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Recreating treasures of the past

SUGANTHY KRISHNAMACHARI

Yazh, mayuri, the darbu… Sangita Vadyalaya’s mission is to reconstruct ancient musical instruments.



Aesthetic array: Obsolete instruments, North and South, reconstructed at Sangita Vadyalaya.

There are hollowed coconut shells, brass gongs, a peacock made of wood, and there is music all around you. Welcome to Sangita Vadyalaya, Centre for the Development of Musical instruments. The coconut shells, the wooden peacock and the gongs are all musical instruments!

The centre, located on Anna Salai (28592485/28591869), comes under the Ministry of Commerce. It was started in 1956, with Prof. Sambamurthy as Director, to organise a gallery of musical instruments, and to reconstruct obsolete ones.

Gopal, who has been with the institute since 1985, studies books on old instruments, and follows this up with visits to temples to see sculptures depicting the instruments, so that he can recreate them.

Yazh, of different kinds, for example, has been mentioned in the Silappadikaram, and can be seen in sculptures in the Darasuram and Tirumeyyam temples in Tamil Nadu and also in Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh. But they are no longer in vogue. The vil yazh, the sakota yazh, the makara yazh and the senkottu yazh have all been reconstructed at the centre.


A pancha mukha vadyam, similar to the one seen at the Tiruvaiyaru temple, is on display. It consists of a big bronze shell, to the top of which are fixed five hollow cylinders, covered with skin. Since the instrument has a common resonating chamber, even if only one face is struck, the other faces vibrate too. The mayuri is a North Indian stringed instrument, so called because it resembles a peacock.

The collection at the centre has been enriched by contributions from individuals. There is a pranava bell, presented by actor Chittoor V. Nagiah. This bell has no clapper. When the rim is rubbed with a wooden stick, a note suggestive of “aum” is heard. The veena that was used by Veena Seshanna is also on display. The centre has prototypes of rare Western instruments. Rubbing shoulders with the aristocratic yazh, are simple, yet ingenious village instruments. For instance, the thandi paanai — an instrument made with the humblest of materials — a mud pot, a string, goat’s skin and a wooden peg. And yet it is a compound instrument that is both a drone and rhythm accompaniment.

Folk instruments

There are folk instruments from Mizoram such as the darbu, which is a set of brass gongs, and the beng bung, which consists of six hollowed pieces of wood, each producing a different note when struck.


Gopal, the only artisan attached to the centre, learnt the art of making musical instruments from his father Somu Achari, who used to make mridangams for Palghat Mani Iyer, Umayalpuram Sivaraman and T.V.Gopalakrishnan, and tamburas for MLV. “Mani Iyer used to call me Kutti Achari,” says Gopal. Instruments from the centre have been displayed in schools across the State, and at national meets.

K. Karuppiah, Assistant Director-Display, has a suggestion: “ Just as musicians are given awards by sabhas and by the Government, those who make musical instruments should also be given awards.”

The centre used to make instruments to be sold to the public at reasonable rates, a practice that has been discontinued. It would be a good idea to revive the manufacturing unit. The institute can also make replicas of Indian musical instruments for display in other countries, he says.

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