Shyama Shastri was the oldest of the Trinity of Carnatic music. He was a contemporary of the other two, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar, and was a personal friend of the former. He was born Venkatakrishna, in Tiruvarur (of Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu) on April 26, 1762, into the scholarly and priestly Tamil Brahmin family of Viswanatha Iyer; a family not particularly interested in music. Though Shyama Shastri attained scholarship in Telugu and Sanskrit at a young age, he got no further than the elementary stages in music education, in spite of his melodious voice. When he was eighteen years old, his family moved to Tanjore.
Around then, his family got a chance to host a sanyasi (monk), sangitaswami, a master of dance and music, who was spending some four months in Tanjore. The sanyasi was quick to discover Shyama Shastri's keen intellect, melodious voice and musical talent and foresaw greatness in him. He obtained the father's consent to tutor the son in music and taught Shyama Shastri all aspects of raga, tala and swara prasthara-s. The teacher found that the student could absorb even the intricate details very quickly, all in a matter of four months or less. Sangitaswami presented Shyama Shastri with a few rare treatises on music and certified that the student had gained full knowledge on the theoretical aspects of music. He advised his student to seek the friendship of and listen to the music (but not learn anything from) one Pachimiriam Adiyappayya Ayya, a composer of the famous bhairavi ata tala varnam, viriboni, and a court musician in Tanjore. Shyama Shastri duly did as he was advised.
Over the years, Shyama Shastri became a well-known and respected musician, scholar and a composer. He was quite admired and respected by Tyagaraja and it appears that the two of them often held scholarly and lengthy discussions on their latest compositions. Shyama Shastri, like his father was the archaka (priest) in the Bangaru Kamakshi Temple in Tanjore. He was a very pious and genuine devotee of Goddess Kamakshi. He is believed to have lost consciousness of the outside world on several occasions as he prayed to the Goddess. On such occasions, he would sing his kriti-s extemporaneously. His father had the patronage of the Tanjore king. Hence, the family was financially comfortable.
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). Through Panju Shastri, the family tree grew and produced quite a few scholars. Shyama Shastri's great grandson was alive till the age of 94 and passed away only in 1950. Hence, many incidents of Shyama Shastri's life are known. He was reportedly a tall and a rather stout person with a fondness for betel leaves! Shyama Shastri, like Tyagaraja and Dikshitar, was well-versed in astrology. Like his great contemporaries, he too correctly predicted the time of his passing. He passed away on February 6, 1827, six days after, his devoted wife passed away.
Although he did not compose as many kriti-s as his two prolific contemporaries, Shyama Shastri's compositions are equally well known. It is said that he has composed about three hundred pieces in all. He did not have too 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. He composed in Telugu, Sanskrit and Tamil and mostly on Goddess Devi. He has composed kriti-s in, varnam-s and swarajati-s with the ankita/mudra (signature) 'Shyama Krishna'. He is said to be the architect of the swarajati musical form. His set of three famous swarajati-s is referred to as ratna trayam. These are in Bhairavi, Yadukulakambodhi and Todi.
Shyama Shastri's compositionsare usually in common raga-s, except for a few in raga-s such as Manji, Chintamani, Kalagada and Karnataka Kapi. His favourite raga-s seem to have been Saveri and Anandabhairavi, judging from the number of kriti-s composed in these raga-s. Anandabhairavi, an old raga that was frequently used in folk music, seemed to acquire a new stature after he composed masterpieces such as mariveregati, himachala tanaya, o jagadamba, pahi sri giriraja and even a couple of varnam-s in it. His rare originality was in swara sahitya compositions and the use of swarakshara. In other words, swara and sahitya having identical sounding syllables such as 'padasarara' corresponding to the swara-s pa da sa in the kriti, devi ni in Kambodhi. Though most of his compositions are on Goddess Kamakshi, he is said to have composed his navaratnamalika on Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai at the request of a person unknown to him. These include kriti-s such as saroja dala netri in Shankarabharanam, mayamma in Ahiri, meena lochana brova in Dhanyasi , etc. His Krithis usually have the pen-name ShyamaKrishna in the charanam of the song.
