Carnatic Music: The Trinity

Carnatic Music is considered to be a divine music form. Almost entirely, all the compositions are devotional or in praise of God or anecdotal descriptions from hindu mythologies. It is a vocal oriented music form with emphasis on lyrics. Hence, when an instrumental concert is performed, the artiste tries to play with the lyrics in mind.

Purandara Dasa (1484-1564) is considered to be the 'father of carnatic music'. He is credited with establishment of the way carnatic music is taught. Then came the trinity of carnatic music for whom this page has been dedicated. The trinity are Sri Thyagaraja , Sri Mudduswamy Dikshitar and Sri Syama Sastry (pic). With them came the revival and one of the golden ages of carnatic music.

The Carnatic Music Trinity
LtoR: Sri Syama Sastri, Sri Thyagaraja , Sri Mudduswamy Dikshitar

Sri Thyagaraja (1767-1847), Sri Shyama Sastri (1762-1827) and Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835) were all born in Tamil Nadu. They were contemporaries and each had an unique style of composing kritis.

Sri Thyagaraja was an ardent devotee of Lord Rama. Out of the 24,000 songs he composed only about 700 remain. He came from a telugu brahmin family. His songs are known for their simple structuring and easy tunes but then though I do not consider myself eligible to comment on the lyrical and musical quality of the songs they are stupendous. Simply put, his compositions are simple, complex and awe-inspiring all at the same time! Sri Thyagaraja's compositions reflect his humble character and deep devotion to the Lord.

Sri Syama Sastri was born in a smartha vadama brahmin family of priests. He was a devotee of Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi and Madurai Meenakshi and composed in praise of the Goddesses. He was the first composer to create a concert style swarajati. His compositions are supposed to be more complex in nature and structure and his three swarajatis in ragas bhairavi, todi and yadukulakAmboji are considered among the best ever songs composed. Sri Syama Sastri's compositions reflect his perception of the Goddess as the mother and himself the child. They also showcase his dutiful and devout nature.

Sri Mudduswami Dikshitar was also born in a smartha vadama tamil brahmin family. His compositions are in praise of various deities. His music has a strong influence of the north indian hindustani style possibly due to his stay at varanasi. His songs are astoundingly beautiful and the words and tunes intertwine with one another to produce an effect that pulls at the soul of a person!! His musical genius is showcased in his composing in all the basic 72 ragas and 7 talas. He visited a lot of temples all over India and composed songs describing the kshetra or the pilgrim town, the temple, the deity, trees, locality and customs. He is also credited to have created the single charanam (samashti charanam) songs. He also introduced madhyamakAla sahityas in many of his kritis (a few lines which are sung at a speed faster than the rest of the song but in sync with the basic meter).

The trinity of carnatic music are held in such high pedestal not only due to their immense contribution to music, but also because of how they established a complete relationship between tunes, words and devotion. During a time in the 17th-18th century when carnatic music was turning into more commercial form, these three with their utter devotion to God, profound musical knowledge and immense poetic and linguistic expertise brought back a rebirth of the music form which led to the growth of music and music composers. That this music form still exists and thrives is because of these three great composers