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SYAMA SASTRI (1762-1827)
Musical Background: Syama Sastri did not come from a family of musicians, but was taught some music by his uncle. Despite being groomed to be a priest, he had plenty of interest and talent in music. He was taught by an ascetic, Sangeeta Swami, about the intricacies of raga and tala.

Region: Syama Sastri was born in Tiruvarur, Tanjavur district, but lived in Tanjavur. He did not travel much.


  • Compositions: Syama Sastri is credited with about 300 songs, of which only about 60 - 70 are available today. He composed a group of nine kritis known as Navaratnamalika (garland of nine gems) in praise of Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai temple. He has composed three peerless Swarajatis, collectively known as the Ratnatrayam. He has also composed a few Varnams, not to mention other compositions in rare ragas, like Chintamani  (his own discovery), Kalagada etc. His favourite raga seems to be Anandabhairavi, in which he has excelled himself.
  • Rhythmic aspects: Some of Syama Sastri‚Äôs songs are very rich in rhythmic conception. Though he composed in talas like Adi, Triputa, Roopaka, etc., he specialised in Misra Chapu, where he not only used the normal pattern (3+4), but also the reverse (4+3), called the Viloma Chapu. His use of different gatis like Tisra and Misra in his compositions show his prowess in Laya.

There is an interesting incident, which is a testimony to his strength in Laya. He was once challenged by Bobbili Kesavayya to sing a Pallavi in Simhanandana tala (the longest tala with 128 beats per cycle). To everyone's amazement, he not only sang it but also composed a new Pallavi in Sarabhanandana tala (79 beats per cycle).

Theme: His compositions were totally devotional in nature, mostly in praise of Goddess Kamakshi of Kanchipuram.

Languages used: Predominantly Telugu; a few in Sanskrit and Tamil.

Signature: Syama Sastri used the mudra, Syamakrishna.

Popular kritis: Kamakshi (Bhairavi), Himadrisute (Kalyani), Sankari Sankuru (Saveri) etc.

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