Shyama Shastri would perhaps stand out most for the "rhythmic beauties" employed in his kriti-s, such as the use of five-syllable words like sarasamukhi, varamosagu, kamalamukhi, etc. These correspond to the rhythmic phrase "ta dhin gi na thom". His kriti-s feature the abundant use of the misra chapu tala (4+3). He also features dual rhythms as in sankari samkuru in raga saveri, with the inherent rhythm of rupakam and a suggestive rhythm of adi tala. "Shyama Shastri had a rhythmical frame of mind and he was always swimming in the ethereal regions of rhythm and tala prasthara.
Musical Background: Syama Sastri did not come from a family of musicians, but was taught some music by his uncle. Despite being groomed to be a priest, he had plenty of interest and talent in music. He was taught by an ascetic, Sangeeta Swami, about the intricacies of raga and tala.
Region: Syama Sastri was born in Tiruvarur, Tanjavur district, but lived in Tanjavur. He did not travel much.
Rhythmic aspects: Some of Syama Sastri’s songs are very rich in rhythmic conception. Though he composed in talas like
Adi, Triputa, Roopaka, etc., he specialised in Misra Chapu, where he not only used the normal pattern (3+4), but also
the reverse (4+3), called the Viloma Chapu. His use of different gatis like Tisra and Misra in his compositions show his
prowess in Laya. There is an interesting incident, which is a testimony to his strength in Laya. He was once challenged by Bobbili
Kesavayya to sing a Pallavi in Simhanandana tala (the longest tala with 128 beats per cycle). To everyone's amazement,
he not only sang it but also composed a new Pallavi in Sarabhanandana tala (79 beats per cycle).
Theme: His compositions were totally devotional in nature, mostly in praise of Goddess Kamakshi of Kanchipuram.
Languages used: Predominantly Telugu; a few in Sanskrit and Tamil.
Signature: Syama Sastri used the mudra, Syamakrishna.
Popular kritis: Kamakshi (Bhairavi), Himadrisute (Kalyani), Sankari Sankuru (Saveri) etc.
Compositions: Shyama Shastri is credited with about 300 songs, of which only about 60 - 70 are available today. He
composed a group of nine kritis known as Navaratnamalika (garland of nine gems) in praise of Goddess Meenakshi of
Madurai temple. He has composed three peerless Swarajatis, collectively known as the Ratnatrayam. He has also
composed a few Varnams, not to mention other compositions in rare ragas, like Chintamani (his own discovery),
Kalagada etc. His favourite raga seems to be Anandabhairavi, in which he has excelled himself.
Compositions Of Shyama Shastri (1762-1827)
These compositions are ordered by Ragam classified by mela. These are fllowed by the song title, specific janya ragam,
and the talam. If you are looking for a particular song in this massive list, I can offer you two suggestions: 1)Hit
CTRL+F or go to the edit menu and select find on your browser and enter the contexts you would like to search for
8. HanumatodiEmani Migula - Todi - Adi Karunanidhi Ilalo - Todi - Rupakam Ninne Namminanu - Todi - Mishra Capu Rave Himagiri Kumari (Svarajati) - Todi - Adi Mina Locana Brova - Dhanyasi - Mishra Capu Enneramum - Punnagavarali - Adi Kanaka Shaila Viharini - Punnagavarali - Adi Brova Samayamu - Punnagavarali - Adi
