Deepavali & Muthuswami Dikshitar

Deepavali, the festival of lights holds a very special place in all our hearts. The auspicious day marks the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya, and the death of Narakasura and on our calendars it's the biggest celebration of the year. But a lesser-known fact is that this day also happens to be the death anniversary of the legendary composer, Muthuswami Dikshitar. And on this day, how can one go without discussing his masterpiece - Meenakshi memudam dehi has a special connection to the day.

But what makes this kriti special on Deepavali? It is said that, when Dikshitar decided to leave this world, he asked his students to sing this particular composition. And while listening, he moved to the higher realms.

Tuned in a melodious Gamakakriya (Poorvikalyani) and set to two kalai Adi tala, the composition is a part of the Madurai kshetra kritis. Much like the majestic presence of Madurai Meenakshi on her throne, exuding elegance and poise, this kriti mirrors her strength and boldness evident in her eyes, coupled with profound love, grace, and compassion. Similarly, the composition is rich, characterised by fervour, and intricate musical embellishments (gamakas), and overflows with the emotional essence (raga bhava) and soulfulness. Despite being filled with intricate lyrics, the syllables are spaced out and provide ample opportunities for a musician to explore, innovate and improvise. Every note and every phrase brings out Poorvikalyani in its best.

The first thing you will notice as soon as the composition begins is the pace and the gait. The next thing you will notice is that almost every word starts with ‘Ma’, almost like an alliteration.


In the pallavi, he refers to the goddess as ‘Raja Matangi’. Once, Rishi Matanga wanted the Goddess Adi Parasakti to be born as his daughter and sought a boon for the same. Since she is Matanga’s daughter, she received the name - Matangi.

In the anupallavi, he continues using ‘Ma’ as the important syllable and continues to describe the goddess. Here, he includes a rhyme scheme, Maana maatru meye, maaye, marakata chaaye, Siva jaaye. Interestingly, dhyana dhyatr dhyrya roopa’ is found in the Lalita Sahasranama similar to the phrase here.

Meenalochani, Pashamochani, Manini, Kadambavanavasini - Paashamochani, means the one who gives freedom from bondage. And that's exactly what happened to Dikshitar. It was while listening to this exact line, that he breathed his last. Kadambavanavasini on the other hand refers to her as a resident of Madurai. According to a legend, Siva came in the dream of Kulashekara Pandya and told him to destroy the Kadamba forest and instead build a new city - Madurai. Thus Madurai is also known as Kadamba vanam.

The charanam - Madhurapuri Nilaye Manivalaye is the popular niraval line of this kriti. In this line, he again describes her as the resident of Madurai city.

It is said that the then queen of Madurai had a boon that the goddess would incarnate as her daughter. On performing a Yagna, she and her husband Malayadhwaja Pandya were blessed with a baby girl who had three breasts. None other than Meenakshi herself. She later succeeded her father as the empress of Madurai and married Sundareshwar. Thus Dikshitar describes her as - Malyadhwaja Pandya Raja Tanaye, the daughter of Malayadhwaja Pandya Raja.

Dikshitar shifts his alliteration to - “V”. He then calls her “Vijaye” - the victorious one. And she indeed was. As the queen of Madurai, she waged multiple wars and emerged nothing but victorious.

Veena gana dasa Gamakakriye - Carnatic Music broadly has 10 different types of gamakas - the dasa vida gamakas. And here he says that it is she, Meenakshi, who created these 10 different gamakas. Interestingly, 108 women play the veena in the temple complex every year on the 10th day of Navaratri. Weaving in the raga mudra, Poorvikalyani is known as Gamakakriya in Dikshitar’s sampradaya. While Poorvikalyani is said to be a janyam of Gamanasrama (53rd sampoorna melakarta), Gamakakriya is the 53rd in the Asampurna Melakarta Scheme.

The charanam then ends with Vidi Guruguha Vasankari Sankari - the one who subjugates Brahma and Lord Kartikeya; Dikshitar includes his mudra - Guruguha

If you haven’t heard the Magnum Opus yet, then today is the perfect day to do so.
Meenakshi Memudam

Click here to listen

Wishing you all a happy & prosperous Deepavali


Musical Musings

PC: S. Rajam