Pancha Bhuta kritis of Muttuswami Dikshitar

Early thinkers have written that all creation is made up of five elements- space, air, fire, water and earth. As per the Taittriya Upanishad these elements came from the Supreme Being. Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Shakuntala begins with the verse “yA shrShTihi shrAShTurAdhyA bhavati…” which traces all creation to the divine couple Parvati and Parameshwara thereby embodying them as the Supreme source of all creation. In South India, on the same lines, there are five important temples, all dedicated to Lord Shiva, each one of them representing him as one of the five elements.


Muttuswami Dikshitar (1775/6-1835), the great composer visited each one of these shrines and dedicated songs to them. These are today referred to as the Pancha Bhuta Kritis (songs on the five elements). It is not clear if the composer himself intended them to be grouped together, though they do have certain common features. All the five songs have the standard kriti structure of pallavi, anupallavi and charanam. All kritis incorporate the raga mudras, a characteristic of many Muttuswami Dikshitar kritis.


Chidambaram is the shrine where Shiva is worshipped as Space. The sanctum has the world-famous icon of Nataraja, the dancing deity beside which is an empty space referred to as Chidambara Rahasyam or the secret of Chidambaram. The very word Chidambaram is full of cosmic symbolism for it refers to the space within the heart of the devotee where the Lord is said to be in cosmic dance as depicted by Nataraja. This space is also called daharAkAsha. Dikshitar’s kriti here is Ananda naTana prakAsham in raga kEdAra. The song opens with the lines describing the Lord as being effulgent in dance and as the Lord of Sivakamavalli. The first lines of the anupallavi, emphasising the space motif, describe the Lord’s effulgence as being equal to many suns. It then states that he pervades daharAkAsha and grants salvation. The last line of the anupallavi has the legend behind the temple as it states that Shiva displayed himself with an uplifted foot to Patanjali and Vyaghrapada here. The charanam, continuing on the space theme, says the Lord bears the moon and the Ganga (which is believed to be of heavenly origin) and has a blue neck, the colour blue once again indicating space. The importance of Chidambaram as the foremost Shaivaite shrine is emphasised when the composer says Nataraja here is the basis for all shrines beginning with Kedara. The raga name is also incorporated here. Legend has it that 3000 sages left for Chidambaram from Kailasa and on reaching their destination found one missing. The Lord then indicated that He was that person and counting Him in would make 3000. This is highlighted in the line “bhUsura trisahasra munIshvaram”. The song, in keeping with one dedicated to a dancing deity has sollukattus to be sung at the end of the anupallavi and charanam.


shrI kAlahastIsha in raga Huseni is on Shiva as Vayu Linga. A lamp that keeps flickering in the rather airless sanctum shows the manifestation of Shiva as air here. The song says Shiva is like the zephyr to His devotees. The anupallavi states that He is the life breath of the Gods and manifests as the five elements, for all five have shrines for themselves here. The shrine is referred to Dakshina Kailasa (the Southern equivalent to Kailasa). The charanam says the Lord here is the consort of Gnanaprasoonambika. The last line speaks of Kannappa Nayanar as the lowly huntsman who worshipped the Lord here and made the shrine famous. The raga mudra is in the line prANamayakOshAnIla bhUmi salila agni prakAsha. In the Dikshitar system this raga was called UshAni.


The Lord manifests as fire at Tiruvannamalai. Called Arunachalanatha, His consort here is Apitakuchamba. The song in sAranga, aruNAcalanAtham, mentions Her in the pallavi. Simply thinking of Arunachala is said to grant salvation and Dikshitar states this in the opening line of the anupallavi as smaraNAt kaivalya prada. Taking fire as the theme, he says the Lord is like many suns at dawn. The charanam says that He is the ancient effulgent Shiva Linga. It has been scientifically proven that the rock of Arunachala is one of the oldest on earth and has a fiery origin, either a volcanic eruption or a meteor strike. The Linga itself is unusual for it is grey in colour bringing to mind a stone of volcanic origin. Dikshitar states that the Lord bears a Saranga (deer) in His hand, thereby bringing in the raga mudra. The madhyamakAla charanam begins with viprOttama viShEshAntarangam, bringing to mind the special grace shown to Gnanasambanda at this shrine. The last line once again brings in the fire motif – the Lord’s effulgence puts the sun, the moon and fire to shame. sAranga is a synonym for camphor, an easily flammable substance.


jambUpatE in raga Yamuna (also the name of a river) is on Shiva as water, in which form He is worshipped at Tiruvanaikka near Trichy. The sanctum of Shiva always has water from the Kaveri seeping in and in the rainy season it floods the shrine. This is a song steeped in fluid symbolism. The pallavi asks the Lord to give the nectar of bliss. The anupallavi states that He is worshipped by Brahma who is seated on the lotus which is born in water and that He quenches the fires (sorrows) of the heart. Then it states that He is the Lord of the rivers Sindhu, Ganga, Kaveri, Yamuna (also the raga mudra) and Goddess Akhilandeshwari who has a throat like a conch (which is of water origin). The charanam refers to the sthala puranam and says that the Lord here is the water Linga worshipped by the daughter of the mountains and residing at sAmajATavi (the forest of elephants).


