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The Celestial Nagasvaram (Origin, Myths, Reception and the Maestros)

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About the Book   Nagasvaram, world's loudest non-brass acoustic instrument, is known as mangala vadyam (auspicious instrument), and raja vadyam (king of all instruments). This popular wind-group musical instrument is well known all over the south Indian states, more specifically in Tamil Nadu. Its origin is associated with the Thiruvarur Temple and its legacy continued all through the Pallavas, Colas, Pandyas, Nayakas, and Marathas. It ...

About the Book


Nagasvaram, world's loudest non-brass acoustic instrument, is known as mangala vadyam (auspicious instrument), and raja vadyam (king of all instruments). This popular wind-group musical instrument is well known all over the south Indian states, more specifically in Tamil Nadu. Its origin is associated with the Thiruvarur Temple and its legacy continued all through the Pallavas, Colas, Pandyas, Nayakas, and Marathas. It has imprinted its sheen on all the rituals, especially, on the temple festivals and marriages.


This book makes an in-depth study of the history of evolution, penetration and growth of nagasvaram into the cultural moorings of south India over a period of 800 years. It makes a systematic study of nagasvaram (myths associated with it, its making, types, etc.), its accompanying instruments, its relevance in temple festivals, marriages, the traditions associated with nagasvaram, its prevalence and acceptability in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, in addition to Tamil Nadu where it rules the roost. It widely introduces the great maestros of nagasvaram, for whom it was a niskama karma.


Kings, temples and mathas were the promoters of this blissful instrument. At present this art form faces severe challenges from the all-pervasive Western musical instruments. The author suggests ways and means of how to maintain the legacy of nagasvaram live, and the need to preserve the rich heritage of our musical tradition for the benefit of our posterity to realize the Supreme Bliss in their life.


This book, rare of its kind, will enthrall those who are keen on instrumental music, especially the faculty, students, and professionals in the field of music, religion and art.


About the Author


Geetha Rajagopal's tryst with Carnatic Music began during her formative years in Bangalore when she picked up the subtle nuances of this rich art form.


In 2000 she took over as the Executive Director of "Sampradaya" one of the world's richest Carnatic Music Archives that began its operations in 1980 with a grant from Ford Foundation.


She revitalized the organization with a series of programmes and workshops. She has done a 30 minute documentary "A Tryst with the Trinity" as a part of Ford Foundation project. She also embarked on an ambitious Sangeet Natak Akademi's research project on "Music Traditions in South Indian Temples" for which she :was awarded the Senior Fellowship.


She has authored two books - Music Rituals in the Temples of South India and Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar: Exploring the Six Facets of the Genius.


She has been writing in leading journals on music and her passion - Animal Rights - and has also authored a book for children Let's Share the World for the Animal Welfare Board of India and Union Ministry for Environment and Forests.




The author of this book, Mrs Geetha Rajagopal is the director of Sampradaya, a centre for south Indian music tradition.


The book, The Celestial Nagasvaram penned by Mrs Geetha is about the traditional wind instrument of Tamil Nadu, the Nagasvaram. Nagasvaram is basically a temple instrument. There are no temple festivals or auspicious events held without the mangala vadyam, i.e. Nagasvaram. This book elaborately deals with nagasvaram the instrument; the playing techniques involved and also about the eminent vidvans who played the instrument and added glory to it. The author has also written in detail about the Sangeetha Kalanidhi awardees among the Nagasvaram vidvans. There are several colourful and rare photographs which enhance the uniqueness of this book.


I wish the author great success in all her endeavours.




NADA (sound vibration) is that which is. pleasant to the ears (karna). Laya (rhythm or beat) is the very pulse of every movement in the universe. The little interlude between one sound to the other sound and one "vibration" to another is laya. There can be no nada without laya, and no laya without nada. Music is the language of gods and the language of emotions.


Going by the Hindu mythology, music and gods have an eternal relationship. Most of the Hindu gods are associated with a particular instrument - Lord Siva (damaru), Lord Krsna (flute), Goddess Sarasvati (vina), Sage Narada (tanapura), Nandi (god of percussion (mrdangam) and so on.


