Ettayapuram would seem an unlikely musical destination, even to many Carnatic music aficionados. Yet, recently, during the second weekend of March, a group of around 60 – comprising musicians and rasikas, congregated there from Chennai, Bengaluru and places in Kerala. For, enshrined there is the sacred resting place of the much-revered and admired composer, the youngest of the Trinity of Carnatic Music, Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar. The trip was organized by ‘Guruguhaamrta’, founded by Carnatic vocalist G Ravikiran. The plan was to spend a day paying homage to Dikshitar, by singing his compositions as an akhandam (uninterrupted programme).
March is indeed an appropriate time to remember Dikshitar, as it is the month of his birth. Born in the temple city of Tiruvarur, Dikshitar lived in several places - Manali (near Chennai),Varanasi, Tiruvarur, Tanjavur and Ettayapuram. In and around each of these, he visited a large number of shrines. And the songs he composed in the various temples have been his invaluable legacy to us. Dikshitar's kritis are known for the sedate, majestic pace, as well as the grand delineation of the ragas he handled. The sahitya is another vast area of study, with references from Advaita philosophy, mantras and yoga sastra, all these coupled with the mention of the particular legends and practices of each temple.
It was the reverential entreaty of the Raja of Ettayapuram that made Dikshitar give up Chola country along with his beloved Lord Tyagaraja and Goddess Kamalambika of Tiruvarur, and make Ettayapuram his home in the last few years of his life. Of course, eternal pilgrim that he was, he visited many temples around the place like Sankarankoil, Tirunelveli and Kazhugumalai and composed songs there.
The legend of his giving up his body and merging with the divine on the day of Deepavali, is well recorded. His samadhi has now been built there, unostentatiously , as a simple, serene hall, just as he would have liked it to be, one imagines.
Ettayapuram is about fifteen kilometres from Kovilpatti, the nearest railway station. It is at Kovilpatti therefore that the group alighted and prepared for a day of musical offerings to this great composer. As befitting the memory of the vainika-gayaka that Dikshitar was, the day started with a veena rendering of Ganesa kritis by vidwan P Vasanthkumar.
As the day progressed, rasikas had the opportunity of listening to many Dikshitar kritis sung by accomplished vidwans and vidushis. D. B. Ashwin, Tiruvarur Girish, Padma Sugavanam, Vishnudev Namboodiri, G. Ravi Kiran and Amritha Murali sang. They were accompanied by violinist R Hemalatha (who also sang a few kritis), vainika Ananthanarayanan and mridangam artistes AS Ranganathan and Adamya R. There was group singing of kritis by the disciples of eminent music teacher Neela Ramgopal. All these sessions were interspersed with young students rendering a song each.
The day closed with AS Murali and his disciples singing a few imposing numbers from the Tyagaraja vibhakti kritis, one of the many groups of kritis Dikshitar composed.
The rarely-heard kritis rendered by all these talented people with the respectful repose that the ambience demanded, was an experience hard to put in words. Narmada Kaveri (Namadesi), Marakoti lavanya (Arabhi), Sri Rajagopala (Saveri), Brhannayaki (Andhali), Srngara Rasamanjarim (Rasamanjari), Brhadisvaro (Ganasamavarali), Mamava Raghuvira (Mahuri), Purnabimba (Ragamalika), Sri Ramam (Narayana Gaula), Saurasenam (Saurasena) and Tyagaraja Mahadhvajaroha (Sri) were among the gems laid at the feet of the one who gave them to us. The panchabhuta kritis and many other well-known pieces were also heard.
One rasika described the delight of hearing the rich spread as “feeling like a child in a candy shop”, while another felt this was a pilgrimage to show his gratitude to the composer whose music has given him joy over many decades.
The name Ettayapuram is closely linked with another great soul who inspired and uplifted with his music and poetry – the versatile poet Subramania Bharati. He was born in Ettayapuram, and his well-maintained house of birth is there to visit, as is the Mani Mandapam built in his memory. Both are full of rare photographs and other memorabilia of Bharatiyar which those interested in the history of India's independence and particularly admirers of Tamil poetry are sure to delight in. Several members of the musical sojourn group also managed to get some time at these two places.
G Ravi Kiran says, “Muddusvami Dikshitar occupies a special place in my heart as a musician. Thanks to my gurus, I had the pleasure of learning several rare Dikshitar kritis. Conducting an aradhana at Ettayapuram has been an enriching experience year after year – we are in our sixth year– and I am grateful to all the musicians who cooperate year after year to offer our collective homage to this great composer.”