When we talk about Carnatic Music, the first name to hit our minds would be none other than Trinity of Carnatic Music. Shyama Shastri [1762-1827] is one of the oldest and best-known names among the Trinity of Carnatic Music, Tyagaraja, and Muthuswami Diskshitar being the other two.
The genius Tamil speaking Smartha Vadama Brahmin was born to Visvanathayya and Vengalakshmi on April 2, 1762. Born in a Tamil Brahmin family, he was better known and Auttara Vadama. His father and forefathers were archakas in the temple of Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi, Thanjavur. Syama Sastri was christened Venkata Subrahmanya at birth.
At that time in history, there were many political upheavals; hence his family was compelled to move to Cauvery Delta. His family stayed at Tiruvarur for 3 decades before they moved with the idol of the deity Bangaru Kamakshi to the West of the Main Street of Tanjavur, where a new permanent temple for the Goddess was built. It was here in 1762 that the Carnatic Music icon was born.
His forefathers were archakas in the temple. At the age of 7, his Upanayanam was performed. His first introduction to music was by way of singing devotional songs which was taught to him by his father. He gained education in Sanskrit and Telugu and attained scholarships in these languages too. Taking his talent in the field of music a step further his mother took to teaching him fundamentals in music at home.
When he was 18 years, his family moved to Tanjore. Here his formal introduction to music took place when he was initiated into the Sri Vidya cult and was also trained in music for three years under a guru – Sangita Swamin [very little is known about him]. The Swami immediately sensed his potential by way of Shyama Shastri’s keen intellect, talent and passion for music and melodic voice. He took upon himself to brush the young aspiring music genius and taught him the ragas, tala and swara prastharaas. In 4 months or less, Shyama Shastri has absorbed all the knowledge and theoretical aspects of music!
His music life
As years passed by the Trinity of Carnatic Music became a well-known and respected musician, scholar and a composer. He was admired a great deal by one of the very famous Carnatic Music composers Tyagaraja. Shyama Shastri’s compositions are well-known. It is said that he has composed about three hundred pieces in all. He did not have too many disciples to proliferate his compositions, nor was the printing press an easy expediency during his time! More importantly, the scholarly nature of his compositions was not appealing to the layperson; they needed to be studied to be savored. He composed in Telugu, Sanskrit and Tamil and mostly on Goddess Devi.Shyama Shastri’s compositions are mainly in the form of ragas – Manji, Chintamani, Kalagada and Karnataka Kapi.
The Architect of `Swarajathi.
A perfect architect of the swarajatHi music form, the maestro of Carnatic Music composed a set of three famous swarajathis is referred to as Ratnathrayam. These are in Bhairavi, Yadukulakambodhi and Todi. They stand unmatched both for the definition of the raga bhava and the richness of musical ideas.
The Master of Rhythm
Shyama Shastri stands out for the most “rhythmic beauties” employed in his kritis – for instance, the use of five syllable words like sarasamukhi, varamosagu, kamalamukhi, etc. These correspond to the rhythmic phrase “ta dhin gi na thom”. Shyama Shastri had a wonderful mind when it came to playing with rhythms and he was always in a ryhtmic frame of mind. No other Carnatic Music composers composed songs to match the unrivalled beauty of rhythm as Shyama Shastri.
His later life
Since the temple of the Goddess was his home, the music maestro had little opportunity to venture out of Tanjavur. However, he did move on to the neighboring Tiruvayyaru and sang of Dharmasamvardhini; to Jambukesvaram and sang of Akilandeswari, and also to the more distant Madurai where he sang 9 pieces on Meenakshi. While all his pieces are on Devi, chiefly Kamakshi, and also some of her other forms including Brihannayaki at the Big Temple at Thanjavur, there are also, among the published and the unpublished kritis, a few on Subramanya. He has composed 300 devotional songs in praise of the Goddess. Tamil by birth, his songs were mainly composed in Telugu for the inherent beauty of the language. A few compositions are there in Tamil and Sanskrit too!
Family tradition has it that Syama Sastri on coming of age became the hereditary priest at the Bangaru Kamakshi temple. He soon turned composer using the mudra ‘Syama Krishna.’ Shyama Shastri had two sons Panju Shastri and Subbaraya Shastri. The former became a priest and the latter was a versatile musician and a disciple of Tyagaraja.
Shyama Shastri correctly predicted his time of death, like many contemporaries of his time. He breathed his last on February 6, 1827. His soul departed six days after his devoted wife passed away. Shyama Shastri is one of the greatest Carnatic Music Composers in the fraternity of music.
Endaro Mahanubhavulu. Andariki Vandanamulu.
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