Our forefathers understood the importance of absolute music and instilled in us the concept of association of musical instruments with gods and goddesses. Music is an integral part of India's religion and culture. It is styled by Gandharva Veda (which is one among the four Upavedas), the other three being Dhanurveda (archery), Ayurveda (medicine), and Arthasastra (statecraft, economic policy and military policy).


The backbone of Indian life is religion. Spirituality is the life-blood of this sacred land and this is our most valued and precious inheritance. Temples and worship places manifest an unseen power. God's manifestation in the idol is the basis of our religious worship. Therefore, visits to such holy and sacred places have been our tradition, and that is being followed even today. The holy visits are conducted with utmost humility, purity in thought, word and deed.


Keeping this in mind our forefathers had set up time- honoured traditions, customs and tenets in the form of meditation, bhajanas, namasankirtanas, satsangas, reading of sacred books, etc. These rituals were prescribed to us hundreds of years ago, with the sole purpose that an ardent devotee and an earnest seeker should feel the presence of the Omnipresent and derive spirituality through them.


From the time of Vedas and during the periods of Agamas, Puranas and Itihasas (ancient texts and literature), the Bhakti movement got spread all over India. It became very powerful during the medieval times.


God can be realized in many ways but sangita-marga (the path of music) is perhaps the easiest and the most pleasant way to reach Him. In south India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, the "Vaisnavite" and the "Saivite" mystics (the twelve Alvars and the sixty-three Nayanmars, and great teachers like Ramanujacarya, Sankaracarya and Madhvacarya) and others took the new manifestation of spiritual force to dizzying heights through their spiritual hymns. The tremendous tidal waves rocked the other parts of the country, in the form of saints like Caitanya, Tukaram, Purandaradasa, Tulasidas, Surdas, Kabir, Mirabai and many others.


Nalayira Divya Prabandham, dedicated to Lord Visnu, consists of 4,000 divine hymns composed by the twelve Alvars and Thirumurai consists of the divine hymns dedicated to Lord Siva by the sixty-three Nayanmars. These poets of the Bhakti period were inspirational and musically oriented to cater to the aesthetic senses of the common devotee.


It should be remembered that the Indian music and dance even influenced South-East Asia, particularly the island of Bali. While some of them recognized the curative and therapeutic power of music, the Indians also realized the spiritual power of music.


There is a popular saying in Sanskrit about music: sruti-mata-pita-laya-sruti (pitch) is the mother and laya (rhythm) is the father. Many of the deities have their own instruments and have always been worshipped as the embodiments of music or art. Lord Siva is the embodiment of nada eternally, playing damaru and He is also the performer of tandava (celestial cosmic dance). Lord Brahma is the origin of music inspired by Samaveda. From the word om (pranava mantra) the following concepts were emanated.


In his song Nadatanumanisam in Cittaranjani Raga, Tyagaraja pays obeisance to Lord Sankara, the embodiment of nada, the primeval sound, to Him who delights in the seven notes - Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni. Born of His five faces are Sadyojatam, Vamadevam, Tatpurusam, Isanam and Aghoram. These five factors are identified as the five faces of Lord Siva and it is believed that the musical notes have emanated from them and passed on to posterity. Lord Siva was supposed to have taught this to his prime disciple and consort Parvati and from then on it was passed on to his other disciples - Sage Narada, Tumburu, Goddess Sarasvati, the eternal Vainka and Nandikesvara (the percussive, mrdangam exponent).


Goddess Sarasvati (the goddess of knowledge) is always associated with Vina. Lord Krsna, the eternal flautist, also claims that He is Samaveda among the Vedas. Goddess Parvati is the embodiment of lasya. Lord Visnu and His consort Goddess Laksmi (the goddess of wealth) are connoisseurs of music.


Sage Narada is always associated with his tanapura and he is also known as the vainika gayaka (an exponent both in vina and vocal music). Nandi, the-bull, is the master of laya and is always associated with mrdangam. Demi-gods like gandharvas, yaksas and kinnaras were supposed to have been proficient in music and musical instruments.


