The second lec dem today was by Kudavayil Balasubramaniam (KB), the renowned scholar and conservator. It was a brilliant presentation, hampered initially by the laptop and projector refusing to consummate their marriage. But with some help from self (mainly hanging around and trying to be useful) and advice of a more practical nature from Dr Pappu, matters progressed smoothly thereafter. The union was blessed and a wonderful presentation was the result.
Prefacing his talk with the remark that temples were where our culture was fostered KB structured his presentation as follows:
1. Instruments seen as offerings to the Gods
2. Instruments as Gods
3. Instruments as seen in literature
4. Instruments as seen in sculpture
All creation is said to have emerged from the damaru or udukkai that Lord Nataraja holds in his hand. No further instance is needed to depict the importance of musical instruments. There is a tradition that holds Lord Shiva to be the origin of all musical instruments. The Kudantai Kizhkottai (Nageswara Swami temple in Kumbhakonam) has several instances of music as being practised by the Gods. In the vimana there is a sculpture of Shiva playing the vina, complete with frets. The utsava icon shows Nataraja dancing with Sivakami keeping the beat. During festivals, a pair of gold cymbals are placed in her hands. The ensemble also includes a small figure of Vishnu as Venugopala. The temple at Pazhayarai also features Shiva playing the vina. This was the shrine where Navukkarasar defeated the Jains. Amaraneethi Nayanar also worshipped here.
At the Ellora Kailasanatha Temple, Shiva is depicted performing on a pot covered with hide. At Darasuram, in the Raja Gambhira Tiru Mandapa, Lord Shiva plays the flute, watched by Uma and Adhikara Nandi. At Kazhugumalai, which is a half-finished Pandyan attempt at recreating an Ellora, Shiva plays a mridanga.
An instance of a musical instrument being considered to be God is the Panchamukha Vadyam which is at Tiruvarur and also Tirutturaipoondi. The latter has a Chola period inscription on its base. The five faces are considered to be representations of the five faces of Lord Shiva – Tatpurusha, Vamadeva, Aghora, Sadyojata and Ishana. KB lamented that both instruments are now silent as the traditional practitioners have died and there is no one trained in the art. It is a tragedy he said, that what was an unbroken line from the time of the Cholas should have died out 15 years ago. The last practitioner was one Sankaramurthy Muttukkarar.
The Sangam literature lists 36 different musical instruments. The Silappadikaram lists 8 and it is significantly the first instance in Tamil where a vina (Naradan Vinai) is listed. Karaikkal Ammayar lists 14 in her verses and one among these is the Kudamuzha, the first instance of the Panchamukha Vadyam. The Tevara Moovar list 35 types. The Pancha Marabu of the 12th Century CE lists 43 and for the first time we see a division into wind, string and skin instruments. Arunagirinathar lists 101 instruments and his period can therefore be considered the acme of musical creativity. The Idangai Valangai Puranam of the 18th-19th century CE lists 13 instruments. It is significant that the Tiruvarur temple still boasts of 18 different instruments in use including the Pari Nayanam and the Kitukitti. But they are all fast vanishing.
Musical instruments are depicted in plenty in sculpture and the last word on them is definitely a long way off. At Tirumayam in Pudukotai, we see Narada and Tumburu playing the Yazh, just above the bas relief carving of Vishnu as Ananthasayin. The same depiction is also seen at Namakkal in the Anantasayin shrine.
Modern writers have depicted the Yazh in a certain fashion but if we look at the ancient sculptures we see a different version. A fine example is Darasuram where in the panels depicting the story of the 63 Nayanmars is the frieze depicting Nilakantha Yazhpanar performing at Maudrai.
The earliest reference to a kind of vina is at Kudimiyamalai where the word Parivadini occurs. At Paduvur, in the Avani Kandarpa Ishwara temple, we see Shiva playing a vina with a kudam. The same instrument is in the hands of a dwarf at Darasuram. In Chidambaram, Narada (a bearded one at that), plays the vina. In Madurai we see a player with a double kudam vina. In Srirangam, there is a broken sculpture showing a woman playing on a vina with 3 kudams. The present day vina was developed by Raghunatha Nayak of the 16th century.
The Padaviyam is a more interesting find. It appears to be an ancient version of the violin for it has a vertical section resting on the chest of the player who plays on it with a bow. The famed inscription of Raja Raja in Thanjavur says four women played on this. At Tiruvidaimarudur, there is an inscription of Rajadiraja (Raja Raja’s grandson) wherein two players on the Padaviyam are mentioned. In Tiruppugalur, there is a depiction of Karaikkal Ammayar playing this instrument. In the Big Temple, a bhuta gana is depicted with this instrument.
The drum appears to have gone through several iterations. In Siyamangalam it is an elongated one while in Chalukya shrines, we see 3 pots played by the same person. In Karandai, we see Banasura playing on 4 pots held together by a rope. In Chidambaram a six-armed deity is playing on a set of pots that have seven openings in them. These appear to be the forerunners of the Panchamukha Vadyam. In Kerala this is called the Mizhavu and Vishnu is depicted performing on it.
The Nagaswaram appears to be a relative latecomer. The first reference is in a 15th century inscription at the Govindaraja Swami temple in Tirupati. The earliest sculpture showing it being performed with tavil accompaniment is in Tirukodikaval.
KB ended the talk with a photo of a temple plate which has a donation by the Nagapasathar community (all musicians, poets and dancers of the area) to the Nageswara Swami temple. On the front face are depicted over 40 musical instruments of which we can identify only 20 or so. Such is life.
A visibly elated Trichy Sankaran asked permission for being the first to speak. He congratulated the speaker in Tamil (as the speech was also in Tamil) and then shared some of the information that he had gleaned from sources such as the Natya Sastra.