Mudaliar, corresponded; the former called the latter an
avatara-purusha and the latter, accepting the former as Guru, got him thrice to stay with
him in Madras and to enlighten him further on the science and art of Karnatic music and
the intricacies of the raga system, and the gamaka-s, in particular. Subbarama Dikshitar
thus stayed with Mudaliar for a period of three to four years in all and helped him to
write down many of the compositions of Muttuswami Dikshitar.
The Rajah of Ettayapuram in Tirunelveli District had been an ardent patron of Sanskrit
learning, of Tamil scholars and poets, and of musicians and composers.It was in
Ettayapuram that the great composer Muttuswami Dikshitar spent his last years. In earlier
years, his youngest brother Baluswami Dikshitar had been received as Asthana Vidvan there.
Five generations of the Ettayapuram Rajahs had been ardent patrons and active votaries of
music, themselves practising both vocal and instrumental music and composing pieces in
Telugu and Tamil. Full accounts of these Rajahs, of their patronage of and flair for the
arts and literature can be found in the biographies of the personalities in the world of
music which were penned by Subbarama Dikshitar himself as part of his Sangita Sampradaya
Muttuswami Dikshitar passed away in Ettayapuram in 1835. His brother Baluswami Dikshitar
had a daughter Annapurni who had been given in marriage to Sivarama Iyer of Tiruvarur.
Subbarama Dikshitar was their second son. He was born at Tiruvarur in 1839. When he was
only five, he was taken to Ettayapuram by Baluswami Dikshitar, his maternal grandfather,
who adopted him as his own son. Subbarama Dikshitar underwent intensive training under
Baluswami Dikshitar in music, particularly on the vina, and studied Telugu and Sanskrit
under the guidance of other teachers. He became a composer in his seventeenth year and the
chief Asthana Vidvan, in succession to Baluswami Dikshitar in his nineteenth year. A
detailed account of his life and music career can be read in his own words in his magnum
opus. He records that the then ruler of Ettayapuram, Jagadvira Rama Kumara Eddappa
Maharajah, had his horoscope examined by expert astrologers and, seeing the indications of
glory there, told Baluswami Dikshitar that Subbarama Dikshitar would be a second
Muttuswami Dikshitar and that Baluswami should adopt him as his own son.
The circumstances that led to the fruitful friendship and co-operation of Subbarama
Dikshitar and Chinnaswami Mudaliar have already been recalled. Mudaliar had laboured hard,
faced acute difficulties, and had reached a stage where he was unable to publish all the
material that he had written down. Mudaliar's eyesight had also been seriously affected by
his labours and he was unable to publish the Dikshitar pieces he had reduced to notation
with Subbarama Dikshitar's assistance. On the occasion of the installation on the gaddi of
Jagadvira Rama Venkateshvara Eddappa, Rajah at Ettayapuram, in
1899, Mudaliar visited Ettayapuram and personally appealed to all those who
mattered, including the Rajah himself, to ensure that his unfulfilled mission
would be completed by the Samsthanam. He said that Subbarama Dikshitar should be urged and
helped to publish in notation, at least in the Telugu script, the entire music of the
Subbarama Dikshitar himself records that Mudaliar's appeal was that Subbarama Dikshitar
should put down in writing and notation everything that he knew, without hiding anything.
To quote from the English Preface by C. Nagojee Rau (a well-known figure in music circles
in those times) to the original Telugu edition of the Sampradaya Pradarshini, "Sri
Subbarama Dikshitar, though unwilling at first to part with what he naturally regarded as
a precious heirloom to be jealously guarded and retained in his family, yielded in the end
to the wishes of his master and patron, the Rajah". Sri Nagojee Rau adds, "To
what extent we are indebted to the gentleman named above (i.e Mudaliar)could be realised
if it be remembered that BrahmaSri Sbbarama Dikshitar is now an old gentleman and that his
great learning and knowledge and the store of music literature in his possession would, in
the course of nature, have been lost to the world in a few years if this work had not been
Subbarama Dikshitar worked on this book Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini for more than four
years. Its printing began towards the end of December 1901 and while it was in progress,
to quote the words of the Tamil Preface by R.Srinivasa Iyengar to the original edition,
"Matangi Devi, presiding Deity of Music, drew to Her own World Her beloved Devotee
Sri Chinnaswami Mudaliar". Thanks to the continued interest of the Rajah, the Sangita
Sampradaya Pradarshini was completed in the middle of 1904. Special types for Telugu and
for the gamaka-signs were ordered, the credit for having printed this very difficult
material at a time when printing in this country was in its infancy goes to T. Ramachandra
Iyengar and the Vidya Vilasini Press at Ettayapuram. The book was published under the
authority of Rao Bahadur
K.Jagannathan Chettiar, Secretary of the Ettayapuram Samsthanam.