Shiva in the form of earth is worshipped in Kanchipuram. Here he is Ekamranatha, residing at the root of a mango tree. He is hence also referred to as mAmUlanAtha. Dikshitar refers to this in cintaya mAkanda mUla kandam. A panel depicting Shiva as Somaskanda (Shiva with Uma and Skanda) is below this mango tree and hence the second line of the song propitiates Somaskanda. The anupallavi states that Shiva’s feet provide empires, an indirect allusion to the Pallava Empire that flourished from here. An empire is also an earthly possession. In the charanam, there are allusions to the God of Love and the God of Death (Shiva excels Madana in beauty and quelled Yama) both important personages for humans. The last lines speak of the deity as Bhairavi prasanga (embraced by Parvati). This brings in the raga mudra and also refers to the purana here where Parvati worshipped Shiva in the form of a sand linga. To test her devotion, Shiva sent a flood through the river Kampa which threatened the linga. Parvati in her anxiety embraced it and Shiva was pleased. This song mentions no consort for there is no shrine for Her in the temple. All the Shiva temples of Kanchipuram have no shrine for Devi and the only Devi shrine is that of Kamakshi.


Dikshitar’s Pancha Bhuta Kritis are fascinating musically and otherwise.







12 Responses to “Pancha Bhuta kritis of Muttuswami Dikshitar”

  1. Arkay Says:

    Dear Sriram,

    The Puncah Bhuta kritis of Dikshitar is a treasure and you hvae given in a nut shell,the highlights of the kriti and kshetras. I ,as usual, enjoyed your writing.

  2. Nandini Kambi Says:

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  3. Dr. Jessie Mercay Says:

    This article on the Pancha Bhoota Sthalams is beautifully written. I take a group of international students to India every year and visit many of these temples. One year we went to all five. My favorite in terms of significance is Chadambarum. In the tradition I follow (vishwakarma under the tuteledge of Dr. V. Ganapati Sthapati of Chennai) Space is Brahmam itself – the source of all. It is a very significant temple. In its origin, it had no deity other than empty Space signifying and manifesting Consciousness itself. It is in fact Space that is worthy of worship.

    thanks again – very enjoyable and deep analysis.

  4. Mayur Shah Says:

    Where can I listen eto these five songs with music? Please point me inthe right direction

  5. K.Balaji Says:

    Dear Sir,

    This is really a wonderful article. Your interpretation regarding the raga of each krithi , showing where exactly in the song the raga mudra is given,etc. is very nice! Mention of the fact that in none of the Shiva temple in Kanchee puram, there is a a separate sannadhi for Devi, is a news to me and thanks. Felt very nice reading the article. – K.Balaji

  6. Vidyaa Says:

    Only now I came across this article. Its wonderfully written, thank you. Best wishes. Vidya

  7. Dr. Jessie Mercay Says:

    Please email me iwth information on where I can find the music mentioned in this article. It is very significant and certainly would assist one on their spiritual path.

  8. » The Grand Spirits of India Says:

    […] 150 years ago, a revered composer Sri Muthuswami Dikhshitar sang in honour of each Spirit. These are performed in classical concerts till this […]

  9. RRajagopal Says:

    Very good analysis of the Kritis. Thanks. Here in Ettayapuram we are celebrating the 238thSri Dikshidar Jayanthi on 26 and 27th March 2012.Smt Sita Rajan of Balabrundam Chennai is taking on the two days with her gurukulam students. Sri Dikshidhar attained Samadhi in Ettayapuram in Turicoring Dist Tamilnadu . Sinces A 1973 we are celebrating the Jayanthi without any pomp show.

    R Rajagopal Secretary Natha Jyothi Sri Muthuswami Dikshidhar Memorial Committee 303Ael Nayana Nagar , Sankarnagar, Tirunelveli

  10. aruNAcalanAtham of Muttuswami Dikshitar « Madras Heritage and Carnatic Music Says:

    […] with Nataraja who is the processional deity. Dikshitar has visited each of these shrines and composed songs on each of the manifestations of Shiva – cintayamAkandamUlakandam in bhairavi, jambUpatE in Yamuna, aruNAcalanAtham in sAranga, […]

  11. Dr Govindarajulu Says:

    Can you tell when and by whom were these specific 5 krithis grouped together? Arunachalanatham, Jambupathe and Chintaya-makanda mention tejomaya-linga, aapu-linga and prithvi-linga respectively. Srikalahasteesha has sameerakara (but later speaks of all 5 elements) but does not discuss the linga. Anandanatanaprakasham seems to be on Nataraja rather than the Akasha linga.

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