Muthuswami Dikshitar was born in Tiruvarur (of Thanjavur in old Mysore State to a Telugu Brahmin couple Ramaswami Dikshitar and Subbamma, as the eldest son. According to the account of Subbarama Dikshitar, Muttuswami Dikshitar was born in the manmatha year, in the month of Panguni under the asterism Krittikaa. He was named after the temple deity, Muttukumaraswamy. He also had two younger brothers Baluswami, Chinnaswami and a sister Balambal.
In keeping with the educational trends of Brahmin boys of that time, Muthuswami learnt the Sanskrit language, Vedas, and other important religious texts. He also obtained his preliminary musical education from his father.
While he was still in his teens, his father sent him on a pilgrimage with a wandering monk named Chidambaranatha Yogi, to gain musical and philosophical knowledge. Over the course of this pilgrimage, he visited many places in North India, and acquired a broad outlook that is reflected in many of his compositions. During their stay in Kashi (Varanasi), his guru Chidambaranatha Yogi, presented Dikshitar with a unique Veena, and died shortly thereafter. The samādhi of Chidambaranatha Yogi can still be seen in the Hanuman Ghat area in Varanasi.
Muthuswami Dikshitar attained mastery over the Veena, and the influence of Veena playing is evident in his compositions. As per his guru’s orders, he went to Tiruttani (a temple town near Chennai). There, while he was immersed deep in meditation, an old man appeared and asked him to open his mouth. He dropped sugar candy into his mouth and disappeared. As he opened his mouth, he had a vision of the deity Muruga and Dikshitar burst forth into his first composition “Shri Nathadi Guruguho” in the raga Mayamalavagowla.
This song addressed the Lord (and/or the guru) in the first declension in Sanskrit. Dikshitar later composed kritis in all the eight declensions on the Lord. These are mostly with epithets glorifying the guru and have very few references to Lord Muruga or specifically to the deity in the saguna form, as at Thiruthani.
He then went on a pilgrimage visiting and composing on temples at Kanchi, Arunachalam , Chidambaram, Tirupathi and Kalahasthi, before returning to Tiruvarur.
His total compositions are about 450 to 500, most of which are very widely sung by musicians today in Carnatic music concerts. Most of his compositions are in Sanskrit and in the Krithi form i.e. poetry set to music. Muthuswami Dikshitar traveled to many holy shrines throughout his life, and composed krithis on the deities and temples he visited.
Each of his compositions is unique and brilliantly crafted. The compositions are known for the depth and soulfulness of the melody – his visions of some of the ragas are still the final word on their structure. His Sanskrit lyrics are in praise of the temple deity, but Muthuswami introduces the Advaita thought seamlessly into his songs, resolving the inherent relationship between Advaita philosophy and polytheistic worship. His songs also contain much information about the history of the temple, and its background, thus preserving many customs followed in these old shrines.
Muttuswami also undertook the project of composing in all the 72 Melakartha ragas, (in his Asampurna Mela scheme) thereby providing a musical example for many rare and lost ragas. Dikshitar was a master of tala and is the only composer to have kritis in all the seven basic talas of the Carnatic scheme. Dikshitar shows his skill in Sanskrit by composing in all the eight declensions.
For richness of raga bhava, sublimity of their philosophic contents and for the grandeur of the sahitya, the songs of Dikshitar stand unsurpassed.