Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar and the Invention of Modern Carnatic Music

The Abhayâmbā Vibhakti-kṛtis

David Shulman

2014 | 50 pages | ISBN 978-90-6984-688-0 | free

21th Gonda Lecture by David Shulman, Professor of Indian languages and literatures and a cultural historian of southern India at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

This publication will explore the creative role of the major composer of Carnatic music at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar, who revolutionised this tradition from a liturgical and courtly context to the modern salon and a secular audience. Dīkṣitar re-invented the expressive power of both musical and verbal texts. Today he is usually understood in rather conventional pietistic images. But he brought a proto-modern, highly unconventional, specifically Tantric sensibility to the musical salons in Southeast India.

The publication will discuss his influence through the particularly moving set of Dīkṣitar's nine linked compositions on the goddess Abhayâmbā of Mayavaram, the Abhayâmbā Vibhakti-kṛtis. These compositions and other similar ‘chamber-music’ Dīkṣitar composed, allow us to extrapolate to the wider cultural context of Carnatic music as it assumed its modern form.