Syama Sastri, (1762-1827), is known to the world as one of the great Trinity who raised the monumental edifice of Carnatic music. But he is also known to me as my grandfather's great-grandfather. And it is this unique personal link that enables me to share with the outside world some facts about him, that are not generally known. 

        There is the story, for instance, of the above portrait  of Syama Sastri. It is an original portrait that is in my possession, and it  is the only original from which all published portraits have been derived. On the 7th. February,1827, seven days after his wife had dies, he knew through his knowledge of Astrology, that he had reached  the last day of his life. This prompted him earlier that day to send for a friend of his who was a good  painter, and ask him to draw a portrait of himself. His friend agreed and commenced the portrait. But after  drawing Syama Sastri's  face, his friend decided to complete the portrait another day. Little did he realise that this was not to be, as Syama Sastri would pass away later that day, and the picture would have to be completed from memory later. The original portrait so completed is reproduced above, and has suffered fading and erasure in parts in the centuries that have since gone by. But what is of interest here  is that the small original drawing of the face has been stuck on a larger sheet on which the rest of the detail have been added. The original drawing can be seen clearly demarcated as a rectangle on the portrait so completed. Those who may have been initially surprised that I should have chosen to illustrate this presentation with a portrait of such poor quality, will now see the reason for it. 

        Where did Syama Sastri draw his musical inspiration from ? It was from the Goddess Kamakshi who resided in the sanctum of the Kamakshi temple in Thanjavur, who resided in the small icon of Kamakshi in  the Puja room of his home, and resided also as a living presence in the sanctum of his own heart. If the music that he  bequeathed to Carnatic music had a divine quality, it is surely because he drew inspiration from this divine source. So complete  was his devotional surrender to Kamakshi, that he  became but an instrument, a musical instrument,  in Her Divine hands. 

    To this personal diety Syama Sastri offered his every day prayer, much of which centered around the Sri Vidya Upasana, an ancient and massive Vedic composition. To bring it into a shorter time-frame for every day worship, he composed an abridged version and recorded it in his own hand in the Grantha script on a palm leaf manuscript, comprised of 42 leaves which is today in my possession. An image of the first leaf with a transcript of the text in Grantha and Devanagari is reproduced below. 


