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Nadaswaram, also spelt Nadhaswaram, and also called Nagaswaram, is one of the most popular classical instruments of south India and the world's loudest non-brass acoustic instrument. It is a wind instrument similar to the North Indian shehnai but larger, with a hardwood body and a large flaring bell made of wood or metal.
In India the nadaswaram is considered to be very auspicious, and it is the key instrument which is played in almost all Hindu marriages and temples in South India. The instrument is usually played in pairs, and accompanied by a pair of drums called thavil.
The nadaswaram contains three parts namely, kuzhal, thimiru, and anasu. Traditionally the body of the nagaswaram is made out of a tree called aacha.
Some of the greatest early exponents of the nadaswaram include Thiruvavadudurai Rajaratnam Pillai and Sangita Kalanidi Thiruvizhimizhalai Subrahmanya Pillai. In more recent times Namagiripettai Krishnan, Karukurichi Arunachalam, Sheik Chinna Moulana, Thiruvarur S Latchappa Pillai are well known nagaswaram artists.
U.S. composers such as Lewis Spratlan and Carl Stone have expressed admiration for the nadaswaram, and a few jazz musicians have taken up the instrument: Charlie Mariano (b. 1923) is one of the few non-Indians able to play the instrument, having studied it while living in India; and Vinny Golia, J. D. Parran, and William Parker have recorded with the instrument. Tim Price, a student of Charlie Mariano at Berklee, also plays the nadaswaram. The German saxophonist Roland Schaeffer also plays it, having studied from 1981 to 1985 with Karupaia Pillai.
Belongs to the woodwind family known as a "Mangala Vadya" (lit. "mangala" means auspicious, vadya - instrument) since it is played in temples, processions, festivals and auspicious occasions like marriages, etc. It is a double reed instrument with a conical bore which gradually enlarges toward the lower end. It is usually made of a type of ebony. The top portion has a metal staple (called "Mel Anaichu") into which is inserted a small metallic cylinder (called "Kendai") which carries the mouthpiece made of reed. Besides spare reeds, a small ivory or horn needle is attached to the Nagaswaram. This needle is used to clear the mouthpiece of saliva particles and allows the free passage of air. A metallic bell (called "Keezh anaichu") decorates the bottom.
The Nagaswaram has seven finger-holes. There are five additional holes drilled at the bottom which are used as controllers. The Nagaswaram has a range of two and a half octaves like the flute. The system of fingering is similar to that of the flute. But unlike the flute, where semi and quarter tones are produced by the partial opening and closing of the finger holes, in the Nagaswaram they are produced by adjusting the pressure and strength of the air-flow into the pipe. Hence it is a very exacting instrument. Also, due to its intense volume and strength it is basically an outdoor instrument and much more suited for open spaces than for closed indoor concert situations.
Appar Adigal, the celebrated Saivaite Saint categorically states that Thiruvarur temple is the place God Shiva both in a formless and with a form, had his temple dedicated as Thyagaraja Swami.
The sthala purnam of Thiruvarur states that the wind instrument Nadhaswaram was part of the entourage that was brought along with the presiding deity Thyagaraja Swami and as such being played in the temple from the very beginning. Those who handled this instrument were referred to as nainar adiyar and this name was associated with the exponents of Nadhaswaram at Thiruvarur.
Tharakeswaran and Marakeswaran are the first generation of this tribe. Notable among this earlier generation are Thanjan, Kamaleswaran and Saminatha Iyah, Kamala Thyagesan, and Somasekaran.
Historical evidences speak volumes about the musical ability of this genre and it is believed that after listening to the Nadhaswaram playing of Thanjan, a great exponent of Nadhaswaram playing, The Chola King named the Punnai town as Thanjai town, now known as Tanjavur.
The wind instrument :
Nadhaswaram belongs to the woodwind family known as a "Mangala Vadya". "Mangala" means auspicious, vadya – instrument, since it is played in temples, processions, festivals and auspicious occasions like marriages, etc. It is a double reed instrument with a conical bore which gradually enlarges toward the lower end. It is usually made of a type of ebony. The top portion has a metal staple the "Mel Anaichu" into which is inserted a small metallic cylinder the "Kendai" which carries the mouthpiece made of reed.
Besides spare reeds, a small ivory or horn needle is attached to the Nadhaswaram. This needle is used to clear the mouthpiece of saliva particles and allows the free passage of air. A metallic bell "Keezh anaichu" decorates the bottom.
Raga Alapana has been, and still is, a special feature of Nadhaswaram music. There is room for the most expensive raga alapanas only in this. When a raga is being expensively portrayed in the alapana stage using this instrument, it takes both the artistes and the listeners into another realm beyond time and space.
It is Nadhaswaram music that, by stretching the musicians' imagination, gave the idea that the dimensions of the human voice could be enlarged. Vocalists nurtured on Nadhaswaram music understood this well. While the Nadhaswaram's potential enabled its exponents to open up their imagination, it can be stated that Nadhaswaram music helped add a new image and lustre to vocal music. The expansive raga alapanas presented by great Nagasvara vidwans inspired several vocalists and helped give a new shape to their concert presentations. When vocalists, inspired by the Nagasvara bani, presented raga alapana expansively, but rooted in tradition, their fame reached new peaks.
Nadhaswara playing is a complex technique. The half-notes and quarter-notes in Nadhaswaram are not produced by the partial closing and opening of the finger holes as in the Indian flute, but by adjusting the pressure of the air blown in the pipe. This is a laborious process, and it consequently takes a long time to attain proficiency in playing this instrument. Gamakas, which are the life and soul of and also peculiar to Indian music, are easily produced in Nadhaswaram by breath control and the fingers of the performer. Nadhaswaram produces all the nuances of Carnatic music and in the hands of an expert it almost speaks like a human voice.
The tradition of playing two Nadhaswaram to the accompaniment of two thavil has its origin to Thiruvarur. The Mallari playing tradition is also credited to the Thiruvarur Temple practice. The Nadhaswaram playing commences with playing in mantra sthayi in madhdhima kalam, as Thiruvarur is the moola kshetram. When the deity is taken out for procession a composition known as Mallari is played. It is a rhythmic composition and is usually played in the raga Gambheeranadai.
Today we find three or four Mallari rendered within thirty minutes in every other place, whereas it took more than thirty minutes to elaborately play it in its original beauty at Tiruvaur Temple.
Importance of sahitya:
Proper knowledge of sahitya is a must for Nadhaswara vidwans. This should not be compromised on. It is very important for every Nadhaswara student to learn vocal music first. While rendering the kritis of Muthuswami Dikshitar in Nadhaswaram, the tongue plays a major role in producing the tuttukaram-s, which in turn brings out the sahityanubhava (feel of the sahitya/lyrics). Systematic and proper sahitya patantara is the special feature of our school.
While rendering ragas like Sindhubhairavi, Yamankalyani, Desh etc. and also while rendering compositions in those ragas, bringing out melody is another important factor. Melody is brought through breath control, and here lips play an important role. When rendering these Hindustani ragas, listeners can feel the synchronization of Nadhaswaram with the Shehnai of the north. This aspect and style of rendering is exclusively identified with the Thiruvarur Bhani.