Muttuswami Dikshitar (1776-1835) was unique among the Carnatic Trinity for it was he alone who adopted an eternally peripatetic lifestyle, visiting pilgrimage centre after centre. In each of these places, he not only studied the iconography, the temple lore and modes of worship in detail, he also wove them all into his compositions, making them musical documentations of our temple traditions. Perhaps it is this unique amalgam that has made his songs the subject of endless study and debate by scholars. Shiva as a deity would perhaps rank after Devi and Subrahmanya in terms of the number of compositions left behind by Muttuswami Dikshitar. But there are several great pieces on Him. Here we take a look at a few of the manifestations of Shiva that have been worshipped by Dikshitar in song.

The most common iconographic representation of Shiva would be the linga. In Vedaranyam apart from the linga, Shiva is represented as a bridegroom in resplendent attire and in the company of His bride, in the same sanctum. This was to enable Agastya have a vision of the divine wedding that took place in Kailasa. Dikshitar describes Shiva and Parvati together in his kriti attributed to this shrine – shrI pArvati paramEshvarau vandE (raga bhauLi). He says, as befitting a newly-wed couple, they are bedecked with jewels and rich raiment (ApAdamastakAlankArau) and that they are worshipped by Agastya, the husband of Lopamudra (lOpAmudrEshArcita caraNau). Rama is said to have been rid of the sin of killing Ravana here and hence the divine couple are also described as pApApaha. The raga mudra is skillfully woven into the lines chitbimbau lIlAvigrahau

Tiruchirapalli (trishiragiri) has the unique rock-fort at its centre. Halfway up this rock is the shrine to Matrubhuteshvara and His consort Sugandhikuntalamba (sugandhikuntalAmbA samEtam). The Lord here is so called because He manifested himself as a mother to a young Chetti woman who was in the throes of labour. Dikshitar composed his shrI mAtrubhUtam in raga kannaDa in praise of this deity. The raga mudra is in the line nata shuka sanakam naLa kAmAdi vijaya. The legend behind the temple is mentioned in the line vaishyajAtI strI vESha dharaNam. Rather uniquely, Shiva here sports the sun instead of the moon in his locks and is called sUryashEkara. The song states this in the line shirOdhrta sUrya gangam. Shiva is worshipped here with javanti flowers and is also called Javantinathar. This also finds a mention in the last lines of the song.

The song rudrakOpa jAta (raga rudrapriya) depicts Shiva as Veerabhadra, who along with Bhadrakali manifested when Shiva, angered over the death of his wife Sati, tore at his locks and split a hair into two. Having manifested Himself thus, Veerabhadra proceeded to destroy the sacrifice of Daksha, the father of Sati who having insulted Shiva caused her death. Veerabhadra cut off Daksha’s head but the latter, being a prajapati (one of the divine creators) needed to remain alive and so had his head replaced with that of a goat. The song describes the Lord as the beloved of Bhadrakali (bhadrakAli ramaNam). It also states that he chastised the goat-faced Daksha (ajavadana daksha shikSham). In keeping with the martial nature of the deity, this song has a brisk gait.

shrI dakshiNAmUrtE is one of Dikshitar’s greatest creations. Set in the majestic shankarAbharaNam, it portrays Shiva as the divine preceptor, ever immersed in meditation at the foot of the sacred banyan tree. Sages such as Sanaka flock to Him for realisation and in silence He conveys His message. As in keeping with a deeply contemplative deity, the song is mostly set in the lower octave and the lower set of notes in the middle octave. It follows a sedate gait and is set in the large cycle of jhampa tALa so that even the rhythm is slow.

Muttuswami Dikshitar’s favourite shrine was Tiruvarur. Here he composed some of his greatest songs including the Kamalamba Navavarana kritis. Shiva here is manifest as several lingas and central to the shrine is the sanctum of Valmikinatha who metamorphosed from an ant-hill. Dikshitar composed his shrI valmIkalingam (kAmbOji). The song describes the legend behind the temple. Vishnu’s arrogance had to be quelled and this was symbolically done by Brahma causing a divine bow to appear at the end of a sacrifice. The Gods, led by Shiva became ants and wore away the string of the bow which immediately released the arrow in it. This in turn took away Vishnu’s pride and He lapsed into yOga nidra with Shiva on His chest. The rise and fall of Vishnu’s chest as He breathed caused Shiva to dance in joy and this is termed AjapA naTanam. The caraNam of the song has this legend in full. Each of the Shiva lingas at Tiruvaru have their own consorts and Valmikalinga’s consort is Somakulambika. The song says the Lord is the bee that hovers around the lotus of Somakulambika (sOmakulAmbikAmbOja madhukaram). It also houses the raga mudra.

At Tiruvarur, the processional deity is known as Tyagaraja and He is also known as Veethi Vitanka. On Tyagaraja, Dikshitar composed eleven songs in all, of which eight are in the eight forms of address in Sanskrit and are known as the vibhakti kritis. Outside of this set are four other songs, of which one is tyAgarAja yOga vaibhavam in raga Ananda bhairavi. It is well-known for its yatis or cadences in the pallavi and the caraNam. In the pallavi the line tyAgarAja yOga vaibhavam is sequentially repeated each time with one syllable less. It is pregnant with meaning even when just the last syllable is sung. Similar is the case with the caraNam where the last line builds up from the one syllable “sham” to the full line shivashaktAdi sakala tatva svarUpa prakAsham.

Perhaps the most famous iconographic representation of Shiva is Nataraja. While Dikshitar’s Ananda naTana prakAsham in raga kEdAra is perhaps the best known kriti on this form, his cidambara natarAja mUrtim in raga tanukIrti is a rare piece. Composed at Chidambaram, it states Dikshitar’s creed of monism in the opening line itself where he meditates on Shiva who is formless (atanukIrtim). The word also incorporates the raga mudra in it.

A not so well-known depiction of Shiva is as bhikShATana or the divine mendicant who set out to seduce the wives of the arrogant sages of Darukavana. This incident is commemorated at a place called Vazhuvur, also known for another iconographic representation of Shiva – as gajasamhAramUrti. The song mAra kOTi kOTi describes Shiva as bhikShATana and is set in raga Arabhi.

This was written as a sleeve note for a CD released by Charsur. There are of course plenty more song on Shiva by Dikshitar