13. GayakapriyaParvati Ninnu Nera - Kalgada - Tishra Gati Adi
14. VakulabharanamMayammayani Ne - Ahiri - Adi
15. MayamalavagaulaTarunam Idamma - Gaulipantu - Adi Nannu Brovarada - Gaulipantu - Mishra Capu Purahara Jaye - Gaulipantu - Mishra Capu Dayajuda - Jaganmohini - Mishra Capu Kamaksi Karunakataksi - Pharaj - Triputa Triloka Mata Nannu - Pharaj - Mishra Capu Santatam Ennai Raksippai (Gitam) - Pharaj - Adi Nannu Brova - Vasanta - Eka Janani Natajana - Saveri - Adi Durusuga Krpa Juci - Saveri - Adi Sarasaksi (Gitam) - Saveri - Triputa Shahnkari Shamkuru Candramukhi - Saveri - Tishra Gati Adi Shri Patimukha Viracita - Saveri - Adi Rave Mayamma Bahngaru - Saveri - Adi Sarva Sakhi (Gitam) - Saveri - Triputa Nilayataksi - Saveri-Mayamalavagaula-Pharaj - Triputa
17. SuryakantamNannu Brovu Lalita - Lalita - Mishra (Viloma) Capu Namanavini (Varnam) - Saurastram - Caturashra Ata
20. NathabhairaviAdinamunihnci - Anandabhairavi - Triputa O Jagadamba - Anandabhairavi - Adi Pahi Shri Girirajasute - Anandabhairavi - Rupakam Marivere Gati - Anandabhairavi - Triputa Mahilo Amba - Anandabhairavi - Adi Samini Rammanave (Varnam) - Anandabhairavi - Ata Himacala Tanayu - Anandabhairavi - Viloma Capu Bahngaru Kamaksi - Anandabhairavi - Adi Ninnu Namminanu (Pada Varnam) - Anandabhairavi - Adi Sara Saksi I Vela - Anandabhairavi - Ata Kamaksi Amba (Svarajati) - Bhairavi - Mishra Capu Parvati Janani (Gitam) - Bhairavi - Khanda Matya Sari Evaramma - Bhairavi - Jhampa Vanita Ninne (Tana Varnam) - Bhairavi - Adi Brovavamma - Mahnji - Mishra Capu
21. KiravaniBrovumu Manine - Kiravani - Adi
22. KharaharapriyaAkhilandeshvari - Karnataka Kapi - Adi Kamaksi Lokasaksi - Madhyamavati - Triputa Palihncu Kamaksi Pavani - Madhyamavati - Adi Brhannayaki - Madhyamavati - Tishra Matya Palimpavamma Parama Pavani - Mukhari - Adi Ninnu Vina Mari Galada - Ritigaula - Rupakam (Tishra Nadai Adi) Karunajuda Ninnu - Shri - Mishra Capu
28. HarikambhojiDevi Ni Pada Sarasamule - Kambhoji - Adi Ninne Nammiti - Kedaragaula - Adi Parakela Nannu - Kedaragaula - Adi Mayamma Nannu Brova - Natakurahnji - Adi Kamaksi Nipadayugamu (Svarajati) - Yadukulakambhoji - Mishra Capu
29. DhirashahnkarabharanamDevi Mina Netri - Shahnkarabharanam - Adi Saroja Dala Netri - Shahnkarabharanam - Adi Nannu Karunihnci Brovu - Shahnkarabharanam - Rupakam Palayashumam - Arabhi - Triputa Nannu Brovarada - Janarahnjani - Triputa Brovavamma - Nilambari - Triputa Ninnu Vina - Bilahari - Jhampa Kamaksi Natovada - Begada - Adi Dayanidhe Mamava (Varnam) - Begada - Adi Sami Ninne - Begada - Adi
36. CalanataPahi Mam Shri Rajarajeshvari - Nata - Rupakam
39. JhalavaraliKarunajudavamma - Varali - Mishra Capu Kamaksi Bahngaru - Varali - Triputa
53. GamanashramaEnneramum - Purvikalyani - Triputa Ninnuvinaga - Purvikalyani - Deshadi, Mishra Nadai
56. ShanmukhapriyaDevi Brova Samayamide - Cintamani - Adi
65. MecakalyaniTalli Ninnu Nera - Kalyani - Mishra Capu Devi Nannu Brova - Kalyani - Jhampa Nive Gatiyani - Kalyani - Tishra Matya Paramukhamenamma - Kalyani - Triputa Birana Varalicci - Kalyani - Tishra Nadai Adi Rave Parvata Rajakumari - Kalyani - Jhampa Shahnkari Shahnkari - Kalyani - Ata Shri Kamaksi - Kalyani - Adi Himadri Sute Pahimam - Kalyani - Tishra Nadai Adi