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Home > Tamil Culture - the Heart of Tamil National Consciousness > Tamil Music > Dr.C.R.Krishnamurthy on இசைத் தமிழ்: Tamil Music - Sangam Period - Cilapathikaram Period - Thevaram Period - Impact of Thirupuhazh
இசைத் தமிழ்: Tamil Music
Since ancient times the Thamizh people regarded music as highly as their literature and believed that all other arts and science were derived from the primordial n^Atham (நாதம்). To mark every occasion from birth, lullaby (தாலாட்டு), through activities kummi (கும்மி), kOlattam (கோலாட்டம்), to death, oppuvari (ஒப்புவரி), traditional lyrics with appropriate music are still in vogue.
References are found in the earlier Sangam Thamizh texts to the importance given to music. Several musical treatises of the Sangam period : isai n^uNukkam, (இசை நுணுக்கம்); Pancha Marabu, (பஞ்ச மரபு) had been lost. Kalit thokai (கலித்தொகை) and ParipAtal (பரிபாடல்) are known for their musically sounding verses (துள்ளல் ஓசை, கலி பரிபாட்டு) as shown in the following line from ParipAtal where the enjoyment derived from music and drama is expressed - பாடல் ஓர்ந்தும் நாடக நயந்தும்.
The classification of habitats into five divisions (திணை) in TholkAppiam had already been discussed. Besides the flora and fauna of these habitats, the social and cultural characteristics had also been described. The state of development of music during this period could be appreciated by the details given to the PaN (பண்), rAgam, the musical instruments uniquely employed and the time of the day when the paN should be sung. For example, KuRinjip paN, (குறிஞ்சிப்பண்) is sung at midnight using the kuRinji yAz,(குறிஞ்சி யாழ்) and the percussion instrument, the paRai (பறை).
The dance performed is called kuravaik kUtthu (குரவைக்கூத்து). Mullaip paN, (முல்லைப்பண்) is sung in the evening to the accompaniment of the percussion instrument, Eru kOt paRai (எறுகோட்பறை) , the dance performed is Aycchiyar kuravai (ஆய்ச்சியர் குரவை). Maruthap paN, (மருதப்பண்) is a morning rAgam; marutha yAz, (மருதயாழ்) is used for this purpose with the accompaniment of the more sophisticated percussion instrument, the muzhavai (முழவை). n^eithal paN, (நெய்தற் பண்) is sung at night using the viLari yAz, (விளரி யாழ்) ; the instruments used are the n^Avai (நாவை) and Pampai (பம்பை) . PAlaip paN, (பாலைப்பண்) is sung at noon using the koRRavai pAlai yAz, (கொற்றவைப் பாலையாழ்) to the accompaniment of thuthi (துதி). The following song describes the maruthap-paN being sung in the morning:
The bard was called PANan (பாணன்) and his wife was known as PAtini (பாடினி). ViRaliyar (விறலியர்) were the dancing girls. Both stringed instruments, harps, (பெரியயாழ், சிறிய்யாழ், மகர யாழ், சடகோப யாழ், செங்கோட்டு யாழ்) and wind instruments, flute, (Kzlf) were used. The big yAz having many strings is played by PerumpANar as indicated below:
The sophistication of the Thamizh music system appears to have reached a peak during the SilappathikAram period. But for the incredible amount of technical details given by iLangO atikaL (இளங்கோ அடிகள்) in SilappathikAram, we may not even be aware today that a highly developed system was in vogue during the first few centuries of the Christian era. Probably this musical system should have been in existence for a while before iLangO atikaL's time for him to dwell at length on the intricacies of the music in the chapters on arankERRu KAthai (அரங்கேற்று காதை) and Aycchiyar kuravai (ஆய்ச்சியர் குரவை).
One of the difficulties encountered in this regard is the fact that the subject is highly technical and falls in a gray area between Thamizh literature and music. To those of us brought up in specific fields of specialization, it is difficult to imagine the breadth and depth of knowledge of the Jain monk who was able to crystallize these technical details of the music in his literary work! The fact remains that the details given by iLangO atikaL remained concealed in verses, until atiyArkku n^allAr (அடியார்க்கு நல்லார்) deciphered the technical details of the music in his commentaries which, in their turn, are also difficult to interpret.
