This morning’s lec dem (16th December 2010) had Kanniks Kannikeswaran on the above subject. The speaker is a familiar face at the Music Academy, having given a lec-dem on the Nottuswara sahityas of Muttuswami Dikshitar a couple of years ago. This being the 175th death anniversary of the great composer, it was appropriate the first topic of the Season was this.

There has been a lot of speculation on how Hindustani music may have influenced the work of Muttuswami Dikshitar. The speaker dwelt briefly on Dikshitar travelling to Benares and the interpretation of scholars such as TL Venkatarama Iyer and Dr V Raghavan that while there, he heard Hindustani music and was influenced by it.

The dhrupad, said the speaker, is an old musical form, born around 1400 AD. Its performance is typified by two singers accompanied by a pakhavaj player. The format comprises a long alAp followed by a section called the nom-tom. This is followed by the actual dhrupad which is either a two or a four part composition. Dhrupads are rendered in viLambakAla and in an attitude of meditative surrender. Their origin is traced to the prabandha, an older form of music. The dhrupad took birth in the court of Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior and was first written about in a work called the Saharas which was brought out once again during the reign of Shah Jahan.

In terms of performing lineage, the Dagar family is most well-known. Others are the Betia, the Talwandi and Darbhanga gharanas. The last is almost completely associated with temple rituals.

While any raga can be employed in a dhrupad, it displays a marked preference to the chau tAl (12 beat cycle and a relic of the chatusra jAti aTa tALa) when it comes to rhythm. The language is usually vrajbhASha and the themes are varied- from highly spiritual to secular to temporal.

The speaker then sang and demonstrated the similarities between parimala ranganAtham (hamvIru) and sarasa badani (hamir), sarasvati vidhiyuvati (hindOLam) and jayati jayati shri gaNESha (mAlkauns). He then pointed out that the dhrupad was originally a four-part type of song in which the last section carried the signature of the composer. This became a two-part format as musicians chose to drop the last sections. He drew attention to how Dikshitar created the two-part format in Carnatic music, a type of song with just pallavi and anupallavi.

Like Dikshitar kritis, there are dhrupads that follow the stuti pattern and the speaker sang a part of dhrupad that had the words nitya shuddha buddha mukta, a phrase that was used by Dikshitar as well. Unlike the Dikshitar kritis however, the dhrupad has no prosody in it including hrsva and dirgha conformity.

Dikshitar displayed a marked preference for the rupaka tala. 83 of the songs in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini are in rupaka or tisra Eka. Two cycles of these make up the chau tAl. Of course, there are some kritis of Dikshitar which have an odd number of rupaka tALa cycles and these would not fit in to this logic. This is really the most interesting takeoff from the presentation and compliments to the speaker for ferreting this out.

The dhrupad is heavily syllable based. There is no akAra and beats are not subdivided and neither is the syllable extended to fit a beat. It therefore allows for minimum displays of virtuosity. The Dikshitar kritis in the Pradarsini are notated the same way. This cannot be said of sangati-based kritis of Tyagaraja or the music of the tevarams. (Question: Does this therefore mean that songs such as shri satyanArAyaNam and hariharaputram which depend on extended syllables can rightfully be classified as Dikshitar frauds?).

In the North Indian tradition, the dhrupad is referred to as being of the gaja gati (elephantine gait). The same can be said of Dikshitar’s songs.

It was overall somewhat of a weak presentation though the speaker must be complimented for his research in a new direction. There were questions and comments.

1. Dr N Ramanathan was of the view that it is easy to present Hindustani raga-based songs of Dikshitar and argue that they were influenced by Dhrupad. It would be more convincing if this was brought to light through a song such as Balagopala or Sri Rajagopala. He was also of the view that the dhrupad was influenced in its formation by the concept of cAr dAND which is the equivalent of the caturdaNDi of which the prabandha is a part. Dikshitar was using the latter concept as the basis for his music and therefore both he and the dhrupads were evolving in parallel from the same source. Moreover, the syllable to beat (one syllable for every beat) relationship is maintained in all the gitas of the caturdaNDI prakAsika. As there has been hardly any research into this work, it may not be entirely correct to say that the dhrupad was an influence on Dikshitar’s works. He may have been independently evolving.
2. Yours truly pointed out that Subbarama Dikshitar, the original biographer of Dikshitar does not state anywhere that the composer learnt/heard Hindustani music while in Benares. All such comments were latter day interpretations.
3. R Vedavalli agreed to the above and said that the music of the tevarams could not be strictly used as a yardstick as these had been set to music by various people. She was also of the view that any comparison to the dhrupads must be restricted to the Betia gharana as it was the oldest one.The discussion threatened at this point to get out of control as someone at the back stood up and said that Neelakantha Yaazhpaanar set the tevarams to music. Someone else said it was Nilakanta Sastry!!! At this point Dr Pappu applied the guillotine and the house was called to order.
4. TM Krishna said the sangatis of other composers could be latter-day additions. Even the jagadAnandakAraka in the Pradarsini is given only with strict syllable-beat conformity.

Sangita Kalanidhi-designate C Saroja complimented the speaker and summed up.