Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar was initiated into Srividya Maha Shodasakshari Diksha. In his first kriti, he referrers to its Guru tradition, its twelve gurus and three schools of worship, Kadi, Hadi and Sadi: “Kamaadi dwadashabhirupa_sthitha kadi hadi sadi mantra rupinya”. Sri Dikshitar also mentions that he followed the tradition of the Sages Durvasa , Agasthya and Hayagreeva ; and, declares he belonged to Kadi School. He followed the Kadi practice of worship of Sri Chakra from Bhupura , the outer square to the Bindu, the central point. He had a certain pride in his tradition; in his kriti Kamalambikai, he states “prabala guruguha sampradaya anthah karayayai – referring to his hallowed tradition. Sri Dikshitar composed about forty kritis, spread over four sets of compositions on the subjects related to Sri Vidya; Kamalamba Navavarana (11+ 2 kritis); Nilothpalamba kritis (8 kritis); Abhayamba kritis (10 kritis); and, Guru Kritis (8 kritis). Of these the Kamalamba set of kritis, is highly well organized; and is truly remarkable for its classic structure, majesty and erudite knowledge.
Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar was a vainika-gayaka, a musician who sang as he played on the Veena. He was well trained both in vocal and instrumental music. Naturally, the graces, the rich Gamaka prayogas of his compositions structured in slow tempo shine in mellow glow when played on the Veena. In his childhood, he received training in the Lakshya and Lakshana aspects of Carnatic music. The Lakshana Gitams and Prabandhas of Venkatamakhi formed an important input of his training. Later, as a composer, he chose to follow Venkatamakhi’s system of Mela -classification of Ragas. He spent seven years at Varanasi, in the prime of his youth. He was captivated by the grandeur, the spaciousness and the purity of the ancient Dhrupad School. He learnt Dhrupad diligently; and that left a lasting impression on his works. Earlier in his teenage, he gained familiarity with Western music; and, the traces of its influence can be noticed in the movement of his songs. He had a good command over Sanskrit; and, learnt to use it to express his ideals and aspirations in pristine poetry. He had a fascination for Sabdalankara, beautifully turned phrases and wordplay . He had the composure of a yogi and the heart of a poet. Dikshitar’s kritis are therefore adorned with poetic imagery, tranquil grace, a certain majesty steeped in devotion.
Sri Dikshitar had acquired a fair knowledge of Jyothisha, Ayurveda, and iconography and of temple architecture. He was unattached to possessions or to a place . He was a virtual pilgrim (jangama) all his life. He visited a large number of shrines ; and, sang about them and the deities enshrined there. He was intensely devotional ; yet, was not overly affiliated to a particular deity. He had a fascination for composing a set of kritis exploring the various aspects of a particular deity or the different dimensions of a subject , as if he had undertaken a project. He was an Advaitin, well grounded in Vedanta.
Above all, Sri Dikshitar was an ardent Sri Vidya Upasaka; a Sadhaka, an intense devotee of Devi, the Divine Mother. He was a master of Tantra and of Yantra Puja. The Tantra ideology permeates all through his compositions. It is the harmonious confluence of these influences that one finds in Dikshitar’s music.
Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar was prolific; about 479 of his compositions have now been identified, spread over 193 ragas. These include four Ragamalikas and about forty Nottuswara sahithya verses. It was the genius of Muthuswami Dikshitar that gave form and substance to all the 72 Mela-kartha ragas, fulfilling the dream of Venkatamakhi. He gave expression to nearly 200 ragas of that system. He composed soulful songs in praise of a number of gods and goddesses. About 74 of such temples are featured in his kritis; and there are references to about 150 gods and goddesses. The most number of his kritis (176) were in praise of Devi the mother principle, followed by (131) kritis on Shiva. Dikshitar was the only major composer who sang in praise of Chaturmukha Brahma.
It is rather difficult to arrange Sri Dikshitar’s compositions in a chronological order. His Nottuswara-Shitya verses were, of course, composed in his early years while his family lived at Manali a small town near Madras. His first composition as Vak-geya-Kara was Srinathandi in Mayamalava-gaula, at the hill shrine of Tiruttani; and, his last composition was Ehi Annapurne in Punnagavarali while he was at Ettayapuram during his last years. It is believed that the set of Vibhakti kritis followed his first composition. Thereafter, he traveled to Kanchipuram, Mayuram, Chidambaram, Vaidyanatha koil and Kumbhakonam. He often visited Tiruchirapalli (where it is said his daughter lived). He spent his productive years at Tiruvarur and his final years in Ettayapuram. In between, he is believed to have visited about 70 temples; and, sung the glory of those deities. It is however not possible to arrange those kritis in a sequence.
Each of his compositions is unique; brilliantly crafted and well chiseled work of intricate art. The most fascinating aspect of Sri Dikshitar’s songs is the grandeur and majesty of his music; the intellectually sublime lyrics; and, the overall tranquil joy.
There is hardly a composer comparable to Sri Dikshitar, in versatility, in enriching his work with such poetic imagery, technical sophistication; and, above all in permeating his compositions with soulful repose.