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Tiruvarur, Tanjavur district, Tamil Nadu
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A Lady Playing the Tanpura, ca. 1735 (Rajasthan)
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Syama Sastri (Sanskrit: Śyāmā Śāstri) (also commonly transliterated as Shyama Shastri) (1762–1827) is one of the most renowned composers of Carnatic music. He is the oldest among the Trinity of Carnatic music, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar being the other two.
Syama Sastri was born into a scholarly Brahmin family in Tiruvarur (Tanjavur district of Tamil Nadu). His father Viswanatham was the hereditary priest responsible for the care and worship of the image of the goddess, Bangaru Kamakshi, whose temple is in Thanjavur. Syama Sastri's father was 25 at the time of his birth and his mother, Vengalakshmi, 20 years old. A family tradition holds that she had received a prophecy of his birth from a devout neighbour. The infant was named Venkatasubrahmanya, but came to be affectionately known as Shyama Krishna.
The family was comfortably settled and maintained a long tradition as devoted priests and scholars, but there were no musicians before Syama Sastri. Sastri's father ensured that he attained scholarship in Telugu and Sanskrit at a young age; his maternal uncle gave him a basic music education. When he was 18 years old, he moved with his family to Thanjavur. A sannyasin (renunciate) known as Sangita Svami (i.e. music svami), a learned musician skilled in both music and dance, was the family's guest during the chaturmasya period one year. This is the rainy season when renunciates are expected to stay in one location and teach. Recognizing Syama's potential, he educated the young man on many advanced aspects of music during his four-month stay, and presented him several rare musical texts. He recommended that he listen to as many of the fine musicians of the area as possible, and suggested that he cultivate the friendship of the court musician Pachchimiriyam Adiyappayya.
Although Śyāma Śastri did not compose as so many kr̥ti-s as his two prolific contemporaries, his compositions are still well known due to the literary value. It is said that he composed about three hundred pieces in all.
He did not have many disciples to propagate his compositions, nor was the printing press an easy convenience during his time. More importantly, the scholarly nature of his compositions was not appealing to the layperson, they needed to be studied to be savoured.In his compositions there is a perfect blend of Supreme Bhakti (Utmost Devotion), Manodharma Bhavam with adequate Sahityam, but very important all put into the cup of Absolute Talam (Rhythm). Hence very few can render the compositions in their perfect form.
He composed kr̥ti(s), varṇa(s) and svarajati(s) with the ankita or mudra (signature) Śyāma Kr̥ṣṇa. He was probably the first to compose in a new form of the svarajati musical genre. Prior to this, the svarajati was primarily a dance form, and was close in structure to the dance Varṇaṃ (padavarṇaṃ).
His set of three famous svarajati(s) are intended to be sung in concert rather than danced, and are sometimes referred to as "Ratnatrayam" (Three jewels). They are in ragas Bhairavi, Yadukula kambhoji and Todi, and are called Kāmākṣhī Anudinamu, Kāmākṣhī Padayugamē, and Rāvē himagiri kumāri, respectively. The former two are set to Miśra Cāpu Tāḷa, while the third is set to Ādi Tāḷa.
He was known for his ability to compose in the most complex of Tāḷa(s). He was also known as "Talaprasthara Shyama Sastri" in music circles in those days. He was as adept in composing in rare ragas as he was in composing the popular ones. He was widely revered for his voice and singing ability during his time.
Syama Sastri's son, the illustrious Subbaraya Sastri (1803–1862), had the unique privilege of learning under each of the trinity. His kritis with the signature 'Kumara' are known for encapsulating the entire structure of a raga in the space of a single composition. Syama Sastri's adopted grandson, Annasvami Shastri (1827–1900), was also a fine composer.
The below sections mention some of his compositions.
|Kāmākṣhī anudinamu maruvakanē
కామాక్షీ అనుదినము మరువకనే
|Kāmākṣhī padayugame sthiramaninē
||Yadhukula Kambodhi||Miśra Cāpu'||Telugu|
|Rāvē himagiri kumāri
రావే హిమగిరి కుమారీ
|Śaṅkari Śaṃkuru candra mukhī
Sanskrit: शङ्करि शंकुरु चन्द्र मुखी
Telugu Script: శఙ్కర శంకురు చన్ద్ర ముఖీ
|Sāvēri||Ādi – Tiśra Gati||Sanskrit|
|kanaka śaila vihāriṇī
Sanskrit: कनक शैल विहारिणी
Telugu Script: కనక శైల విహారిణీ
|Birāna varālicci brōvave
బిరాన వరాలిచ్చి బ్రోవవె
|Kaḷyāṇi||Ādi – Tiśra Gati||Telugu|
|Dēvī brōva samayamu
దేవీ బ్రోవ సమయము
|Himādri sutē pāhimāṃ
హిమాద్రి సుతే పాహిమాం
|Māyammā yani nē pilacite
మాయమ్మా యని నే పిలచితె
|Mari vērē gati evvarammā
మరి వేరే గతి ఎవరమ్మా
|Nannu brōvu lalitā
నన్ను బ్రోవు లలితా
|O jagadambā nannu
ఓ జగదమ్బా నన్ను
|Pārvati ninu nē nera nammiti
పార్వతీ నిను నే నెర నమ్మితి
|Sarōja daḷa nētri himagiri putrī
సరోజ దళ నేత్రి హిమగిరి పుత్రీ
|Tallī ninnu nera namminānu vinavē
తల్లీ నిన్ను నెర నమ్మినాను వినవే
- P. Sambamoorthy, Great Composers, pp69–94. (Madras: The Indian Music Publishing House)
- Website dedicated to Shyama Shastri
- Syama Sastri, His Disciples and Descendants. This blog presents Saradhambal Yegyaswamy Iyer's doctoral research
- Syama Sastri – He sang paeans to the goddess. Info from Sri Thiyagaraja Temple
- Shyama Sastri’s descendants live in penury