Nâdaswaram is the music of the masses. No temple festival or wedding procession in South India is complete without a concert of music emanating from this popular instrument. Made out of a type of wood called 'achcha', the instrument is 2 to 2-1/2 feet long and is conical in shape enlarging downwards.
Nâdaswaram began as the temple music and from the temple it spread to social functions. Different notes are played, for different occasions. When one particular note is played listeners can identify the function or the event: commencement of a festival, anointing of the deity, dîpa aradhana, Tiruppalli Ezhuchi, etc. Nâdaswaram is intended for a wide audience. Not only invitees to or participants in a function, but also people staying in far-off places can listen to and be charmed by it, because of its pitch, intensity and timbrel.
The Nâdaswaram performers are experts, able to produce all the graces that this land of music is famous for. The melodies are interwoven with countless variations.
A classical Nâdaswaram artiste is in great demand and makes a very good living. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations in New Delhi includes Nâdaswaram players in its delegations to overseas countries. Gramophone records or cassettes of leading Nâdaswaram players can be purchased and these will be good 'souvenirs' to take home as mementos.
In Nâdaswaram concerts, the piper is accompanied by other musicians on Thavil (Drum). The performances go on for hours together and draw large audiences in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries. The masses and the elite relish it in festivals and marriages till the small hours of the morning, without getting bored. In fact they encourage the musicians by their tâlam (rhythmic beats). One feature of this art is that it is generally rendered standing and walking during festival and marriage processions.
A few women too handle the Nâdaswaram. Recently Muslims, Europeans and American jazz musicians have also practiced it successfully. The Nâdaswaram College at Palani, established in 1957, is located on the Giri Veedi in an unpretentious building. A four-year course is offered in gurukula method, unfettered by the rules and regulations of universities. The intake is 65 students, 23 in Thavil and 42 in Nâdaswaram. The age group ranges from 10 to 15 and only one batch of students is trained at a time. Students are given free boarding, lodging, medical facilities and a set of dress for Deepavali. Certificates are issued by the Devasthânam on completion of the course. The alumni of this college include Nâdaswaram maestros like Keevalur Ganesan, Pandanainallur Lakshmikanthan, Palani Krishnasamy alias Kittu and Tiruppambaram Swâminâthan.
School of Tevaram Music
The Thevara Isai Palli maintained by the Devasthânam teaches traditional Tevaram hymns in the recognized panns and trains them to become oduvârs.