The Caturdaśarāgamālikā of Muttusvāmi Dīkṣita – an exegesis

Sriram Narainswamy Iyer,
D-21, 02, Ashirwad CHS,
Sector- 29, Vashi,
Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra – 400703
mobile: 7303288905
e-mai address:


Studies in Sanskrit literature are largely concentrated around the kāvyas, rūpakas and allied genres for over several centuries. Rarely are the literary excellences of the Sanskrit musical compositions of Nārāyaṇa Tīrtha, Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar and Svāti Tirunāl taken into consideration by the academia. This paper aims to introduce the profound contributions of these great vāggeyakāras to the sphere of literature along with music by presenting an exegesis of the rare kṛti of Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar, known as Caturdaśarāhamālikā which bears testimony to the abundance of poetic elements in musical compositions.

The Caturdaśarāgamālikā of Muttusvāmi Dīkṣita – an exegesis

Sanskrit literature unrequitedly owes to the path of devotion for the latter’s invaluable contribution in enriching its repertoire by the numerous literary works inspired by the philosophy of bhakti. In this long  tradition of devotional poets, there were on one hand, great philosophers like Śaṅkarācārya,  Vedānta Deśika, Rūpa Gosvāmī, Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭatiri etc., who gave this world some of the finest specimen of Sanskrit poetry in the form of their devotional hymns, on the other hand, there were the great vāggeyakāras like Jayadeva, Nārāyaṇa Tīrtha, Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar and Svāti Tiruṇāḷ, to name a few, who brought about the confluence of the triune traditions of devotion, poetry and music in their numerous evergreen compositions. 

Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar (1775-1835) occupies the highest place among these vāggeyakāras for his erudite compositions exhibiting the richness of raga bhāva, sublimity of  philosophic contents and for the grandeur of  sāhitya (lyrics). His 400 odd compositions are known for their encyclopedic nature reflecting his mastery over Vedas, Vedānta, Purāṇas, Tantras, Jyotişa, music and dance. Also known as the ‘13th Ālvār’ and the ‘64th Nāyanār’, he was one of the greatest apostles of bhakti of the 18th Century.  Dīkṣitar is to Carnatic Music what Śaṅkarācārya was to Sanātana-dharma. His philosophical outlook was inspired by the Advaita-Vedānta of Śaṅkarācārya and his kṛtis, like the stotras of the ācārya were replete with devotion and the bhakti propagated by both was transcendental, devoid of narrow sectarianism. Like the Āḷvārs and the Nāyanmārs, Dīkṣitar was a wandering bard who spent his life visiting several shrines across India, singing eulogizing the deities thereof.


The Caturdaśarāgamālikā is one such musical masterpiece composed in praise of Śrī Viśvanātha, the presiding deity of the temple at Kulikkarai near Thiruvarur in Tamil Nadu. The composition is a unique one set to fourteen rāgās, with every stanza set to a different melody. The composition is particularly noted for the application of the mudrālaṅkāra, whereby the name of every rāga  is suggested in the respective stanzas by deftly incorporating  their names into the epithets of the deity. This particular composition is complex with regard to both the music as well as the lyrics. The application of fourteen dense rāgas and singing them in the anuloma and viloma-krama make the rendition of this composition challenging. The lyrics, laden with several philosophical, mythological and iconographical references, along with poetic figures are terse and deserve a detailed analysis. Here is an attempt to present an exegesis of this kṛti by analyzing the composition word by word and elucidate their purport. 

  1. Śrī Viśvanāthaṃ bhajehaṃ – The kṛti begins with the auspicious Śrī rāga and its name is suggested by using Śrī name as prefix to the name of  Viśvanātha. The principal deity in the temple is named after Kāśī Viśvanātha, who is enshrined here along with his consort in her forms of Viśālākṣī and Annapūrṇa, as in case of Kāśī. Viśva refers to the universe and nātha to the master, hence the name of Viśvanātha, the Lord of the universe. The root bhaj (to serve) is used here to convey the sense of worship. The lyrics thus mean “I worship Śrī Viśvanātha”. The rest of the composition consists of numerous epithets of the deity and are all used in the accusative case , being the antecedents of  Śrī Viśvanātha. 

