Every human is connected to geography (place) and history (time). Every human story can be properly told with these two dimensions. Without them, there is hardly a story.
This is true of all personalities whom we consider to be great. The subject of this project, Śrī Muttusvāmi Dīkshitar, is no exception.
His life and works are part of a very large and varied history of sacred lore and sacred music. Lore is a “body of knowledge, especially of a traditional, anecdotal, or popular nature, on a particular subject; learning, knowledge, or erudition.” (Source)
A timeline helps us place historical events, locales, and personalities in the context of each other. This helps us better to understand any place, event, or personality.
In this timeline, you can see the cultural context of India in which Dīkshitar lived and worked.
Spiritual and bhakti contexts
The spiritual systems of the three āchāryas (teachers) — Ādi Śankarāchārya, Rāmānujāchārya, and Madhvāchārya — had already become a deep part of Hindu culture by the time of Dīkshitar. Born in a brahmin family, this context was integral to his life. In particular, Ādi Śankarāchārya’s advaita (non-dual, or monistic) school of thought had a profound impact on Dīkshitar. [Monism / advaita argues that everything in the universe is a manifestation, appearance, of one divine entity that is known by different names. Thus, everything and everyone is divine.]
Perhaps the largest and most important aspect of this is that he is part of the centuries-long tradition of the bhakti (devotion), spiritual, and philosophical movements. In Dīkshitar’s songs, we can find many elements that refer to these traditions. (You might have studied the bhakti movement in your history class.)
The bhakti movement had also become an equally deep part of Hindu culture and life. In many ways, the bhakti movement was much more widespread than the philosophical traditions as an easier way to attain salvation. It has its own geographies. In the Connections blog on this site, you can find essays that discuss geography and bhakti in many different contexts.
Among the most influential on Dīkshitar’s life and works was a luminary of the bhakti movement, Śrī Purandaradāsa (1484–1564). This influence was more in the musical legacy that Śrī Purandaradāsa gave to karnātaka sangītam (sangītam = music). Dīkshitar acknowledges this in his ‘first’ composition. (The details are too much to discuss here, but perhaps in another context, we can.)
The bhakti movement spanned all of India. We have shown you only a few of the major personalities’ times here. Here, we just want to illustrate that there was a cultural context that was large and ancient in India of which Dīkshitar a part.
Dīkshitar was not an oddity! He very much fit into the heritage of Indian culture. What makes him special is that he devised his own way of utilizing that culture to compose his music and lyrics within this context.
In this, he was joined by two other luminaries of karnātaka sangītam: Śrī Tyāgarāja (1761-1847) and Śrī Śyāmaśāstri (1762-1867). It is believed that Dīkshitar and Śyāmaśāstri knew each other quite well and had also met. In Tiruvārūr, their houses were within walking distance. It is also said that Dīkshitar had also met Tyāgarāja.
These three are, together, considered The Trinity (trimūrti)of karnātaka sangītam.
We have also given dates of some of the political turmoil that occurred round about the time of Dīkshitar. This turmoil did not stop pilgrimages, but it resulted in migrations of people to safer locations. This was true of the Dīkshitar family also, whose forebears migrated on account of political turmoil. This seems to have been the case of the other two of the karnātaka sangītam ‘trinity’ also.
Western classical music context
We have given a few references to famous composers of Western classical music. These will help you explore many different questions in music, history, geography, etc.
- You can download the above timeline. It’s an Excel file.
- Which other contexts would you like to add to this timeline?
- What additional knowledge do your additions give you?
- Solve this wordfinder puzzle. You can try this on your own or ask others to join you. The clues and words are given, you have to find the words. Remember: the words may occur in any direction.