Shyama Shastry – Short biography

Syama Sastri was one of carnatic the musical trinity.

He was born in the year 1762 into a Tamil Brahmin family of Vishwanath Iyer. He was born in the town of Tiruvarur like his contemporaries. His family was not very much into music. His father was a priest in the temple of Bangaaru Kamakshi. Syama Sastry’s real name was Venkata Subrahmanya. He did have a beautiful voice but was not trained in music. Soon his family moved to Tanjore.

One day a saint namely Sangita Svam came to their house from Varanasi. He recognised the talent in Syama Sastry and requested his parents to allow him to impart his knowledge of music to Syama Sastry. Syama Sastry soon learnt all that the saint had to teach. After which, Swami asked Syama Sastry to go to a person called Adiyappayya for further learning. Syama Sastry did so and learnt further  by only listening to Adiyappaya. This is apparent in one of his compositions – “Swara jati” – “Kamakshi” in “Bhairavi Raga”.

Compositions: Most of Syama Sastry’s compostions were sung in the praise of Goddess. He was a priest like is father in a temple. He was a great devotee of the Goddess. His pen name was ‘Syama Krishna’. Syama Sastry composed about 300 compositions. He is said to be the creator of “swara jati”. Eg: “Swara jati” in “Todi”, “Adukula Kambodi” and “Bhairavi”. These are famously referred to as “Ratnatrayam”.

He also created several devotional “Kritis” and “Nava Ratna Maalika”. He was extremely proficient and innovative with Taalas. He created a complex Taala called “Sharabha Nandini”.

Shyama Shastri is known to have been an expert innovator in compositions and Taalas. He is known to have contested against many music experts and defeated them.

Couple of such incidents are retold here..

Once Shyama Shastri contested against Appukutti Nattuvanar in Nagapattinam. Now in those days, musicians were so confident that the challenges involves serious bets such as foregoing one’s life long accomplishments. Appukutti Nattuvanar was defeated by Shyama Shastri and gave up his Tanpura and Taala forever.

In another similar incident, Kesava Iyer a great musician, came to Tanjore and challenged the Tanjore musicians. The contest involved displaying expertise in complex Taalas. Legend says that Shyama shastri prepared himself for this challenge by praying to the Goddess. The great devotee that he was of the Goddess, he prayed to her with his famous composition “Devi brova samaya mide”, which means “Goddess, this the time for you to protect me”. He created the complex “Taala” Sharabha Nandini of 19 ¾ “Kriyas” and defeated Kesava Iyer.

Moral of the story: Believe in your talent and have confidence in it.

He passed away on February 6, 1827.