Caturdaśa-bhuvanarūpa-rāgamālikābharaṇa-dharaṇāntaḥkaraṇaṃBhuvana refers to the world and is etymologically explained as bhavati atra iti bhuvanaṃ i.e where creatures are born. In Hindu cosmology fourteen such worlds are known. They are the seven ūrdhva-lokas or higher worlds viz. bhū, bhuvar, svar, mahār, jana, tapas and satya and seven adho-lokas or lower worlds viz. atala, vitala, sutala , dharātala , rasātala , talātala  and pātāla. Rāgamālā or rāgamālikā is used in the context of Carnatic music to describe a composition that is sung in multiple rāgās. This kṛti is set to fourteen rāgas viz, Śrī, Ārabhī, Gaurī, Nāṭa, Gauḷa, Mohanaṃ, Sāma, Lalitā, Bhairavaṃ, Sāraṅga, Śaṅkarābharaṇaṃ, Kāmbhojī, Devakriyā and Bhūpālaṃ, hence known as Caturdaśarāgamālikā. As in case of many stotras of Śaṅkarācārya such as navaratnamālā and puṣpamālā, where such stotras metaphorized as garlands and are offered to deities, Dīkṣita, too calls this caturdaśarāgamālikā as an ornament (ābharaṇa) of Śiva. As the Lord of the universe, it is justified that the garland of Viśvanātha is comprised of the fourteen worlds, which Dīkṣitar says are represented by his caturdaśarāgamālikā. Antaḥ-karaṇa here stands for the self (ātmā) and hence represents the nature of the deity. Caturdaśa-bhuvanarūpa-rāgamālikābharaṇa-dharaṇāntaḥkaraṇaṃ thus means He, who is adorned with the garland of the fourteen worlds represented by the caturdaśarāgamālikā.

  1. śrīta-jana-saṁsārabhīyāpahaṃ –  Saṁsāra refers to transmigration (saṁsarati asmāt) i.e repeated cycle of births and deaths and hence the cause of miseries. Of those who have sought his refuge (śritajana), he allays the fears of transmigration (bhītyapaha). Sāmsārabhītyapaha resounds the name of the rāga Ārabhī

ādhyāmikādi-tāpatraya-manobhīthyāpahaṃ- Tāpatraya refers to the three-fold miseries i.e ādhyātmika or those pains pertaining to oneself including physical pains or diseases as well as mental  agonies such as sorrow, dejection etc., ādhidaivika or those caused by divine prowess such as natural calamities and ādhibhautika are such pains that are caused by external factors such as men, beasts, birds, serpents etc,. By ādhyāmikādi-tāpatraya-manobhīthyāpahaṃ Śiva is extolled as who allays the fears of the mind pertaining to the threefold miseries. Antya-yamaka is seen in the repetition of bhītyapahaṃ in the successive lines of this stanza. Throughout the kṛti Dīkṣitar uses antya-yamaka in the successive lines of each stanza.

  1. Śrī Viśālākṣī-gaurīśaṃ – Gaurī is a name of Pārvatī which means the fair complexioned one. Viśālākṣī means the one who has large. The beautiful eyes of the Mother Goddess is said to be large and extend up to her ears. Eyes and it is the name of the consort of Viśvanātha of Kāśī. The epithet thus means He, who is the the consort of Gaurī, known as Viśālākṣī. Here Gaurī also refers to the name of the rāga.

sakala-niṣkala-rūpa-saccidānanda-maya-gaurīśaṃ- Saccidānandamaya here refers to Śiva as the Brahman, who is described in the vedāntic texts as to having existence (sat), consciousness (cit) and (ānanda) as its essence. Sakala-niṣkalarūpa is an epithet of Śiva referring to the sakala-niṣkala aspect of the Brahman, i.e Iśvara co-existing with the mūlaprakṛti, as described in the Śāṇḍilyopaniṣad. The compounded epithet therefore means ‘The consort of Gaurī, whose essence is existence-consciousness-bliss and has the form of manifest and unmanifest’

  1. citra-viśva-nāṭaka-prakāśaṃ – Śiva exhibits (prakāśayati) the wonderful (citra) play of this world (viśva-nāṭaka) hence known as Citra-viśva-nāṭaka-prakāśa. The name of the rāga is suggested through the use of the word nāṭaka. Here Dīkṣita compares the universe with a mere drama and Śiva as its creator, just as Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭatiri compares the world to the stage and Viṣṇu to the director of the world-play

jagat-prakāsaka-bhāskaraśaśānka-koti-koti-prakāśaṃ refers to Śiva as who is as crores of suns and moons (bhāskara-śaśāṅka-koṭi-koṭi), who illuminate this universe (jagat-prakāśaka). The figure is upamā.

