Today is the third day of Navaratri. During the 17th and 18th centuries,  Mysooru and Tanjavoor were two main cultural centers in south India. Even today, we can see two distinct “Mysore style” and “Tanjavoor style” of veena playing, traditional paintings and Bharatanatya. Tyagaraja, Mudduswamy Dikshita and Shama Sastry, who are well known as the ‘Trinity’ of Karnataka sangeetha lived in the state of Tanajavoor. Out of these three people, Shama Sastry lived in Tanjavoor city.

Shama Sastry’s real name was Venkatakrishna, but is is better known by his assumed name. His compositions bear his signature  as ‘Shamakrishna’. He was the priest of Bangaru Kamakshi temple in Tanjavoor, and often addresses his favorite deity as  “Shamakrishna sodari” – the sister of Shamakrishna (Vishnu).  Although numerically his compositions are lesser than those of Tyagaraja or Muttuswamy Dikshita, each of his compositions is indeed a gem.

When king  Sharabhoji (1777 AD – 1832AD) was the ruler of Tanjavoor,  once Bobbili Keshavayya, a musician from Andhra came to his court. He was well known for challenging musicians wherever he went. None of the musicians in Tanjavoor court were ready to face Keshavayya, who was adept at singing pallavis involving extremely complicated rhythmic structures.  So, the responsibility fell on Syama Sastry.

When they faced each other, Keshavayya sang a pallavi in Simha nandana tALa, which Shama Sastry comprehended and reproduced. Now, it was Shama Sastry’s turn to challenge Keshavayya next day.

That night while Shama Sastry prayed to Goddess Kamakshi, he sang a new composition in a brand new raga – Chintamani, asking her to protect him at this critical moment.

Devi brova samayamide – in Chintamani raga & Adi tAla, sung by M S Subbulakshmi:

The next day, Shama Sastry sang a pallavi in  Sharabhanandana tALa, which Keshavayya could not reproduce. Accepting his defeat, he gave all the honors he had received till then to Shama Sastry, and left Tanjavoor.

On the third day, the Navaratri kriti of Swathi Tirunal that is sung at Navaratri Mandapam in Thiruvanathapuram is  dEvi pAvani, in sAveri raga. Click here to listen to this composition.

-neelanjana