The credit for popularizing the technical details of the Thamizh classical music in SilappathikAram goes to Dr. S.rAman^Athan (எஸ். ராமநாதன்) who during the course of his doctoral thesis, explained the details of the music in simpler terms and how it related to the present system in practice. Though it is recognized that the paNs are the forerunners of the rAgams used now, it appears that the pioneers of the system, which people of Thamizh origin can be justifiably proud of, have not been given the credit they richly deserved. Therefore, at the risk of digression, I have made an attempt to summarize the salient features of classical Thamizh music. I was prompted to do more by an eagerness to emphasize the importance of a neglecteted subject matter rather than by own expertise on the subject.
Thamizh classical music described in SilappathikAram was based on logical, systematic and scientific calculations and was incorporated into the literary epic using the arrangements of the dancers on the stage to represent the notes and paNs. The words, azhaku (அழகு) and mAtthirai (மாத்திரை) refer to musical pitch (சுரம்) or the smallest fraction of an audible sound distinguishable by the human ear. The term, kOvai (கோவை) or kELvi (கேள்வி) is a particular type of a musical sound (note, tone) (நரம்புகள்) which constitute the scale (பாலை).
a) Development of scales (பாலை) from notes.
The Thamizh people first developed the pentatonic scale, mullaip paN (முல்லைப்பண்), using the five notes, (ச, ரி, க, ப, த, ச) (equivalent to the English notations,C,D,E,G,A,C respectively) in the ascending (ஆரோசை) and descending (அவரோசை)scales. Dr.rAman^Athan was the first to demonstrate that these scales of the mullaip paN corresponded to the rAgam, MOhanam (மோஹனம்) which is said to the oldest scale ever developed. In mullaip paN the notes are harmonic to the fullest extent and are therefore found in many other musical systems prevalent in the eastern hemisphere.
b) Development of septatonic notes
By the addition of two more notes, ma and n^i (ம, நி) to the pentatonic scale of mullaip paN, the fundamental septatonic scale of Thamizh music, SempAlai (செம்பாலை) was developed. SempAlai corresponds to HarikAmbOdhi (ஹரிகாம்போதி). The seven basic notes (நரம்புகள்) are developed into 12 houses (பன்னிரு வீடுகள், பன்னிரு நிலம்) or svarasthAnams, which correspond to the 12 signs of the zodiac (இராசிகள்).
The total number of alakukaL (அலகுகள்), sruthis, according to the above scheme comes to 22 (4+4+3+2+4+3+2=22). There is controversy among experts whether this should be 24 or 22.
Next, by the model shift of the tonic (பண்ணுப்பெயர்த்தல்) using the process of the cycle of fifth or cycle of fourth (குரல் திரிபு), five semitones (அந்தர கோல்கள்) were developed. By the cycle of fifth is meant the calculation of every fifth note. For example, if the cycle is started with kural (குரல் - ச), the fifth note will yield iLi (இளி - ப), the sa-pa relationship. In the cycle of fourth, kural (sa) will give uzhai (ma), the sa-ma relationship. These five semitones were added to the original 7 notes giving 12 notes (கோவை, சுரம்) of the ancient Thamizh musical octave. Among the 12 notes, the flats were called kuRai (குறை) and the sharps were called n^iRai (நிறை).
The above 12 panniru vIdukaL (பன்னிரு வீடுகள்) sometimes get 16 svara names with the addition of four more svara varieties (shatsruthi rishabam, suddha ghandhAram, shatsruthi dhuvaitham and suddha n^ishAdham). The 72 mELakartha schemes of rAgams which are used now are built on this principle. In SilappathikAram, the 12 notes and the corresponding signs of the zodiac are represented by the dancing girls arranged in a circle called vattap pAlai (வட்டப்பாலை)
It is indeed amazing that many of the mELakartha, parent, (மேளகர்த்தா)and janya, derived, (ஜன்ய) rAgams used at present can be obtained from the basic scheme of vattap pAlai through the modal shift of the tonic. For example, the ri, ga, ma, pa and dha of SankarAbaraNam (சங்கராபரணம்) would yield the mELakartha rAgams, Karaharapriya (கரகரப்ரியா), ThOdi (தோடி), KalyANi (கல்யாணி), HarikAmbOthi (ஹரிகாபோதி) and n^atabairavi (நடபைரவி) respectively.
