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Syama Sastrigal (AD 1763 - 1827)


Syama Sastri, Thyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar form the musical Trinity.

Historically, when the great Vijayanagaram empire fell to the moghuls in AD 1565, some asthikas escaped the marauding soldiers with the Upasanamurthis and other possessions. They were taken care of by the Raja of Chenji (AD 1590) and Udayarpalayam Jamindar (AD 1624). Later, a branch of these asthikas settled under the patronage of Anangudi Jamindar and thereafter migrated via Vijaypuram, Nagore & Sikkil to Thiruvarur. From this stream Syama Sastri (original name : Venkata Subramanya, pet name :Syama Krishna) was born in 1763. The ominous entry of Hyder All in 1787 drove the family to Tanjore. The ancestors of Syama Sastri had been chosen by Adi Sankaracharya to perform puja to bangaru Kamakshi (of Kanchi) which idol was later brought to Tanjore. Devotion to Goddess Kamakshi made Syama Sastrigal a staunch Devi Upasaka. (It is said that Syama Sastrigal initiated Muthuswami Dikshitar into the cult of Devi Bhakti; and the Thyagaraja Kritis "Para Sakti" and "Kanna Thalli" (both in raga saveri) were also composed after a meeting with Syama Sastrigal.) Later he commanded his son Subbaraya Sastri to receive training in music from Thyagaraja.

Syama Sastrigal received sound education in Sanskrit and Telugu until he was 18 when one Sangita Swami (a sanyasi) led him into the inner secrets of Raga and Tala in a few months. He developed himself by listening to (specially) Pachimiriam Adiyappiah (the composer who created the famous "Viriboni" varnam in bhairavi). Syama Sastri’s compositions are full of vidvat requiring tutelage for a student under a good guru. His style is not simple like Thyagaraja’s or heavy like Dikshitar’s. But his students must study his compositions over and over again to understand their full merits. As T.S. Parthasarathy observes on the compositions of the Trinity: Syama Sastri pieces are like the coconut the shell of which must be broken open before it can be taken, while Dikshitar’s & Thyagaraja’s compositions are compared to the plantain and grapes (respectively).

His compositions are in Sanskrit, Telugu & Tamil totalling about 300. But unfortunately, only a few are now in vogue because of the very limited number of disciples he had. Judging from the compositions under vogue, it appears he had a special preference for the Raga Anandabhairavi, Chapu tala and Chowka nadai or slow tempo. Apart from his book on Tala Prastharam he is famous for his Navarathna Malikai (nine Kritis in praise of Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai, including the Kritis "Sarojadalanetri" in Sankaraparanam, "Mariveragati" in Anandabhairavi and "Mayamma" in Ahiri).

Other well -known compositions are Palinchu Kamakshi (Madhyamavati), Devi Brova (Chintamani), O Jagadamba (Anandabhairavi), Sankari Sankura (Saveri), Ninne Namminenu (Todi), Swara Jatis and Tana Varnams.

The few disciples include Alasur Krishnayyar, Nadaswaram Dasari and Sangita Swami besides his son Subbaraya Sastri.

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