Sriram Parasuram

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year

Muttusvami Diksitar (1775-1835) is one of the foremost saint-composers of Carnatic music. He composed some 450 kritis in praise of many gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. Central to Diksitar's compositions are the Panca-Linga Ksetra Kritis, songs in praise of Siva, which he composed on his pilgrimages to the five temple sites of Kanchipuram, Tiruvanaikkaval, Tiruvannamalai, Kalahasti and Chidambaram.

Although Diksitar and his work are mentioned extensively in biographical articles and essays, there exists no single comprehensive account of his life, travels, poetry, and music. He is known only through miscellaneous personal anecdotes and accounts of his travels and pilgrimages, and the works of his descendants.

This grant supports a musical, textual, and linguistic study of Panca-Linga Ksetra Kritis, developing the historical, geographic, and cultural contexts for these five monumental songs of devotion. Working from biographical sources pertaining to Diksitar, compendia and analyses of his literary and musical work, the study will investigate systems of meanings and contexts for his compositions.

Sriram Parasuram, Director of Sampradaya, an institution in Madras devoted to the presentation, documentation, and archiving of south Indian music traditions will undertake the study. A practising Carnatic violinist and an ethnomusicologist, he proposes to investigate the nature, motive and significance of pilgrimage to the five sacred places; the meanings accorded to the pilgrimage sites in various epic, puranic, and other descriptive sources; the festivals, rites and rituals at these sites; and the iconographic, architectural and landscape attributes of these centres.

The study will attempt to apply hagiographic and biographic idioms more systematically to Diksitar's case. Interviews will be conducted with the priests, temple musicians and temple trustees, who are a vital source of oral history. Pilgrim registers, town gazettes, and records kept by priests will be examined to gather data on the history and patronage of the temples, pilgrim fields and routes, and temple rituals, fairs and festivals. Parasuram will also consult some of the major research archives in India.

The study is expected to generate an interdisciplinary matrix of records, information, and analysis. The project will also document these different versions of musical compositions as sung and taught by the main representatives of these lineages. Audio and photographic documentation and other research materials will be duplicated and donated to the archives/offices of the five temples.