In consideration of the tremendous original contribution of the ancient Thamizh people to the development of isait Tamizh, the least we can do to recognize their efforts is to present their ideas in a simple form which can be understood by ordinary people. Mere references to mutthamiz (முத்தமிழ்) alone is not adequate to convince the world that Thamizh music traditions go way back to the fifth century A.D. or even earlier. The need of the hour is for scholars proficient in the subject matter to take up the technical aspects of music and explain the details with reference to the present time. In the Appendix the construction of the vattap pAlai (வட்டப்பாலை)and its application in the derivation of janya rAgams from mElaKartha rAgams are given following the examples of Dr.S.rAman^Athan. Appendix
c) Origin of paNs
Making use of the vattap pAlai and appropriate modal shifts of tonic (அகநிலை & புறநிலை மருதம்), the ancient Thamizh people produced four major paNs with four divisions in each (நாற்பெரும் பண்களும் நால்வகை சாதிகளும்.The four major paNs are as follows:
1. PAlai yAzh (பாலை யாழ்). This represents sempAlai (செம்பாலை) in which the scale starts from mInam (மீனம்) where thAram (n^i) yields uzhai (ma) (உழை).
2. KuRinji yAzh (குறிஞ்சி யாழ்). The scale starts from thulAm (துலாம்) where uzhai (ma) (உழை) gives kural, sa, (குரல்).
3. Marutha yAzh (மருத யாழ்). The scale begins from idapam (இடபம்) where kural (Sa) yields iLi (pa) (இளி).
4. n^eithal yAzh (நெய்தல் யாழ்).The scale starts from thanusu (தனசு) where iLI (pa) (இளி) projects forth thuttham (துத்தம்) ri.
The derivatives of the major scales are called thiRam (திறம்). PaNs have ascending and descending scales of 7 notes in each, ArOsai (ஆரோசை அல்லது ஆரோகணம்) and amarOsai (அமரோசை அல்லது அவரோகணம்) (sexta tonic, 7+7); paNNiyal (பண்ணியல்) with 6 notes (septa tonic, 6+6), thiRam (திறம்) with 5 notes (hepta tonic, 5+5 ) and thiRat thiRam (திறத்திறம்) with 4 notes, 4+4 or various combinations (quadruple tonic).
A total of 103 paNs has been defined and characterized for their musical attributes. The elaboration of paN is called ALatthi (ஆளத்தி அல்லது ஆலாபனை) and definitive procedures have been outlined for the proper singing or paNs. The paNs are sung in 3 octave ranges, the lower (மெலிவு அல்லது மந்திரம்), ma, pa, dha, n^i, middle (சமண் அல்லது மத்திமம்), sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, n^i and high (வலிவு அல்லது தாரம்), sa, ri, ga. A few examples of the rAgams which correspond to the paNs are given below:
Panchamam (பஞசமம் = ஆஹிரி); Pazham Panchuram (பழம் பஞ்சுரம் = சங்கராபரணம்); MEharAhk-kuRinchi (மேகராகக்குறஞ்சி = நீலாம்பரி); pazhanthakka Ragam (பழந் தக்கராகம் = ஆரபி) KuRinji (குறிஞ்சி = மலஹரி); n^atta RAgam (நட்டராகம் - பந்துவராளி); inthaLam (இந்தளம் = நாதநாமக்ரியா); ThakkEsi (தக்கேசி = காம்போதி); Kausikam (கெளசிகம் - பைரவி); NattappAdai (நட்டப்பாடை = கம்பீ நாட்டை).
