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The poetic charm of Tamizh isai

SUGANTHY KRISHNAMACHARI

PROFILE Justice Gokulakrishnan, president of Tamizh Isai Sangam, is the recipient of the 2006 Dr. Rajah Sir Annamalai Chettiar award.

PHOTOS: S. THANTHONI and S.R.RAGHUNATHAN

TAMIZH ISAI SANGAM: Raja Annamalai Mandram

"The Silappadikaram is standing testimony to the high musical culture of the ancient Tamils," wrote Professor Sambamoorthy. Derivation of scales by modal shift of tonic note was known to the Tamils, who had also discovered that there were 22 srutis in an octave.

The Tolkappiyam contains many references to music. Tamil Nadu was classified into many geographical divisions and each had its own music. Thus the music of the mullai division was mullai theembavani, which is the equivalent of the ragam Mohanam. In Tamil music, pan, palai, alagu and kural thiripu correspond to the terms raga, murchana, sruti and graha bheda.

The Pingala Nikandu gives the names of 103 panns. So far research has helped to identify the ragas corresponding to 23 panns. The Silappadikaram mentions many types of musical instruments. Four types of yaazh and many percussion instruments such as tannumai, kinai, parai and kuta mulavu were in vogue. Musicians were called panars, and women who sang were called panini or patalmagalir.

This writer met the retired Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, Justice Gokulakrishnan, president of the Tamizh Isai Sangam since 1983, and recipient of the 2006 Dr. Rajah Sir Annamalai Chettiar award for his contribution to the promotion of Tamizh literature and Tamizh isai. His interest in music goes back to his childhood in Thanjavur, where he was fascinated by the Tevaram and Divya Prabandham recited in temples.

In the 1940s when he was in school, he would follow T.N.Rajarathnam Pillai, as he played the nagaswaram on the maada Veedhis around the Kapali temple. TNR would start playing at 10 p.m., and for the next three hours the young Gokulakrishnan would follow him, listening with rapt attention. He recalls the concerts of Ariyakkudi, Maharajapuram, DKP and other stalwarts that he heard regularly at the Parthasarathy Swami Sabha.

Unifying force

Gokulakrishnan used to help organise what T.R.Mahalingam called his ``special nadagangal." He talks of how the fine arts can be a unifying force. Even when in school, he loved watching village plays. He used to marvel at the bonhomie and camaraderie that prevailed among different communities in the village, all of whom involved themselves wholeheartedly in these grama nadagangal.

It was his interest in Tamil literature that led to his analysis of the musical content of the literature. He recites a verse from Tondaradippodi Azhwar's Tiruppalli Ezhuchi and draws attention to the cadence of the words. He quotes Tirunavukkarasar :



Justice Gokulakrishnan

Salam poovodu doopam marandariyaar Tamizhodu isai paadal marandariyaar

Navukkarasar speaks here of music and Tamizh as divine offerings to God.

Justice Gokulakrishnan details the research activities of the Tamizh Isai Sangam, a name that was suggested to Rajah Sir Annamalai Chettiar by Rajaji.

An evening college was started by the Sangam in 1944, and the present strength of the college is 375. In 1995 a Day College was started. Tevaram, Divyaprabandham, nagaswaram, tavil, Bharatanatyam, nattuvangam, Music Teachers' training course are some of the subjects taught. Diplomas are awarded to successful students. Every year the sangam celebrates Azhwar vizha and Nalvar vizha.

An annual souvenir brought out by the sangam contains research articles on music. The souvenir for 2006 has an article by Dr. Prameela Gurumurthy. She writes of a sangam period treatise on music called ``Pancha Marabu," which speaks of voice training. The book lists herbs and spices that help in preserving the voice. It even has a list of don'ts for singers. It tells them to keep away from fatty foods, and to avoid exposing themselves to smoke.

An article by Dr. S.A.K.Durga points to the fact that Andal has used the word paadi (sing) in many of her pasurams, showing the importance that Tamils gave to music in their worship.

Tamil music would have been lost but for the signal service rendered by religious preceptors like Nathamuni, who in the 9th century A.D. collected and set to tune the Naalayira Divya Prabandham. The Prabandham contains some panns like mudirnda kurinji, not seen in the Tevaram. The Tevaram verses were collected by Nambi Andar Nambi. The works of the Azhwars and Nayanmars have helped preserve Tamil music. Vaishnavite Acharyas like Vedanta Desika take pride in their Tamil heritage. Desika proudly calls himself sandamigu Tamizh maraiyon. One hopes the research activities of the Tamizh Isai Sangam shed more light on the hoary Tamil music tradition.

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