This book is in two volumes, and extends to about 1700 pages. It comprises 76 biographies
of persons noteworthy in the history of music from the times of Sarngadeva to those of
Subbarama Dikshitar himself. It includes the lives of writers of scientific treatises,
composers and musicians. Two sections are
devoted to the science of music (Sangita-lakshana-prachina paddhati and
Sangita-lakshana-sangraha). There is an exhaustive tabular statement of
raga-s, raganga-s, upanga-s and bhashanga-s with their murcchana-s; a detailed descriptive
guide in Telugu and Tamil to the gamaka-signs employed in the notations of the songs in
the book; tala-signs and notes on likely pitfalls in rendering them on the vina or singing
them; the main text of the work giving the 72 Mela-s and all their Janya-s with their
raga-lakshana-s, explanation of their special characteristics, their lakshana-gita-s,
sanchari-s and illustrative compositions; and supplements giving ragamalika-s and pieces
of other composers who had lived in the previous three centuries.
In the main portion, among the compositions given are about 170 gita-s of
Venkatamakhin, about 229 kriti-s of Muttuswami Dikshitar, 10 prabandha-s and 41
chittatana-s of Venkatamakhin, some ragamalika-s and other compositions of Ramaswami
Dikshitar, the father of Muttuswami Dikshitar, a few pieces of Tyagaraja and Shyama
Shastri, and over hundred other pieces, suladi-s, varna-s, svarajati-s, daru-s and pada-s
including some in Tamil. In addition to the two volumes of the main work, Subbarama
Dikshitar wrote and compiled for beginners an introductory work in about 230 pages called
The work also gives us an idea of the learning and artistic contribution of
Subbarama Dikshitar himself. In the explanatory notes on the raga-lakshana-s, he shows his
erudition in respect of the special and characteristic notes or phrases of raga-s and
under each raga, he adds elaborate sanchari-s. Besides, the book also contains the
original pieces which Subbarama Dikshitar himself composed: varna-s, kriti-s, and
ragamalika-s. Even if Subbarama Dikshitar had not produced the Sangita Sampradaya
Pradarshini, his name would still stand high among the gifted composers of Karnatic music.
While maintaining the high style of Muttuswami Dikshitar, he displayed greater versatility
and produced in addition to kriti-s, many varna-s, svarajati-s, and ragamalika-s all
studded with svarakshara beauties. Of his ragamalika-s, the one illustrating the 72
Melakarta-s, according to the Venkatamakhi school, with words composed by his Telugu
teacher, Krishna Kavi, is of special importance.
Subbarama Dikshitar also set to music, the Valli-Bharatam, a Tamil composition by Kadigai
Namassivaya Pulavar of the Ettayapuram Court. "Ma moha lahiri" in Khamas on God
Kumara at Kazhukumalai by the same Tamil scholar was also set to dance-music by Subbarama
Dikshitar, following somewhat the famous Useni Svarajati. It is printed in the Sangita
Sampradaya Pradarshini and has recently been brought into vogue by Balasarasvati.