Thamizh Music in ThEvAram (தேவாரம்) period
The leadership provided by iLangO atikaL in outlining the details of the scientific basis of Thamizh music in SilappathikAram was unfortunately not followed by the authors of the later epics. Perhaps they were more interested in propagating their religious faith rather than getting involved in the details of an art which they did not understand. May be that they were simply not interested in the technical details of the music or dance. Therefore the revival of Thamizh music had to wait for 2 or 3 more centuries until the protagonists of the Saivaite and VaishNavaite traditions came into the picture and incorporated the ancient paNs into their Bhakthi movement to sway the people into their folds.
The contributions of the Saivaite doyens (சைவசமயக் குருவர்கள்) in using the ancient paNs for their devotional ThEvAram poems and those of the AzhvArkaL (ஆழ்வார்கள்) in their Thivyap prabhan^tham poems were mainly responsible for the renaissance of the Thamizh music system. In fact the only relics of our musical heritage that had survived till today is the ThEvAram and Thivyap Prabhan^tham music.
The role of the OthuvAr (ஓதுவார்கள்) in transmitting the ThEvAram paN singing methods over generations and nurturing this great tradition had been the singular redeeming feature in an otherwise declining interest in our ancient musical tradition.
Initially ThEvAram (தேவாரம்) poems were classified on the basis of the paNs used into 7 ThirumuRaikaL (திருமுறைகள்); the first three by Thiru GnAna Sampan^thar (திருஞானசம்பந்தர்); four to six by Thirun^Avuk karasar (திருநாவுக்கரசர்) and the seventh by Suntharar (சுந்தரர்).
In the first ThirumuRai, Sampan^thar used the following 7 paNs: n^attapAdai (நட்டப்பாடை), Thakka rAgam (தக்கராகம்), Pazhanthakka rAgam (பழந்தக்கராகம்), ThakkEsi (தக்கேசி), KuRinji (குறிஞ்சி), ViyAzhak kuRinji (வியாழக்குறிஞ்சி), and MEhaRAhak kuRinji (மேகராகக்குறிஞ்சி). In addition to the paNs, the rhythms ,santham, (சந்தம்) were also specified using words such as thAna (தான), thana (தன) thAnA (தானா) and thanA (தனா). The 8 different types of santhams used in the first ThirumuRai are shown below:
Six paNs were used in the second ThirumuRai and they are: inthaLam (இந்தளம்), SIkAmaram (சீகாமரம்), Piyanthaik kAn^tharam (பயிந்தைக்காந்தாரம்), n^atta RAgam (நட்டராகம்) and Sevvazhi (செவ்வழி).
Nine paNs were used in the third ThirumuRai : KAn^thAra Panchamam (காந்தார பஞ்சமம்), Kolli (கொல்லி), kollik KauvANam (கொல்லிக்கெளவாணம்), Kausikam (கெளசிகம்), Panchamam (பஞசமம்), SAdhAri (சாதாரி), Pazham Panchuram (பழம் பஞ்சுரம்), PuRa n^Irmai (புறநீர்மை) and an^thALik KuRinji (அந் தாளிக்குறிஞ்சி).
Thirun^Avuk karasar and Sun^tharar have used 10 and 17 paNs respectively in their ThirumuRaikaL. KAraikkAl ammaiyAR (காரைக்கால் அம்மையார்) has used the paN, in^thaLam (இந்தளம்) in her MUttha Thiruppathikam (மூத்ததிருப்பதிகம்).
Impact of Thiruppukazh (திருப்புகழ்) on isait Thamizh (இசைத் தமிழ்)
With the decline in the momentum of the Bhakthi movement launched by the Saivaite and VaishNavaite saints, there was a general decrease of interest in the musical component of the ThEvAram and Thivya Prathhan^tam poems. The singing of the ThEvArap paNs, however, continued to be under the tutelage of the OthuvArs (ஓதுவார்கள்), who maintained the musical traditions in a hereditary manner till the present time. This trend continued for several centuries until the San^thak kavi aruNakiriyAr (சந்தக்கவி அருணகிரியார்) (15th century) came up with his reverberating Thiruppukazh filled with divine inspiration, appealing music and incredible rhythm.
