Muthuswami Dikshitar, by S Rajam

Each Vinayaka Chaturthi the mind automatically turns to the kriti Siddhi Vinayakam (Chamaram/Rupakam). Owing to the reference to worship on the fourth day of the month of Bhadrapada, this song has come to define the festival. In his biography of Muthuswami Dikshitar (National Book Trust, 1968), TL Venkatarama Aiyar cites it as an instance of the composer creating pieces ‘in praise of deities for special occasions’. It is doubtless a beautiful song musically. Surprisingly, it does not feature in the compilation of Dikshitar kritis provided by his grandnephew Subbarama Dikshitar in his magnum opus, Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini(Vidya Vilasini Press, 1904).

Does this then become a spurious Dikshitar kriti? We cannot say for sure, for given that Dikshitar travelled far and wide in his lifetime, several of his compositions may have remained with certain disciples and may have never come to the notice of his descendant when the task of compiling began. Certainly, there are some magnificent songs of Dikshitar that are outside the Pradarsini that cannot be anyone else’s work. Nevertheless it remains a puzzle as to why they were never included in what was begun as a full compilation of the composer’s corpus of songs. 

The Pradarsini itself gives rise to yet another puzzle, one that specifically pertains to composer’s songs on Ganesa. In his biography of Dikshitar in the Vaggeyakara Charitramu section of the Pradarsini, Subbarama Dikshitar specifically states that the former composed songs on the ‘shodasa (16) Ganapati-s presiding at the kshetra’ of Tiruvarur. That would mean 16 compositions on Ganesa in and around the Tiruvarur temple. What is surprising is that the book gives only 13 Dikshitar compositions on the deity. Of these, one, Sveta Ganapatim(Raga Chudamani/Triputa) is not on any temple in Tiruvarur but on Vellai Vinayakar at the entrance of the Thanjavur Fort. The idol here is not white at all and local lore has it that the masons who constructed the palace first propitiated a Ganesa idol made out of jaggery (vellam) before starting the work. This was Vella Ganapati, which over time became Vellai Ganapati. As is to be expected of a Ganesa shrine built before the fort, it is near the eastern gate, which was the first entrance to Thanjavur. Thus the Ganesa was also known as Ellai(frontier) Pillaiyar which became Vellai Pillaiyar over time. The Lord here is in the company of his consort, Vallabha. Dikshitar clearly mentions this iconographic detail in the song.

To revert to the Shodasa Ganesas of Tiruvarur, a census is yet to be taken on the number of shrines dedicated to that deity in and around the temple to Tyagesa but it is clear that by saying Shodasa Ganapati-s Subbarama Dikshitar did not mean the sixteen iconographic representations of the deity as per Agamic traditions. These are Bala, Taruna, Bhakta, Veera, Shakti, Dwija, Siddhi, Ucchishta, Vighna, Kshipra, Herambha, Lakshmi, Maha, Vijaya, Nritta and UrddhvaGanapatis as per the most common listing. Among these, we can see only Shakti, Maha and Ucchishta Ganapati-s in the Tiruvarur temple. The rest are more generic manifestations of Ganesa. 

Of the 12 compositions of Dikshitar (not including the Sveta Ganapatim) on Ganapati, we realise that not all explicitly state that the kshetra and so it would be incorrect to attribute them all to Tiruvarur. At least six songs are clearly on sanctums in that town – Vatapi Ganapatim (Hamsadhvani/Adi), Shri Mahaganapati (Gaula/Triputa), Shri Muladhara (Shri/Adi), Panchamatanga Mukha (Malahari/Rupakam), UcchishtaGanapatau (Kasiramakriya/Adi) and Shakti Sahita(Shankarabharanam/Tisra Eka). The icons are in the temple and the songs clearly mention the kshetra name. The others cannot directly be attributed to Tiruvarur. 

Some well-known songs by Dikshitar on the deity fall outside the Pradarsini. In fact there are 15 such songs on Ganesa attributed to Dikshitar. Vallabha Nayakasya(Begada/Rupakam) is one that could be on an identical icon in Tiruvarur. Two , Ekadantam (Bilahari/Misra Chapu) and Rakta Ganapatim (Mohanam/Adi) are not on Tiruvarur for their individual kshetras are explicitly mentioned as Halasya(Madurai) and Parasurama (Kerala). Karikalabhamukham(Saveri/Rupakam) has the deity situated on the banks of the river Cauvery and this has been identified with the DundiGanesa shrine at the Tula Ghat in Mayiladuturai. The rest are silent as far as kshetra attributions are concerned. Some are quite unlikely to be genuine Dikshitar kritis given faulty alliteration and startlingly ‘modern’ musical structures.

We therefore come to the conclusion that Subbarama Dikshitar had probably only heard from his forebears that Muthuswami Dikshitar had composed songs on sixteen Ganesa-s in Tiruvarur. He certainly does not appear to have had all of these in his possession. The latter day additions have only caused needless confusion, given our poor recordkeeping and secretiveness when it comes to facts. Perhaps we just need to sing them well and not worry over such details.