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Syama Sastri

2:22 PM Posted by Vijayasri

Syama Shastrigal is among the most renowned composers of carnatic music, indeed, he was the senior-most of the Trinity of Carnatic Music along with Tyagaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshitar.

Syama Sastri was born to Visvanatha Iyer and Vengalakshmi on April 2, 1762. He was a Tamil - speaking brahmin known as auttara vadama. Visvanatha Iyer and his forefathers were archakas in the temple of Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi.

Syama Sastri's actual name was Venkata Subrahmanya. But he was affectionately called Syama Sastri. At the age of seven, his Upanayanam was performed. He was taught devotional songs, given sound education in Sanskrit and Telugu. He used to accompany his father to the temple. Gradually his faith in the Goddess grew. Finding his aptitude for music, his mother requested her cousins to teach him the fundamentals of music. Within a short period, the boy became proficient in it.

When Syama Sastri was 18, his father settled down at Thanjavur. A sanyasi, Sangita Svami, an Andhra brahmin, came to their house from Banares. He was pleased with the talents of Syama Sastri and offered to be his guru. After teaching him the mysteries underlying the raga and tala prastaras, he directed Syama Sastri to go to Paccimiriyam Adiyappayya. As per Swamiji's advice, Syama Sastri approached Adiyappayya and the influence of Adiyappayya is reflected in his svarajati -kamakshi' in Bhairavi raga.

There is an interesting incident, which is a testimony to his strength in Laya. He was once challenged by Kesavayya a great musician from Bobbili, to sing a Pallavi in Simhanandana tala (the longest tala with 128 beats per cycle). To everyone's amazement, he not only sang it but also composed a new Pallavi in Sarabhanandana tala (79 beats per cycle).

Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri were good friends. They often met and spent hours together singing. Syama Sastri had deep regard for Tyagaraja.

Once Syama Sastri was singing Brhadamba in Pudukottai, an elderly saint was pleased and directed him to go to Madurai and sing in praise of Meenaksi Amman and receive her blessings. Syama Sastri decided to do so and composed "navaratnamalika' (nine kritis)

Once at Nagapattinam, Syama Sastri defeated in a contest Appukutti Nattuvanar who was proficient in music. Consequently Appukutti forfeited his tambura and tala for ever.

Most of Syama Sastri's compositions are in praise of Devi. He is credited with about 300 songs, of which only about 60 - 70 are available today. He composed a group of nine kritis known as Navaratnamalika (garland of nine gems) in praise of Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai temple.
He has composed three peerless Swarajatis, collectively known as the Ratnatrayam. He has also composed a few Varnams, not to mention other compositions in rare ragas, like Chintamani (his own discovery), Kalagada etc. His favourite raga seems to be Anandabhairavi, in which he has excelled himself.

Though he was a Tamil he had chosen Telugu as the medium of expression for his songs because of the inherent beauty of that language. There are a few Sanskrit and Tamil songs also.

His style is neither simple as that of Tyagaraja nor difficult as that of Muthuswami Dikshitar. He signed his songs as Syama Krishna. He died on February 6, 1827, at the age of 65.

Click Here to see the list of Syama sastri compositions.


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