There has always been a perfect unison of nada and laya with Paramatma (Supreme Power). Music and dance were never conceived as mere items of entertainment and in this unison one can find the" transcendental power" of nadopasana .


Classical music and dance had a natural place in with the Hindu temples and religion. Not only were their themes almost always religious, but the performances of dance and music were carried on in the temple premises where these were free for the public. The implication is that those who came to the temple, at least while they were within the temple, were in an elevated state of mind and did not look for cheap entertainment.


Several rulers (kings) in south India were patrons of the fine arts and artists. They built many fine temples in those days. We must remember that in those days temples served the same purpose as the modem auditoriums and patronized artists of different art forms.


Traditionally a balance was struck between the king, who ruled like a feudal lord and patron, and the power of religion. All arts and sciences prospered under the wings of the temples generously supported by the king.


On the other hand, the king's holy mission - to be victorious, respected and revered by his subjects, and maintain peace and calm within his own country - enhances rain and crops, was sustained by the temple priests who served both in temples and the royal court. In short, the temple priests were in-charge of the welfare of the subjects in every aspect.


Temples in south India have played a pivotal and predominant role ill the development and preservation of music in its various forms. In India music and dance were never conceived as mere items of entertainment but as a means of salvation (moksa). Even the greatest men and women of the land treated music and dance as subjects worthy of serious study and practice.


The two main art forms - dance and music - were elevated to the status of vidya (knowledge). They helped the intellect within men and women to understand and absorb something of the infinite.


Music for the Indians has always been the resource, from which they always seek comfort or solace in joy or grief, for prayer or praise. This shows why the Indians give so much of importance to music and why they have a religious passion for the fine arts. It also shows why the fine arts have religion as their very centre of soul and spirit.


In fact, it gives an insight into the important roles the temples played promoting and sustaining art forms, and how art and religion were incorporated into each other in every activity in some form or the other.


Music is a holy art in India. The spiritual side of music has taken deep roots in our land as the people have all along been more prone to spirituality. It is primarily because of the spiritual influence of the temples.


South India is a land of temples and every village invariably has a temple. In fact, the temple is the centre, around which the village is developed. These temples have not only been functioning as places of worship but also as centres of fine arts.


These art forms grew adjuncts to religion and the temples with their vast endowments had a regular establishment with artists like singers, dancers, accompanists (instruments), and composers for offering musical service in its essential precincts. The abundant epigraphical and inscriptional evidences bear testimony to all these fine arts. The hymns that have been preserved over the years also bear testimony to these fine arts. Thus all forms of music and dance became indispensable items of worship and rituals in the temples of south India.


South India has the unique distinction of having set its heart and soul on art and culture. There are no parallels to the hundreds of temples, sculptures and the art forms, and those activities related to these art forms.


It is also very interesting to note that almost all the big and ancient temples are found near rivers like Kaveri, Godavari, Tungabhadra and others. It seems as if even these holy rivers nurtured music and have been patrons to these fine arts.


Music became a way of life and at times mandatory for auspicious occasions like temple festivals, and religious, social, cultural and even political functions.


Temples and mathas were the bastions of cultural centres for the sustenance of musicians and propagation of music. Patronage was primarily the duty of royalty, while many affluent families took patronage of musicians as a status symbol.


Hence in this kind of atmosphere and ambience the artists gave their full to art which they considered divine. They performed as devotees offering their art to the Almighty. Great artists of the past had believed in niskama karma (service without expectation and ego).


The rich heritage of musical traditions, that these great artists have left as a legacy to us, should be preserved for posterity keeping in mind that it is a way of enlightenment to realize the Supreme Bliss.














List of Figures



Introduction: Music is a Form of Worship



Nagasvaram : A Brief History



Accompanying Instruments



Temple Festivals and Nagasvaram Traditions



Nagasvaram in Other South Indian States



Great Nagasvaram Maestros















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Item Code: NAJ937 Author: Geetha Rajagopal Cover: Hardcover Edition: 2015 Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd. ISBN: 9788192702124 Language: English Size: 10.0 inch x 7.5 inch Pages: 206 (72 B/W and Color Illustrations) Other Details: Weight of the Book: 700 gms
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