We may reproduce the very words of Subbarama Dikshitar on his creative work:
"When I was only seventeen, I composed a Tana Varna in Darbar and when it was
presented before the King, some in the assembly thought that my father had actually
composed it. The King, therefore, told me, 'I am going out and shall come back in one
hour; by that time you should sit here, compose and keep ready for me a jatisvara in Iman;
and he specified that in it, after pallavi and anupallavi, there should be a svara-passage
starting on Dha, and the next svara-passage should be set in three tempos fast, medium and
slow, and again in the same three in reverse order, and then the muttayisvara'. The King,
to test my ability ordered that I should not, while composing the piece, leave the spot
and he also set two guards to watch me. I finished the jatisvara in the given form before
the scheduled time and the King, after listening to it, himself took me to my father,
announced the new composition, made me sing my new composition and rewarded me with a pair
of shawls and ten sovereigns. On Jagadvira Rama Eddappa Maharajah, I composed at his
instance and on him, two chowka varna-s for dance in Anandabhairavi and Surati and a
ragamalika in nine raga-s. On His Holiness Sri Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Pitha, I sang a
tana varna in Ramakriya and the kriti Sankaracharyam in Sankarabharana". The sadas,
included, besides His Holiness and Vidvans in different Shastras, Vinai Subbukutti Iyer,
Tirumalarayampattanam Ramudu Bhagavatar and Tirukkadayur Bharati (the last a direct pupil
of the great Muttuswami Dikshitar).
Subbarama Dikshitar had planned to publish another large work containing
100 kriti-s of Shyama Shastri, 500 kshetrajna pada-s and the kriti-s of
Tyagaraja collected by Mr. Chinnaswami Mudaliar from the Walajahpet school. lt is our
misfortune that he could not complete his project, and we are not able even to trace the
manuscripts of his collection.
Subbarama Dikshitar was evidently a very active person; a purely literary
work of some magnitude that he accomplished is the Tamil translation of
the Telugu Mahabharata.
Subbarama Dikshitar passed away in 1906 and the great Tamil poet Subrahmanya Bharati
sang an elegy on his death.
The above account of the labours of Subbarama Dikshitar and a glance at the table of
contents of his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini reveals what a greata great store of
musical lore the work is, and how it has proved to be the mainstay of our musicians and
music scholars. In the twenties and thirties of the present century, there was a fresh
awakening in our national arts; several voluntary organisations were founded for codifying
traditions and fostering the growth of the art on proper lines. Indian music
was made one of the subjects of study in schools and colleges. Music studies, researches,
editions of songs, and publications began to appear and conferences of Vidvans steeped in
Sampradaya came to be convened. For all this work, the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini
became the one indispensable book of constant reference and everlasting source-material.
Subbarama Dikshitar and his labours also caught the attention of Shri Bhatkhande who
secured from him portions of the Chaturdandi Prakasika of Venkatamakhin and also adopted
the Karnatic Mela-Janya scheme in his new codification of Hindustani music.
1. First issue Nos. 1 to 10 (Rs. 5, one anna a page), 8th December 1893.
Printed at the Ave Maria Press. Pudupet, Madras.
2. With the full financial aid of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. I undertook to
bring out under the auspices of the Music Academy and with the cooperation of Sangita
Kalanidhis T. L.Venkatarama Iyer and Mudicondan C. Venkatarama Iyer and Vidvans B. Rajam
Iyer and S.Ramanathan, a Tamil script edition of this monumental work of Subbarama
Dikshitar. Three volumes of this book have been published and the fourth is nearing
Subrahmanya Bharati's elegy can be found in most anthologies of his verse.
It runs to about 30-35 lines; here is an ~ translation of a small section:
With Karna went charity
Arjuna took valor
Poesy departed with Kamban,
With Subbaraman went music,
may we say.
Subject: Labors of Love (Re: Writing Carnatic Music)
Date: 26 Feb 1993 15:33:02 GMT
Organization: University of Michigan Engineering, Ann Arbor
A few days back, Satish@Toledo had asked for information regarding Carnatic
music notation. Since the book CLASSIC in this regard is the "Sangita
Sampradaya Pradarshini" of Subbarama Dikshitar, and has remained so for almost
a century, I decided to scan in this LONG story, in parts, for the benefit of
the nettors. It is taken from the National Centre for the Performing Arts'
Quarterly Journal (1975). The article was written by Prof.V.Raghavan(1908-1979),
one of the finest Sankritists of this century, who wrote very extensively
on Sanskrit literature & criticism, and music.
From: email@example.com (Srinivasan Pichumani)
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