Subbaraya Sastri (1803 - 1862) the son and student of Syama Sastri, one of the most famous figures in the history of Carnatic music. He also has the unique distinction of having studied music from all the three of the Trinity of Carnatic Music: his father, and Tyagaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshitar.
Subbaraya Shastry composed only a few krithi. But their technical quality, beauty, devotion and intricacies have made them enduring and famous. Subbaraya Sastri composed most of his kritis in praise of the Mother Goddess
Born in Tanjavur in 1803 as the second son of Shyama Sastri, he listened to great music at home and at the Bangaru Kamakshi temple. He studied music from his father, who later sent him to Tyagaraja to study music at Tiruvaiyar. Tyagaraja had great reverence for Shyama Sastri and gladly took Subbaraya Sastri as his disciple. Subbaraya Sastri became one of Tyagaraja’s favorite students. After his studies with Tyagaraja, Subbaraya Sastri continued his music education with his father. At that time, Muttuswami Dikshitar was staying in Tanjavur at the house of his disciples, the Tanjavur Quartette, just behind the street where Shyama Sastri’s home was located. The two great composers met frequently and regularly held musical sessions from which Subbaraaya Sastri benefited as well. Shyama Sastri would ask his son to sing his compositions. Dikshitar in turn, was appreciative of Subbaraya Sastri’s talents and also taught him a few of his own compositions. Subbaraya Sastri was the only person to learn from all the three: Shyama Sastri, Tyagaraja and Muttuswami Dikshitar. The influence of all the three can be seen in his compositions.
Subbaraya Sastri also took an interest in and learned Hindustani music from Marahtta musicians like Meru Goswami, a musician of the Tanjavur palace, and from Ramadas Swami who was a recluse and who lived in Tiruvidaimarudur near Kumbakonam (Gopalakrishna Bharati also learnt Hindustani music from Ramadas Swami) and who. popularized Hindustani music in Tanjavur. In addition, Subbaraya Sastri was an expert at playing the violin – he was invited to be Asthana vidwan of the Udayarpalayam samasthAnam (succeeding Ghanam Krishna Iyer) which had given protection to the arcakAs who brought the Kamakshi idol from Kanchipuram. There was a temple for the Goddess at Udayarpalayam and the Rajas of that place were devotees and music lovers. At Udayarpalayam, Subbaraya Sastri found the peace and encouragement to pursue his musical work.
He was, like his father, a great bhakta of the Goddess. Subbaraya Sastri composed most of his kritis in praise of the Mother Goddess. He hardly composed about twenty kritis. Yet he is renowned because his compositions have great rAga bhAvA, deep devotion and present the intricate depths of music. He adopted as his mudrA the term, kumAra, possibly because he was born under the star krithikA but more likely because he wanted to emphasise that he was the son of Shyama Sastri.
He was a constant pilgrim and visited many sacred shrines in the south. He is supposed to have officially inaugurated his songs at the Meenakshi temple at Madurai. mInanayana nIvu in darbAr is his tribute to Goddess Meenakshi. His wife hailed from Kanchipuram. Therefore he had ample occasion to visit that sacred town. There he sang EmA ninnE in mukhAri. Towards the end of his life, he visited Tirupati where he sang the exquisite hamIr kalyANi piece vEnkaTashaila vihArA. He stayed for twelve years in Madras. The composition ninu sEvincina, in which he beautifully expouds yadukula kambhoji, is in praise of Shri Parthasarathi Perumal at Triplicane in Madras. His ninnuvinA gatigAna in kalyANi is in praise of Goddess Dharmasamvardhani at Tiruvaiyaru. It is said that his guru Tyagaraja was present at the temple when Subbaraya Sastri offered this song there. Tyagaraja is supposed to have praised the exquisite raga bhava in this composition of his disciple.
Subbaraya Sastri had a daughter but no son. He therefore adopted Annasami Sastri, his elder brother Panju Sastri’s son. Annasami Sastri was his chief disciple. Subbaraya Sastri had many other disciples too, chief among them being his son-in-law, Kachi Sastri, Rangacharlu, Sobhanadri and Ponnuswami. The dancer, Tanjavur Kamakshi was also Subbaraya Sastri’s disciple. Kamakshi’s grand-daughter was the legendary Veena Dhanammal. Kachi Sastri’s disciples were Kanchipuram Dhanakoti and Kamakshi(Dhanakoti Sisters), the aunt and mother respectively, of Kanchipuram Naina Pillai. It is to these two families, those of Veena Dhanammal and Kanchipuram Dhanakoti Ammal, that we owe the spread and popularity of Subbaraya Sastri’s compositions.
In the year 1862, Subbaraya Sastri went to Udayarpalayam on a visit. One day, while completing his evening prayers, he knew intuitively that his end was near. Calling aside his family, he told them that he would not live for long. The Udayarpalayam zamindar came and asked Subbaraya Sastri what his last wish was. Subbaraya Sastri replied that when he had the Mother Goddess’s grace, what more did he need? Thus, with his last thought on Goddess Kamakshi, the great composer who was a worthy successor to the Trinity breathed his last.
The music of Subbaraaya Sastri was influenced by his teachers: in words and cittaswaras by his father, and in madhyama kaalam by Tyaagaraja. Slower speeds were the influence of Dikshitar. Kritis like janani ninuvinA in reetigowLa, ninuvinA gati gAna in kalyaaNi and ninu sEvincina in yadukula kaambhOji bear the stamp of Shyama Sastri. Shri kamalAmbikE in dEsya tODi, talacinavAru in dhanyAsi, mIna nayana in darbAr and vanajAsana in shrI were influenced by the style of Tyagaraja. VEnkaTashaila vihArA and entanucu varNimpa in shankarAbharaNam can be said to have been influenced by Dikshitar.
Subbaraaya Sastri integrated the styles and created one of his own. He used rare prayOgas, rare ragas like dEsya tODi (giving us the major piece shree kamalaambikE), handled various tempos, and used swaraksharas often. It is said that his association with Muthuswami Dikshitar and Ramdas Swami inspired him to compose in the hameer kalyaaNi. VEnkaTashaila vihArA in this rAgA also bears the stamp of his guru Tyagaraja’s classic composition in that rAGA, mAnamu lEdA. It describes the Lord enshrined in the temple on the Tirumala hills and Subbaraya Sastri’s appeal for protection. Subbaraya Sastri has used mostly short syllables in the sAhityA of this song and has chosen to weave around them jArUs that are a hallmark of hamIr kalyANI.