Dikshitar compositions, music and wordplay

Lately I have been listening to the “Kamalamba Navavarna” Krithis (compositions) of Muthuswamy Dikshitar. If you have an interest in Carnatic (South Indian classical) music, then listening to the performance of these krithis by eminent vocalist D.K. Jayaraman is a must if you haven’t done it already. There are free mp3’s of these great compositions at http://www.ecse.rpi.edu/Homepages/shivkuma/personal/music/#k . Just scroll down to Kamalamba Navavarna Krithis and download the ‘original mp3 (DKJ)’ files. There are about 11 to download in various ragas.

I feel these compositions have so much depth that when it is performed, the focus of the listeners immediately shifts to the beauty of the composition rather than the talent of the person performing it. Each composition brings out the raga ‘bhava’ (essence) in a profound way. Every time I listen to the recording, my mood is suddenly transformed to something more positive…whether it is more contemplative, meditative or just happy. Also, the words are apparently infused with mantras which supposedly have a very strong positive effect. Maybe that explains this phenomenon.

As a saxophonist, I have been told that playing these compositions on an instrument would not do justice because the words would not be heard. I still feel that the strong effect of both the music and the words can be communicated if the performer is living and breathing it while performing it. I do plan on performing some of these compositions in public sometime. It may sound cliche, but music is supposed to be the universal language. Words can be converted to thought power, mixed with emotion and expressed musically.

Isn’t the process the other way? Words are something we use to attempt to express that abstract idea we have in our minds. Sometimes there is just something you can’t explain with words. The arts allow us to paint a picture, or an aural picture, of that something. This becomes a more immediate connection then. In some instances, we have a deep or powerful thought, a feeling — an abstract idea. But by the time we figure out how to express it in words, it may lose some of its potency. When we play music, the feeling is expressed on the spot in its most powerful form. The great composers(Dikshitar, Thyagaraja, Shyama Shastri, etc etc) often composed complex songs on the spot. They too, were searching for a way to express. They were gifted in being able to articulate these high-level thoughts.

Of course, many of Dikshitars compositions were almost like diaries, describing in intricate detail, various temples and sites of interest he visited in his travels. In those cases, he was using the songs as a more concrete communication. The nine Kamalamba krithis are especially complex since Dikshitar composed them to describe the nine stages of a spiritual journey (very simply put) so that people could sing them with understanding, thus traversing the stages easier. What can we grasp from this?

The meanings of the songs must be studied in-depth and understood by the performer. Once a deep understanding is attained and the artist imbibes the meaning in the performance, the beauty and power of the composition’s meaning will automatically be transferred to the listener– whether or not it is an instrumental or vocal performance.

DKJ’s recording has accomplished this, which is probably why it always has such a great effect. I have listened to a select few instrumentalists play some of the compositions and I feel it does carry a strong effect also. Dikshitar’s Kamalamba Navavarna krithis are such strong compositions, that their message seems to shine through every time. Give them a good long listen, and you will know.

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