  1. Govindādi-vinuta-gaulāṅgaṃ- Govinda is an epithet of Viṣṇu, especially his form as Kṛṣṇa referring to him as the Lord of gau i.e cows or earth. Govindādi-vinuta suggests the worship of Śiva by Kṛṣṇa, a probable reference to the austerities practiced by Kṛṣṇa to propitiate Śiva and the birth of Sāmba with the grace of Śiva. Gauḷa, the name of the rāga is used here as a variant of gaura, referring to Śiva’s white complexion. Govindādi-vinuta-gaulāṅgaṃ thus means the ‘One with a whitish body, worshipped by Govinda’. 

kshīra-kundendu karpūrādi-vijaya-bhasitoddhūlitagaulāṅgaṃ- Dīkṣitar further states that the whitish body of Śiva is besmeared by the sacred ash (bhasitoddhūlita), the whiteness of which surpasses that of  milk, jasmine, the moon and camphor. The figure used is pratīpa as the known upamānas of whiteness are slighted by the greater excellence of the upameya i.e the sacred-ash. 


  • guruguha-sammohanakara-liṅgaṃGuruguha, the mudrā of Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar refers to Guha, who was his Guru (guruścā’sau guhaḥ). Guha, the son is said to have been fascinated (mohita) by the glories of Śiva who is represented by the liṅga, hence Guruguha-sammohanakara-liṅgaṃ. Within the phrase sammohanakara is contained the name of the rāgamohanaṃ.


pañcīkṛta-pañcha-mahā-būtha-prapañchādi-mohanakara-liṅgaṃ Prapañca or the   phenomenal world is said to be the result of the compounding (pañcīkaraṇa) of the five great elements viz., ether, air, fire, water and earth according to the the Upaniṣads. The entire prapañca remains swayed by the power of liṅga which represents the Brahman. Hence the epithet pañcīkṛta-pancha-mahā-būtha-prapanchādi-sammohanakara-liṅgaṃ. 

  1. sadāśivam sāmagāna-vinutṃ – In the commentary of Kaivalyopaniṣad, Upaniṣadbrahmayogin explains that He is Sadāśiva, for, He is ever auspicious and non-differentiated (nityakalyāṇa-kaivalya-rūpatvāt). Sāmageya is one of the thousand names of Śiva according to the Liṅga-Purāṇa i.e He is praised in the sāman hymns. Sāmagāna-vinuta is refers to the same. prakṛtyākhya-sapta-rūpa-sāmagāna-vinutaṃ. The grāmageyas and āraṇyakas of Sāmaveda are known as Prakṛti which has seven types of gānas viz,. gāyatragāna, āgneyagāna, aindragāna, pavamānagāna, parvatravagāna, śukrīyagāna and mahānāmnī. prakṛtyādi-sapta-rūpa-sāmagāna-vinuta refers to Śiva as the one praised by the seven-fold sāmagānas of the Prakṛti class.

  1. sanmātraṃ lalitahṛdaya-viditaṃ – He is sanmātra i.e whose essence is Sat or existence unqualified by space and time. Lalita, the name of the rāga is used in the sense of innocent or gentle.  He is said to be known to the innocent hearts (lalita-hṛdaya-vidita).

Kāma-krodhādi stands for the ṣaḍvarga or the group of six inner enemies viz, lust (kāma), anger (krodha), greed (lobha), bewilderment (moha), intoxication (mada) and envy (mātsarya). Thus by the epithet kāma-krodhādi- rahitha-lalita-hṛdaya-vidita, Dīkṣitar eulogizes Śiva as the  one known to the innocent hearts that are free from these inner enemies such as lust, anger etc,. 

  1. Cidākāśa-bhairavaṃ puraharaṃ – Here Dīkṣitar refers to Śiva in his form of Bhairava, who,  in the the tantras is said to be the embodiment of pure consciousness (cit) represented by the sky (ākāśa). Hence he is also known as Cidākāśa- Bhairava. Purahāra, Purāntaka, Purāri, Tripurāri etc,. are the popular epithets of Śiva referring to the legend of Tripura-Vadha. Tārakākṣa, Kamalākṣa and Vidyunmāli, the three sons of Tāraka had a boon that, they could be killed by a single arrow at the moment when the three cities (tripura) that were constantly moving would come together. This great task was achieved by Śiva who made the mountain Meru, his bow, the serpant Vāsuki, his bow-string and Viṣṇu, the arrow

According to the Śatarudra-Saṁhitā of Śiva-Purāṇa, Śiva, infuriated by Brahma’s created a terrible form of himself, who rushed towards Brahma and severed the latter’s head by the tip of the nails of his left hand. Bhairava was later instructed by Śiva to observe the vow of a mendicant with the skull lof Brahma (vidhikapāla) as his begging bowl. Iconographically Bhairava is represented holding the trident and the skull along with the gestures of protection and boon bestowal, which is suggested vidhikapāla-trisūladhara.

