About the Book
Nagasvaram, world's loudest non-brass
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
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
nagasvaram live, and the need to preserve the rich heritage of our musical tradition for
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
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
The author of this book, Mrs Geetha Rajagopal is the director
of Sampradaya, a centre for south Indian music
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.
are several colourful and rare photographs which enhance the uniqueness of this
I wish the author great success in all
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
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.
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
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
percussive, mrdangam exponent).
(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
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
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
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
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
Temple Festivals and Nagasvaram
Nagasvaram in Other South Indian States
Great Nagasvaram Maestros
North Indian Music (293)
Original Texts (64)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend