History & Culture

Syama Sastry did travel

Sri Aiyarappar temple  

It is generally believed that Syama Sastry, the senior-most and least documented in the Carnatic Trinity hardly travelled outside his native Thanjavur, such being his attachment to his patron Goddess – Bangaru Kamakshi. Of course, compared to the other two in the Trinity, Syama Sastry’s travels do not amount to much. Tyagaraja undertook one long pilgrimage between 1837 and 1839, visiting several towns and villages en route, including Madras and Tirupati. Dikshitar, of course, travelled widely and for most of his life.

A study of Syama Sastry’s compositions reveals that he did travel, though unlike Tyagaraja and Diskhitar, we do not know whether there was any motive other than a desire to visit holy shrines that made him leave Thanjavur occasionally. But he appears to have visited six pilgrim centres and one princely state, namely Tiruvaiyaru, Tiruchi, Madurai, Kanchipuram, Nagapattinam, Vaitheeswarankoil and Pudukottai. Let us look at some of the evidences.

Tiruvaiyaru, the sylvan village of five rivers is a short distance from Thanjavur and in Syama Sastry’s time was home to Tyagaraja. It is not clear if the two composers ever met, but Syama Sastry’s son Subbaraya Sastry was a disciple of Tyagaraja too. In Tiruvaiyaru stands the twin-shrines of Panchanadeeswara and Dharmasamvardhini. Syama Sastry gave us four songs on the Goddess here - “Durusuga Krpajuchi” (Saveri), “Karunajudavamma” (Varali), “Emani Migulavarnintu” (Thodi) and “Palimpavamma” in (Mukhari).

In Tiruvanaikka near Tiruchi stands the temple of Jambukeswarar dedicated to Siva - Jambukeswara who is worshipped here as the primordial element – Water. The Goddess here is Akhilandeswari, well known for the Sri Chakra vested in Her enormous earrings dedicated by Adi Sankara.

Syama Sastry composed five songs on Akhilandeshvari - “Sankari Samkuru” (Saveri), Akhilandeswari” (Karnataka Kapi), “Enneramum Un Namam” (Purvikalyani), “Enneramum Un Pada Kamala” (Punnagavarali) and “Nannu Brova Rada” (Gaulipantu). It is strange that this set of five has not been declared as Pancharatnam! Of course there are some doubts on the provenance of the Tamil kritis attributed to this composer.

Prof. Sambamurthy has it that nine of Syama Sastry’s songs, known as the Navaratnamalika, were dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai. He however lists only eight – “Devi Minanetri” (Sankarabharanam), “Nannu Brovu Lalita” (Lalita), “Marivere Gati” (Ananda Bhairavi), “Mayamma” (Ahiri), “Minalochana” (Dhanyasi), “Rave Parvatarajakumari” (Kalyani), “Devi Ni Pada Sarasa” (Khambodi) and “Sarojadalanetri” (Sankarabharanam).

Kanchipuram held special significance for Syama Sastry. It was in that holy town that many centuries earlier, Adi Sankara had ordained a family from Cumbum in present day Andhra Pradesh, to perform the daily worship of Bangaru Kamakshi, a beautiful idol of the Goddess in standing posture. Descendants of this clan, along with the idol, migrated from Kanchipuram in 1565. After several years of wandering, succeeding generations settled in Tiruvarur where Syama Sastry was born. Then in 1781, fearing an invasion by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, the family moved into Thanjavur fort, where the ruler Tulaja welcomed them and constructed a shrine for the idol on West Main Street. Syama Sastry in many of his songs addresses her as Kanchi Kamakshi. “O Jagadamba” in Ananda Bhairavi is one such. “Brovavamma” in the rare raga Manji is yet another song on Goddess Kamakshi. Of course, several of Syama Sastry’s songs on Kamakshi could have been composed at Thanjavur itself and so it is difficult to assert that he did travel as far as Kanchipuram. There is however a varnam “Sami ni rammanave,” in Ananda Bhairavi, dedicated clearly to ‘Sri Kanchi Vasudaina Varadarajuniki’, so he must have made the journey sometime, or perhaps he simply composed it out of devotion, in Thanjavur itself. It must not be forgotten that there is a shrine to Varadaraja not far from Syama Sastry’s residence in Thanjavur town.

Nagapattinam is a pilgrim centre that is less known compared to the shrines written about above. It has a magnificent temple for Siva -Kayarohanesa and Goddess Nilayadakshi. Syama Sastry’s tribute to the Goddess are “Nilayadakshi Nive Jagat Sakshi” in Mayamalavagowla, (also sung in Paraju), “Nannu Brova Rada” (Janaranjani) and “Ninne Nammiti” (Kedara Gowla).

Syama Sastry also appears to have visited Vaitheeswaran Koil. There is a varnam on Lord Muthukumaraswami set in Raga Begada. From his song “Karunanidhi Ilalo” in raga Thodi we see that he must have also visited Pudukottai, for the song is dedicated to Brhannayaki. The fact that it specifically mentions that She is the consort of Gokarneswara lends credence to the belief that this was composed in Pudukottai and not Thanjavur. Some other songs on Brhannayaki/Brhadamba by Syama Sastry are also ascribed to this shrine but in the absence of any internal evidence, they could be on the Goddess in the Big Temple in Thanjavur also.

On the whole, not a bad record for a composer who is said to have hardly travelled!

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 1:35:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/Syama-Sastry-did-travel/article11582287.ece

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