  1. Citsabheśvaraṃ sāraṅga-dharaṃ – Citsabheśa is a popular epithet of Śiva, particularly referring to his form of Naṭarāja, the presiding deity of Cidaṃbaraṃ in Tamil Nadu. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple where Naṭarāja is enshrined is known as the Citsabhā or the ‘Hall of conciousness’. He is hence known as Citsabheśvara after his cosmic dance that he performs in the hall symbolizing consciousness. Sāraṅgadhara is an epithet of Śiva referring to his well-known iconographical representation holding a deer. The Skanda-Purāṇa and a few others mention the story of Śiva visiting Dārukāvana as a young mendicant to destroy the ignorance of the sages residing there. Angered by Śiva, whose extraordinary beauty had attracted their wives, these sages tried to attack him through sorcerous rituals. Out of the sacrificial fire arose a tiger, a deer and a red-hot iron. Śiva killed the tiger and wore its skin, caught hold of the deer with his left hand and made the iron one his trident. The epithet Dārukāvana-tapodhana-kalpita-sāraṅga-dhara recalls this episode. 
  2. Sadāśrayāmi śaṅkarābharaṇaṃŚaṅkarābharaṇa, the name of the rāga is used here as an epiethet of Śiva in the sense of ‘whose ornaments bestow auspiciousness’ (śaṅkarāṇi ābharaṇāni yasya). “In Him, who is adorned with the auspicious moon and Gaṅgā, I ever seek shelter (sadā āśrayāmi)” says the poet. Having referred to the ornaments of Śiva in his divine form, Dikṣitar, now speaks about the ornaments that adorn his liṅga enshrined at the Viśvanātha temple. It is suggested that these ornaments are not studded with mere earthly gems, but by celestial rubies (māṇikya-maya) for, they are extremely adept at bestowing the desired objects (cintitārtha-vitaraṇa-dhurīṇatara).

  1. sadgati-dāyakāmbhoja-caraṇaṃ – His lotus-feet bestows beatitude (sadgati). The epithet Sadgati-dāyakāmbhoja-carana also echoes the name of the rāga Kāmbhojī. Samasta-tara refers to the quality of pervading or that which is inherent. Dīkṣitar says, it is the inherent quality of his feet to bestow the four human pursuits viz., piety (dharma), wealth (artha), sensual pleasures (kāma), liberation (mokṣa) hence the name Dharmārthadi-nikhila-puruṣārtha-prada-samasta-tarāmbhoja-caraṇa.

  1. vadānya-deva-kriyā-khelanaṃDevakriyā, the name of the rāga here refers to the divine acts or pastimes that Śiva is known to have enacted in the sacred cities of Madurai and Thiruvarur. These 64 Śiva-līlās of Madurai form the subject matter of the Tamil epic-poem Tiruvilayāḍal-Purāṇaṃ and its Sanskrit adaptation- Hālāsya-Māhātmyaṃ. Śiva-līlārṇava, the well-known mahā-kāvya of Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita too is based on these 64 līlas. The Tamil works known as Tiyāgarāja-līlaigal (Tyāgarāja-līla) are compilations of his līlas performed at Thiruvarur. Referring to the manifold (vadānya) divine plays (deva-kriyā) enacted by Śiva to confer his grace upon his devotees, Dīkṣita calls him Vadānya-devakriyā-khelana.

In the following line Dīkṣitar uses the word devakriyā to refer to the five-cosmic functions (pañca-kṛtyas) viz, creation (sṛṣti), sustenance (sthiti), dissolution (vilaya), disappearance (tirodhāna), grace (anugraha). The epithet echoes the idea of the Pañca-brahmopaniṣat where Śiva is hailed as the Pañcakṛtya-niyantā i.e who presides over the five cosmic functions