Transcript in Grantha
 59ˆ 9Š—ˆO ,Kˆ-L?5P Р 9‹‡%O ,‹%O (‹6?CO =6k‹6ˆB ,K?…‰5ˆ Р —C(ŒGˆO ,K?…‰O - ,‹%O Hˆ6—LCˆ 7?5‰‡ Р ,K?…‰O K7‹Kˆ,ˆ9Š KˆL,+‹ - *‰7ŠCL5 Р 6‰}‰L5ˆKAKˆ,,‚ *ˆ?™ ,™?‰ !‹Gˆ9(‰ Ð "BU‰6Š  L?ˆg‰JŠ ,Uˆ5Š *‰Bˆ%ˆ g,hL'+‹ - Ð LGL+pˆ5h?ˆ5?LCL+U* !‹C?ˆ5P Kx?ˆ'‰L+-6¡ Ð (ŒJ?‰Kˆ  (?KŠM-* ?‰5ŠCˆ ,(hKŠ 59ˆ Р 5?LCˆ9BŠ - 9BKŠ (?B,hˆ  ,*?!ˆK9ˆ Р (?ˆ0SB‹… 9‰*L, L,ˆ9LC &‹?‹B‹!?LCˆ‡ Р &‹?‹B‹!?ˆ9LC B‹L… AL&s ?ˆ9BL,ˆ9‰L5 Ð -6~š5ˆ?ˆ6‹!ŒLA - !‹C?ˆ5P 9Š—ˆ'‰L+-6¡ Ð ,ŒC? -L6~¥(?ˆL& 5‹ 6ˆ6‚9L6U+JKO 'L*5P Р "8 /Jpˆ*ˆ96 !ˆA‡ Р !*ˆL1ˆ5P/ˆ? L*AˆCˆO  ,Kˆ*ˆg6!K?J‰ Р 9Œ(9ŠL( - M6L*L9‚ 59ˆ 6Š?ˆG6ˆ*‰7™ Р 5M8* ;?ˆ,6 *‰7™ /Jpˆ6ˆ9‡ (?B,‚L5 Ð (?JL*(L*ˆ)c-mˆ?‰JŠO /JpˆO 6ˆ9=?gw,U?Œ(‰JŠ¡ Ð "L&? !?ˆ0S‹BC‰5ˆ  :+‹ !ˆLA+‹ 6ˆ9LC5P Ð "8 (?-n‰6s ;?ˆ,6!ˆA‡ Р 9Œ( 9ŠM(| 6Š?ˆG-n5? -ˆK?!ˆ9‰+‹ Р (?-n6s (2?6w‹-‚L, Р
Transcript in Devanagari
t:da dix:aö s:m:ac:rðt:Î . dÙHK:ö s:ØK:ö p:Øn:ry:ö b:nD:Øn:aS: s:m:àe¹t:a . x:y:p:Üj:aö s:m:àe¹ö c: s:ØK:ö W:an:x:y:< D:àet:H . s:m:àe¹ö m:D:Øm:as:adi m:as:ð\:Ø c: ev:D:iy:t:ð . en:¡ndt:<m:l:m:as:sy: v:araò s:aòer kÙj:adep: . A¡Ãn:i  r<ehN:i sv:at:i ev:S:aK:a hst:B:ð\:Ø c: . j:ðÄ<:ra*:y:ð\v:ðv: kÙy:aüt:Î m:n*:aeB:\:ðc:n:m:Î . p:ÜeN:üm:a p:Wc:m:ic:òv: e¾t:iy:a s:pt:m:i t:da .  *:y:<dS:i c: dS:m:i )S:st:a  s:v:ükam:da . p:Wc:a¤S:ع edv:s:ð s:<dy:ð g:Ø,S:Ø#y:<H . g:Ø,S:Ø#ady:ð S:عð l:gn:ð ¾adS:s:<edt:ð . c:ndÓt:araÿn:ØkÝl:ð c: kÙy:aüt:Î dix:aÿeB:\:ðc:n:m:Î . s:Üy:ü c:ndÓ<p:rag:ð t:Ø n:any:dnv:ð\:N:m:ö B:v:ðt:Î . AT: G:NXav:adn: kal:H . kv:aX<t:ÎG:ar v:ðl:ay:aö s:m:av:ahn:km:üeN: . dÝp:dip:ð c: n:òv:ð½ð t:da n:iraj:n:aev:D:aò . t:T:òv: u¾as:n: ev:D:aò G:NXan:adH )S:sy:t:ð . 
)N:v:ð(v:<)ccc:aerN:iö G:NXaö n:adb:ÒÉsv:-ep:N:im:Î . Ag:Òð #a¤ÛS:ey:t:a  O\:Ø kal:ð\:Ø n:ady:ðt:Î . AT: )¡cCÀ u¾as:n:kal:H . dÝp: dip:òÁ n:iraj:cC*: c:am:rkaed\:Ø . )cCÀ p:Yrnm:Øcy:s:ð . 
 In South India today, no musical performance is complete without a rendering of one of his compositions, where devotion,  melody and  verse combine to provide an elevating experience. He composed more than 300 songs, mainly in Sanskrit and Tamil, and also in Telugu , the language of his fore-fathers who came from the Andhra and settled down in Thanjavur.  He wrote his songs also in  his own hand on palm leaf manuscripts. I have had the good fortune to inherit one of these manuscripts, containing the text of many of his compositions. I reproduce below the image of the leaf carrying the very first song he composed, together with a transcription in Tamil. He composed this song  impromptu in the course of his daily prayer. Perhaps he did not intend it as a conscious composition, which accounts for the absence of his "Syama Krishna mudra", or signature, which appears in all his later compositions. Some later versions of this composition also carry this mudra, and may have been added by later disciples perhaps to conform to the convention of affixing the mudra at the end of every composition. 


    A list of Syama Sastri's well known compositions is provided here. In due course it is hoped to provide a complete list along with if possible,  images of the available original manuscripts where they have been recorded. 

    This presentation is important for yet another reason. It highlights a simple, effective and inexpensive technique for the preservation and dissemination of the content of ancient manuscripts, through the use of a Software Package developed 
by the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and demonstrated through the pages of this Web site of Vidya Vrikshah.