The story of ‘Anandamrutakarshini’ in Muthuswami Dikshitar’s life is spoken of to this day in Tamil Nadu villages. Artist and musician S. Rajam captures the scene in a highly evocative canvas. As Dikshitar sings, his eyes look up to the sky. The villagers of Ettayapuram had sought Dikshitar’s help to escape from the fury of an unprecedented drought. Dikshitar’s answer was the kriti ‘Anadamrutakarshini,’ set to raga Amritavarshini.
S. Rajam very aptly paints the raindrops drenching the rooftops even as Dikshitar raises his arms inspiringly in prayer and sings, ‘Anandamrutakarshini.’ Praising the Goddess as ‘Shive Bhavani,’ he pleads, ‘Salilam varshaya varshaya’ (Let the rain pour, and pour abundantly).
Musicologist Prof. P. Sambamoorthy writing on the life of Dikshitar talks about how he also came to the rescue of disciple Thambiappan, who was suffering from an incurable stomach ailment. Realising that the illness was because of the unfavourable position of Guru in Thambiappan’s horoscope, Dikshitar composed ‘Brihaspate’ (raga Atana), as an offering to Guru. He asked Thambiappan to sing the kriti every day. Legend has it that the kriti proved to be a magical cure for the disciple. Dikshitar went on to compose nine songs each as a prayer to the nine planets (navagraha). These compositions are among his most famous group kritis.
Extolling the nine planets
‘Suryamurthe,’ Dikshitar’s first Navagraha kriti, in raga Saurashtra, is believed to boost the immunity of those rendering it. It is clear that Dikshitar believed that mantras could be powerful when coupled with devotion and faith.
Epics describe how Sage Agasthya shared ‘Aditya Hrudayam,’ with Rama ahead of the battle against Ravana. This hymn in praise of Surya helped Rama gain strength before heading for the battlefield.
According to eminent musicologist/musician Dr. S. Ramanathan, in the kriti ‘Suryamurthe’, the words ‘Saurashtrarna mantraatmane’ (you are the embodiment of the Saurashtrarna mantram) referring to the Gayatri mantra when chanted daily gives energy and develops positivity.
Similarly, ‘Angarakamaasrayamyaham’ (Surutti), in praise of the presiding deity of Tuesday (Sevvai), Dikshitar takes us to Vaideeswaran temple, where Siva, the healer, is hailed as Vaideeshwara. To this day, those looking for a cure for ailments head to Vaidyanatha Kshetram, where there is a special sanctum sanctorum for Lord Angaraka.
Dikshitar’s Navavarana kritis, in praise of Goddess Kamalamba of Tiruvarur, are also about healing. Each kriti provides an incomparable visualisation of the Sri Chakra. A kriti in this series ‘Sri Kamalambikayam’ (Sahana) visualises the ‘Sarva Rogahara Chakra’ (embodying a cure for all diseases). Dikshitar describes Kamalambika as ‘Sarva-roga-hara niraamaya raja yoginyam’ and as ‘Hreemkara Sushareerinyam’ meaning: ‘An embodiment of Hreem, she is the Raja Yogini, who removes all illnesses.’
Coming back to the Navagraha kritis, for those who have the planet Saturn in an unfavourable position, Dikshitar’s ‘Divakara Tanujam’ (Yadukulakhambodi) could be the prayer. Dikshitar refers to Saneeshwara as ‘Malini vinuta’ and ‘Kalachakra bhedachitra bhanum.’ Malini is said to be Draupadi’s name while in exile with the Pandavas. As Malini, she worshipped Saneeshwara to rid her of her sufferings.
Legendary musicians such as Madurai Mani Iyer used to render at their concerts Navagraha kritis for each day of the week.