Muthuswami Dikshitar (March 24, 1775 – October 21, 1835) was born in Tiruvarur in Tamil Nadu to a Tamil Iyer Brahmin couple Ramaswami Dikshitar and Subbamma, as the eldest son. According to the account of Subbarama Dikshitar, Muttuswami Dikshitar was born under the asterism Krittikaa. He was named after the temple deity, Muthukumaraswamy; legend has it that he was born after his parents prayed for a child at the Vaitheeswaran Temple.
Muthuswami Dikshitar learnt the Sanskrit language, Vedas, and other important religious texts. He obtained his preliminary musical education from his father.
While he was still in his teens, his father sent him on a pilgrimage with a wandering monk named Chidambaranatha Yogi to gain musical and philosophical knowledge. Over the course of this pilgrimage, he visited many places in North India and acquired a broad outlook that is reflected in many of his compositions. During their stay in Kashi (Varanasi), his guru Chidambaranatha Yogi, presented Dikshitar with a unique Veena and died shortly thereafter. The samadhi of Chidambaranatha Yogi can still be seen in the Hanuman Ghat area in Varanasi.
According to legend, his guru asked Muthuswami to visit Tiruttani (a temple town near Chennai). There, while he was immersed deep in meditation, an old man appeared and asked him to open his mouth. He dropped sugar candy into his mouth and disappeared. As he opened his mouth, he had a vision of the deity Muruga and Dikshitar burst forth into his first composition "Shri Nathadi Guruguho" in the raga Mayamalavagowla.
This song addressed the Lord (and/or the guru) in the first declension in Sanskrit. Dikshitar later composed kritis in all the eight declensions on the Lord. These are mostly with epithets glorifying the guru and have very few references to Lord Muruga or specifically to the deity in the saguna form, as at Tiruttani.
He then went on a pilgrimage visiting and composing at the temples at Kanchi, Tiruvannamalai , Chidambaram, Tirupathi and Kalahasthi, before returning to Tiruvarur.
Muthuswami Dikshitar attained mastery over the Veena, and the influence of Veena playing is evident in his compositions, particularly the gamakas. In his kriti Balagopala, he introduces himself as a vainika gayaka, "a player of the veena". He experimented with the violin, and among his disciples, Vadivelu of the Thanjavur Quartet, and his brother Baluswami Dikshitar pioneered the use of violin in Carnatic music, now an integral part of most Carnatic ensembles.
At a young age, Dikshitar was also exposed to the music of the Western bands at Fort St George. At a later stage, Dikshitar composed some forty songs to several (mostly western folk) tunes loosely adopted to ragas such as Shankarabharanam. This corpus is now known as nottusvara sahitya (etym. nottusvara = "notes" swara). The influence of Celtic and Baroque styles in these compositions is quite evident (e.g., Sakthi Sahitha Ganapatim, to the tune of voulez-vous dancer, Varashiva Balam).
His total compositions are about 450 to 500. The compositions are known for the depth and soulfulness of the melody — his visions of some of the ragas are still the final word on their structure. His Sanskrit lyrics are in praise of the temple deity, but Dikshitar introduces the Advaita thought seamlessly into his songs, resolving the inherent relationship between Advaita philosophy and polytheistic worship. His songs also contain much information about the history of the temple, and its background, thus preserving many customs followed in these old shrines.
For richness of raga bhava, sublimity of their philosophic contents and for the grandeur of the sahitya, the songs of Dikshitar stand unsurpassed.
Adapted from Wikipedia