In the Silappadikaram, reference is made to two types of instruments. They are “Midatrukaruvi” or human voice and “Kuyilukaruvi” or musical instruments. Adiyarkkunallar gives 5 classifications as “Tolkaruvi” or percussion, “Tulaikaruvi” or wind instruments, “Narambukaruvi” or stringed instruments, “Midatrukaruvi” or human voice and “Kanchakaruvi” or gangs and cymbals. Among the wind instruments, flute was very popular. It is also mentioned that the cowherds belonging to the ‘Mullai’ region were adept in playing the flute. A vivid description of how flute was made and how it was played are given. The flute was also called “Vangiyam”, “Pullanguzhal”, “Veinkuzhal” and “Venu”. There is a mention of “Vartanai” which means “Arohanam” – “Avarohanam”. Besides the normal flute, mention is also made of “Konrai”, “Ambal” and “Mullai” Kuzhal, which are made from the respective plants.
Yazh seemed to have been the most commonly used stringed instrument. The praises of God were sung to the accompaniment of yazh. The yazh was loved and most revered by all. The great respect to yazh can be seen from the reference to Madhavi taking the yazh from Kovalan after saluting it, in the Kanalvari of Silappadikaram. The Perumpanar were said to be experts in playing the Periyazh. There is an elaborate description of the yazh and yazh player in the Arangetrukadai. However, Sagodayazh seems to have been used by the debutante on the stage. The strings of the yazh were tuned to the notes of absolute pitch and the instrument itself was played on open strings. From the term “Narambu”, it is evident that in addition to different types of strings, thick guts must have also been used. The strings of the yazh were named after the notes to which they were tuned. This facilitated the playing of different Ragas or Panns by the modal shift of tonic. Among other kinds of yazh mentioned are Periyazh and Siriyazh with 21 and 7 strings respectively. These 2 seem to be the most ancient yazhs. Reference to Makarayazh with 17 or 19 strings and Sagodayazh with 14 strings are also found.
In the Venirkadai, the parts of a yazh are mentioned. It is also said that the yazh must be protected from heat, wind, rain etc. The strings, it says, should be devoid of 4 defects a) inextricable twist b) tiny hairs sticking to the jut c) Sprayed ends of a jut and d) Murukku or twist. This shows that the strings were gut wired. The Venirkadai also gives reference to the posture of yazh while playing. The exact position and posture of the hands are also mentioned. The four defects of yazh are enumerated. These are a) Sempagai or harsh note heard in the string b) Arppu or excessive sruti of string c) Kudam or dull unpleasant tone d) Atirvu or unnecessary shaking and trembling of svaras. These were considered to be serious mistakes. The 8 methods of tuning the yazh are mentioned in Kanalvari. Some technical terms used in the art of yazh playing are given in Kanalvari.
Numerous percussion instruments and drums are mentioned. They were used for different occasions like battle, sacrifice, wedding, funeral and other festivals. The percussion instruments come under the following heads:
a) Agamuzhavu - Maddalam, Edakkai, Sallikai, Karadikai, Berijai, Padagam and Kudamutha.
b) Agappuramuzhavu - Tannumai, Tagunishcham and Takkai.
c) Puramuzhavu- Kanaparai etc.
d) Purappura muzhavu - Neidalparai, etc.
e) Pannamai muzhavu - 4 kinds of Viramuzhavu namely, Muran, Nisalam, Tudimai and Timilai.
f) Nammuzhavu - Nezhigaiparai.
These have been classified based on the superior, middle and inferior distinction. Mention has been made of Murasu, Palliyam, Kalaimurasam and Palliezhuchili murasam. In the dance of hill maiden known as Kunrakuravai, Tondagam Siruparai have been made. The ‘Antarakottu’ or orchestral music mentioned in the Arangetrukadai includes to the beating of Maddalam, Kudamuzha, Edakkai and Amantirikai. The 3 octaves of the human voice have been referred to as Mandanisai, Samanisai and Vallisai for Mandra sthayi, Madhya sthayi and Tara Sthayi respectively in Arangetrukadai.
Among the musical forms, Pattu has been mentioned which refers to a musical composition. This is of two types, Ahanatakam and Puranatakam. Ahanatakam has 28 compositions starting from Kandam while Puranatakam has Devapani, etc. The 4 sections of a musical composition are referred to as Ukkiram, Duruvai, Apogam and Prakkalai. Vuru also seems to refer to a musical composition. Silappadikaram also mentions sacred and secular compositions such as Sendurai, Vendurai, Perundevapani, Sirudevapani, Muttakam, Peruvannam, Atruvarai, Kanalvari, Virimuran and Talaippogumandilam. The musical compositions of the folk category seem to be of 4 kinds – Ammanaivari, Kandukavari, Usalvari and Vallaippattu.
Silappadikaram also gives information on the education of a dancer. The dance teacher was said to be adept in Desi (secular), Margam (orthodox), Ahakuthur, Purakuthur, Santi, Vinodam and a number of Kuthus collectively called Palavagaikuthu. The teacher also had a sound knowledge of Adal (11 kinds of dances), Padal (songs), Kottu (musical instruments), Pani (Measured beats), Tukku (Time beats) and of various gestures. The characteristics of a music teacher, composer, flautist, drummer, yazh player and stage setting are dealt with elaborately. The description of actual dance is also given. Thus Silappadikaram shows an advanced state of evolution in the art of music.
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