The following is the sleeve note I put together for a forthcoming CD on the subject:
The worship of Ganapati or Ganesa, the remover of obstacles is called Ganapatyam and is one of the six accepted modes of adoring the divine. The others are the worship of Shakti (Shaktam), Shaivam (Shiva), Vaishnavam (Vishnu), Kaumaram (Subrahmanya) and Sauram (Surya). The elephant headed God, is considered the foremost deity in the Hindu pantheon and he is usually propitiated before the commencement of any activity.
Ganesa is usually depicted in sixteen different forms. These being – Bala, Taruna, Bhakta, Veera, Shakti, Dwija, Siddhi, Ucchishta, Vighna, Kshipra, Herambha, Lakshmi, Maha, Vijaya, Nritta and Urddhva Ganapatis as per one version.
Muttuswami Dikshitar (1775/6-1835) composed several kritis on Ganapati, many of them being on the deity’s depictions in the corridors of the Tiruvarur temple. Over the years, a theory has arisen that he composed on the 16 forms of Ganapati listed above in his kritis on the deity at the Tiruvarur temple. This is however a myth for it is not possible to correlate his kritis with the 16 forms of Ganapati.
There are 27 kritis on Ganapati attributed to Muttuswami Dikshitar. Over the years, the exact songs that comprise the Shodasha Ganapati series have varied according to different schools. In some cases, songs composed at kshetras other than Tiruvarur have also been included. In the present album, the artiste has attributed this selection to Tirupamburam Swaminatha Pillai, the eminent flautist, who hailed from the direct lineage of Muttuswami Dikshitar’s disciples. His father Natarajasundaram Pillai learnt music from Sattanur Panchanada Iyer who was a disciple of Shuddha Maddalam Tambiappa Pillai, a student of Muttuswami Dikshitar himself. The songs as per this listing are
Uchchishta Ganapatau–Ramakriya; Karikalabha mukham-Saveri; Gananathena–Arabhi; Gananayakam–Rudrapriya; Ganesa Kumara–Jhanjhooti; Pancha Matanga-Malahari; Maha Ganapatim–Todi; Maha Ganapatim–Nata; Maha Ganapate–Nata Narayanai; Sri Maha Ganapati–Gaula; Lambodaraya–Varali; Vallabha Nayakasya–Begada; Vatapi Ganapatim–Hamsadhvani; Sri Muladhara–Sri; Siddhi Vinayakam–Chamaram and
Out of these songs, Karikalabha Mukham is, according to the lyrics, dedicated to a Ganesha temple on the banks of the river Kaveri. The exact shrine has not been identified though some scholars are of the view that the song is on Ganesha at Mayavaram. Similarly, according to TL Venkatarama Iyer the eminent musicologist, the kriti Siddhi Vinayakam was composed as a prayer to be sung during the Ganesha Chaturthi festival and cannot be attributed to a specific shrine. Among the others, only Uchchishta Ganapatau, Pancha Matanga, Sri Maha Ganapati, Vatapi Ganapatim and Sri Muladhara mention Tiruvarur (also known as Sripuram, Kamalalayam and Muladhara Kshetra) as the shrine where the song was composed. However, the songs Maha Ganapatim (both Nata and Todi), Maha Ganapate (Nata Narayani), Vallabha Nayakasya (Begada) and Hasti Vadanaya (Navaroz) are also usually attributed to Tiruvarur. The others are very difficult to place.
Also, the songs on Ganesa as composed by Dikshitar have not tallied with the iconic representations in the Shodasha series. Among the songs only the Maha Ganapati songs (all four of them on the eponymous form of Ganapati), Uchchishta Ganapatau (Uchchishta Ganapati) and Siddhi Vinayakam (Siddhi Ganapati) can be attributed to specific Ganapati versions. There are however songs dedicated to Heramba Ganapati (Herambaya in raga Athana) and Shakti Ganapati (Shakti Sahita in Shankarabharanam) which are outside the present selection.
However, regardless of the listing, the songs are an interesting collection and show Dikshitar’s eye for detail, local lore and iconic features, all put together in the most delectable music. Uchchishta Ganapatau for instance goes into graphic details of the deity and the forms of tantric rituals that were practised at the shrine. Vatapi Ganapatim, Sri Muladhara and Pancha Matanga carry detailed descriptions on how the deities are depicted at the temple. The song Sri Maha Ganapati has details of the local legend in Tiruvarur as per which Ganapati at this shrine helped Sundaramurthy Nayanar certify the quality of gold that Lord Shiva had gifted him, to a group of disbelieving goldsmiths. The shrine for this deity, as mentioned in the song is on the banks of the Kamalalayam Tank. This song, is along with Balasubrahmanyam (Surati), usually sung before the rendition of the Kamalamba Navavarana Kritis.
The songs have mainly been used as opening pieces. Most of them are rendered at a brisk pace, though it is believed that Vatapi Ganapatim was a slow paced song till Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan changed the tempo. This was not approved of by Subbarama Dikshitar, Muttuswami Diskhitar’s grand nephew and author of the monumental Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini, but the style came to stay. Interestingly, not all the Ganesa kritis of Muttuswami Dikshitar find mention in Subbarama Dikshitar’s Pradarsini.
While many of the songs are rarely heard on concert platforms, some were made truly famous by some artistes. Karikalabha Mukham was often presented as a main piece by GN Balasubramaniam. Semmangudi used many of the kritis such as Siddhi Vinayakam, Maha Ganapatim (Nata) and Vatapi Ganapatim as opening pieces. MS Subbulakshmi often sang Sri Muladhara and Sri Maha Ganapati (Gaula). Her rendition of Vallabha Nayakasya was also well known, though Madurai Mani Iyer made the song his own. MLV opened many of her concerts with Gana Nayakam though in one memorable Vinayaka Chaturthi concert at a Madras temple she sang Siddhi Vinayakam as her main piece. The Nata Narayani song was a favourite of Madurai Somu. Hasti Vadanaya was a rare piece in the repertoire of Brinda and Mukta which they learnt from Tirupamburam Swaminatha Pillai. .
The songs, are worthy of deep study and perhaps one day more clarity may emerge on the grouping and its constituent pieces.