  1. Vaidyaliṅga-bhūpāla-pālanaṃ – The Muttusvāmi-dīkṣita-caritam mentions an anecdote in connection with the visit of Dīkṣitar to the temple at Kuḷikkarai, where he is requested by the residents to sing on the deity Viśvanātha in the form of benedictory song on their beloved chieftain Vaidyalinga Mudaliyār, Dīkṣitar does so by composing the Caturdaśamālikā wherein he uses an epithet Vadyaliṅga-bhūpāla-pālana for Śiva, affirming the grace of Śiva upon the chieftain. In this expression the imperative sense of pālana i.e pālayatu, is implied. Śrīpura-nirṛti-bhāga-garta-tīra-sthira-vara-bhūpāla-pālanaṃ gives the geographical location of Gartatīra, the Sanskrit equivalent of Kuḷikkarai, which is located to the South-West (nirṛti-bhāga) of the well-known sacred town of Śrīpura, the present-day Thiruvarur. He calls Śiva as the protector of king Vaidyaliṅga the eminent (vara) eternal (sthira) ruler of Gartatītra situated to the South-West of Śrīpura. Here again the sense of sthira is implied to be benedictory seeking Vaidyalinga Mudaliyar’s long reign. Bhūpāla, a synonym for king is also the name of the rāga.

The concluding portion of the kṛti consists of fourteen epithets of Śiva set to the same fourteen rāgas in their reverse order (anuloma-krama) i.e from Bhūpāla to Śrī:

Guru-gaṇeśa-suranareśa-mahitaṃ (Bhūpāla) – He who is revered by Bṛhaspati, Gaṇapati and Indra.

Kuja-budhādi-graha-gati-vihitaṃ (Devakriyā) – The word gati here is used in the sense of the ‘state of’ and the epithet thus refers to Śiva as the one who conferred upon Kuja (mars) and Budha (mercury) the state of being the planets, echoing the temple legends of Bṛhaspatīśvara and Budheśvara where the respective deities are believed to have worshipped Śiva to secure his grace.
Varadamanalaraviśaśinayanaṃ (Kāmbhoji) – He the bestower of boons has the fire, sun and the moon as his eyes.
Vanaja-candra-sannibhavadanaṃ (Śaṅkarābharaṇaṃ) – His face bears the charm of both the lotus as well as the moon, which are mutually unfriendly.

Paramahaṁsamānanda-nartanaṃ (Sāraṅga) – He is Paramahaṁsa, the supreme ascetic, who dances in ecstasy.
Patita-pāvana-karaṇaṃ madaharaṇaṃ (Bhairavaṃ) – He is the deliverer of the wretched and the destroyer of pride of the likes of Rāvaṇa and Bāṇa.
Parataraṃ parama-mano-laya-jayaṃ (Lalita) – He is higher than the highest (paratara). Manolaya is a reference to delusion or moha. Śiva, the greatest yogi is the one who has conquered delusion.


Parādi-vāk-prakāśananda-mayaṃ (Sāma) – The four-fold speech viz, parā, paśyantī, madhyamā and vaikharī are the manifestations of Śiva, who is the embodiment of bliss.

Viriñci-viṣṇu-rudra-mūrti-mayaṃ (Mohanam) – He is known as the embodiment of Viriñci (Brahma), Viṣṇu and Rudra.

Viṣaya-pañcakarahitamabhayaṃ (Gauḷai) – viṣaya-pañcaka refers to the pentad of sense objects corresponding to five senses of sound, touch, form, taste and smell. Here rahita or ‘being devoid of’ is used in the sense of aviṣaya-pañcaka i.e neither of the five-fold objects implying that he is beyond the ken of the senses. Hence Viṣaya-pañcaka-rahita. Abhaya refers to him as the fearless implying Śiva as the perfected being who knows no fear.

Niratiśaya-sukhada-nipuṇa-taraṃ (Nāṭa) – He is adept at bestowing the unsurpassed bliss.

Nigama-sāramīśvaramamaraṃ (Gaurī) – He is the essence of the Vedas (nigamasāra), the Supreme ruler (Īśvara) and the immortal one (amara).

Samaraharaṃ paramaśivamatulaṃ (Ārabhī) – He, the destroyer of cupid who is supremely pure (paramaśiva) and incomparable (atula

Sarasa-sadaya-hṛdayanilayam aniśam – He resides in the compassionate hearts (sadaya-hṛdaya-nilaya) that are full of love (sarasa). Aniśam  is to be construed with the opening stanza  in the sense of “I ever serve Śrī Viśvanātha”.


The above exegesis is an effort to introduce the literary excellences and the eruditeness of this musical masterpiece of Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar to the larger audience of Sanskrit scholars. The Caturdaśarāgamālikā is only one of the erudite gems that have been created by the great vāggeyakāra of Carnatic Music and I believe the exegesis would certainly invite the attention of Sanskrit scholars and critics towards rich literary value of the Sanskrit compositions in Carnatic Music, which they deserve.