The unique style of aruNakiriyAr wherein he incorporated the thALams right into the lyrics added a new dimension to the magnificence of isait Thamiz. Thus Thiruppukazh helped the revitalization of Thamizh music at least a few centuries prior to the musical trinity, ThiAgarAjar (தியாகராஜர்), MuthuswAmi DIkshitar (முத்துசுவாமி தீஷிதர்) and SyAmA SAstry (சாமசாஸ்திரி).
Though many Thiruppukazh songs were lost or allowed to decay, a few individuals in the 19th century (Mazhavai MahAlinga iyer (மழவை மகாலிங்க ஐயர்), ThiruvUr SubbarAya MuthaliyAr (tiRv>rf Cpfpray Mtliyarf), Pushparatha Chetty (p<xfprtecdfF) and SubramaNiya Pillai (சுப்பிரமணிய பிள்ளை) made painstaking efforts to collect whatever materials were available from various sources and got them published periodically.
A recent doctoral thesis by ankayaRkaNNi (அங்கயற்கண்ணி) to the University of Madras contains fascinating details on the thALam and santhak kuRippukaL (சந்தக்குறிப்புகள்) in Thiruppukazh, which any student of Thamizh music and literature will find extremely useful and interesting. Certainly the author deserves credit for her original contributions to a subject matter lying in the interface between literature and music.
Other contributions to isait Thamizh (தமிழ் கீர்த்தனைகள்)
a) After aruNakiriyAr's time, no spectacular development of Thamizh music took place due to a large number of social and political factors including the lack of patronage. However a few outstanding individuals have composed Thamizh kIrtanais (கீர்த்தனைகள்) which are still popular among music lovers.
b) Muthut thANdavar (மூத்துத்தாண்டவர்) (16th century). He had composed more than 60 kIrthanais and 25 pathams (பதம்) in Thamizh. He is highly regarded for his efforts to popularize Thamizh music. Among his compositions are the following: (தெருவில் வாரானோ என்னைச் சற்றே திரும்பிப்பாரானோ (கமாஸ), அருமருந்தொரு தனிமருந்துண்டு அம்பலத்தில் கண்டேனே (மோகனம்)
c) aruNAchala Kavi (அருணாசலக்கவி)(1712-1779) His rAma n^Ataka KIrthanai (ராமநாடகக் கீர்த்தனை) is popular even at the present time. His compositions are sung in almost every music concert today. These include: (ஏன் பள்ளி கொண்டீரையா (மோகனம்), எனக்கு நிருபதம் நினைக்க வரம் அருள்வாய் (ராகமாலிகை), அந்தராம செளந்தரியம் (கேதாரகெளளை), ராமனைக்கண்ணாரக் கண்டேனே (மோகனம்), யாரென்று ராகவனை (பைரவி).
d) MArimutthA PiLLai (மாரிமுத்தாபிள்ளை) was a contemporary of aruNachala Kavi and a devotee of Thillai n^atarAjar. His songs which are still popular in music and Bharatha n^Attyam concerts are: (ஏதுக்கித்தனை மோடிதான் உனக்கு எந்தன் மீதையா (சுரட்டி), காலைத்தூக்கி நின்டும் தெய்வமே உன்னை (எதுகுலகாம்போதி), ஒருக்கால் சிவசிதம்பரம் (ஆரபி).
e) GOpAlakrishNa BhArathi (கோபாலகிருஷண பாரதி) (1800-1895) He was a contemporary of the great ThiAgarAjar (தியாகராஜர்) and had composed a large number of Thamizh songs including the famous n^an^than Saritthira KIrthanaikaL (நந்தன் சரித்திர கீர்த்தனைகள்). His other popular compositions are: (சபாபதிக்கு வேறு தெய்வம் சமானமாகுமா (ஆபோகி), திருவடி சரணம் என்று நான் நம்பி வந்தேன் (காம்போதி), நடனம் ஆடினார் வெகு நாகரிகமாக (வசந்தா).
