Western Compositions and Nottuswaras

Dr V Raghavan’s book on Muthuswami Dikshitar, the review of which we carried on March 20, has evoked overwhelming interest from our readers. Inspired by the Nottuswaras of Dikshitar that find mention in the book, Prince Rama Varma, the acclaimed musician, musicologist and composer has sent us the following note on the same.

Fusion seems to be one of the many things that are seen as modern and trendy these days, in the 21st century. 

But a marriage between Western and Indian music happened several centuries ago, in the form of these quaint, charming little songs where the melodies originated in Europe and England and the lyrics were written, usually in Sanskrit, by Indian legends like Muthuswami Dikshitar,  Thyagaraja, Maharaja Swathi Thirunal and others.

These came to be called Nottuswarams, which basically mean the same thing in English (Note) and Indian languages (Swaram.)

Dikshitar leads by far, with more than 30 Nottuswarams to his credit. Several scholars have been doing research to find out the original Western melodies based on which these songs were written.  There is one melody which used to be so popular at the time that Dikshitar, Thyagaraja and Swathi Thirunal have all written lyrics for the same tune! (Sura Moorthe, Gatha Moha and Hara Svedam respectively. ) 

In the 20th century, composers like Harikesanallur Muthaiah Bhagavathar have composed Western sounding melodies like a sort of Carnatic Waltz, called the English Note or the Western Note, (regularly sung by the Great Madurai Mani Iyer, which makes people call it the Madurai Mani Iyer Note too!) which do not have lyrics. 

I have been rendering them regularly during my concerts at various locations over the years.

Here is a collection of Western Nottuswarams by various composers; mostly by Dikshitar and a few mini surprises, with the links to some of the original songs in the video descriptions wherever I could find them. 

The lyrics are so charming and lovely and so perfectly matched with the melodies, that they go straight to the heart! 

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