Asha Ramaswami’s work on understanding the profundity of the compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar can be summed up in a statement made by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, “Those who understand Advaita can see the flow of Advaita within the compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar.”

Asha’s work has made it possible for musicians, scholars and rasikas alike to appreciate the concepts of Advaita Vedanta, sometimes explicit and sometimes hidden, in his kritis.

This language-specific and Advaita oriented study has interesting dimensions. On the one hand, it has a highly philosophical and spiritual import and on the other, it brings out the beauty and subtlety of a classical language.

The book has five chapters each one dealing with a particular aspect of the compositions. The first chapter deals with the Advaitic expressions handled by Dikshitar and Asha has compared them with the tenets in Vedantic material. Advaita is a Sanskrit word that literally means ‘not two.’ The fundamental knowledge is Atman is Brahman. The Atman being the “Self” and Brahman means the “All Soul” or the Universal Consciousness. Vedas speak of mystical union as the realization that Atman is Brahman.

She has chosen phrases from compositions such as ‘Vikalebara kaivalya danaya’ (Guruguhaya) to explain mukti, ‘Jahadajaha lakshanaya jivaikyatmano’ (Guruguhadanyam) to convey lakshana vrtti, ‘Visvotpatti Sthiti Vilayaya’ (Hastivadanaya) referring to the causality of the Brahman.

Navavarana kritis

In the second chapter, Asha describes Dikshitar as a Srividya Upasaka and goes into the detail about his Kamalamba Navavarana kritis, ‘Neelotpalamba’ and Abhayamba vibhakti kritis. She gives examples of phrases from Soundarya Lahari and Lalitha Trishati, which Dikshitar has used in his compositions. She makes particular reference to the concept of maya in the composition, ‘Maye Tvam Yahi.’

Asha goes on to describe songs on various temples along with temple details and iconography as expressed in the songs. Poetic excellence, use of raga mudras and his compositions on certain aspects of life such as karma, bhakti and esoteric experience have been showcased.

Asha has included compositions attributed to Dikshitar as there is a divided opinion about the authenticity of some of them. The book also pre-supposes that the reader is already familiar with Sanskrit words, particularly those relating to Advaitic concepts. For instance, she mentions on Pg 122 that esoteric concepts such as ‘hamsa and daharavidya are mentioned in the song’. She does not explain the terms and allows it to remain a mystery. Also her sources include A. Sundaram Iyer’s volumes, T.K. Govinda Rao’s and K. N. Srinivasan books. For some reason, she has left out Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini of Subbarama Dikshitar, an authentic record of his compositions.

Asha’s expertise in Sanskrit, Vedanta and music has resulted in this unique effort. The cover design with Dikshitar seated on a lotus with the Mansarovar as the background, has a symbolic representation of the contents of the work.

The book is immensely valuable as a source of reference and makes interesting reading for those interested in the sahitya and advaita aspects of the compositions of Dikshitar.