f) Kavi Kunjara BhArathi (கவிகுஞ்சர பாரதி) (1826-1889) His famous work is the azhakar KuRavanji (அழகர் குறவஞ்சி), a dance drama. Others who have written a large number of Thamizh songs include: GhAnam KrishNa Iyer (கானம் கிருஷ்ண ஐயர்) noted for his patham (பதம்) (வேலவரே உமைத் தேடி ஒரு மடந்தை (பைரவி), n^Ilakanta Sivan (nIlk]fdciv[f) whose songs are still popular hits in music concerts. (நவசித்திபெற்றாலும் (கரகரப்ரியா), என்றைக்கு சிவகிருபை வருமோ (முகாரி), ஆனந்த நடம் ஆடுவார் தில்லை (பூர்விகல்யாணி), இகபரம் தரும் பெருமை (கமாஸ).
The Thamizh poets of the twentieth century who have made tremendous contributions to Thamizh music include: KOtIswara iyer (கோடீச்வர ஐயர்), MutthiAh BhAgavathar (முத்தைய பகவதர்), MAyUram Viswan^Atha SAstri (மாயூரம் விஸ்வநாத சாஸ்திரி), PApanAsam Sivan (பாபநாஸம்சிவன்), SuddhAnan^tha BhArathi (சுத்தானந்த பாரதி), PeriaswAmi ThUran (பெரியசுவாமி தூரன்), ambujam KrishNa (அம்புஜம் கிருஷ்ணா) and others.
g) Though the Thamizh people deserve much credit for preserving their literary (இயல்) heritage including the grammatical usage for two millenniums, the same thing cannot be said of their efforts in safeguarding their musical traditions. In fact, but for some extraordinary, nay desperate attempts on the part of a few dedicated Thamizh lovers, many today would not even be aware that a highly developed system of Thamizh music system was in vogue during the first few centuries of the Christian era. Whether this pathetic situation arose due to highly technical nature of the classical music being confined to a small circle of royalty and social elites or due to vested interests in the social hierarchy of the time is only of academic interest.
The generosity of philanthropists led by RajAh Sir aNNAmalai ChettiAr (ராஜா சர் அண்ணாமலை செட்டியார்), the political leadership of R.K.Shanmugam ChettiAr (ஆர்.கே. சண்முகம் செட்டியார்), and C.N.aNNathurai, the literary caliber of n^Amakkal Kavignar rAmalingam PiLLai, YOgi SutthAnan^tha BhArathi (யோகி சுத்தானந்த பாரதி) and BhArathi DhAsan (பாரதிதாசன்), the academic strength of n^Avalar SOmasun^thara BhArathi, (நாவலர் சோமசுந்தர பாரதி), T.P.MInAtchi sun^tharan (பேராசிரியர் மீனாட்சிசுந்தரன்), M. VaradharAjan (மு.வரதராஜன்), A.K. Chithambara n^Athan ChettiAr (ஏ.கே. சிதம்பரநாத செட்டியார்) and L.P.K.rAman^Athan ChettiAr (லெ.ப.கரு.ராமநாதன் செட்டியார்), ViyApurip PiLLai (வையாபுரிப் பிள்ளை) and the patronage of a large number of Thamizh lovers, too numerous to be mentioned individually made the birth of the Thamizh isai Sangam possible.
Leading musicians, HarikEsanallur MuthiAh BhAgavathar (ஹரிகேசநல்லூர் முத்தையா பாகவதர்),ChitthUr SubramaNiya PiLLai (சித்தூர் சுப்பிரமணிய பிள்ளை), M.M.DhandapANi DhEsikar (தண்டபாணி தேசிகர்), Mathurai SOmasun^tharam (மதுரை சோமசுந்தரம்), SIrkAzhi GOvindarAjan (சீர்காழி கோவிந்த்ராஜன்) and others nurtured the activities of the Thamizh isai Sangam by demonstrating that the singing of Thamizh compositions in major music concerts was aesthetically very satisfying and meaningful. The outcome of the efforts of these and other large number of Thamizh lovers too numerous to be mentioned individually is that isait Tamizh received a big boost and remains as a viable force in the twentieth century. Dr. rAmanAthan's PaN research is being followed by a large number of scholars and musicians.