Glories of ancient Tamil Music | Daily News

Glories of ancient Tamil Music

Language, music and drama were interwoven in the lives of the Tamils from ancient days. In ancient times, Tamil music was called Pun. But at present, the Carnatic music is manifested through Ragas. In ancient times, male musicians were called Pannar and female musicians were called Pannathiyar or Padinneyar. Those who danced for their music were called Kuthar, the female dancers were called Kuthiyar or Veraliyar. Those days, even the lands were generally divided into five different categories.

Those categories were based and divided according to landscape, climatic conditions, and nature of the land. The five categories were Krinchi (mountain and mountainous area), Mullai (forest and forest area), Marutham (paddy field and paddy field area), Pallai (desert and desert area), Neithal (sea and seaside area). These aforesaid categories of lands had each distinct (Pun Iasai) music, as well as different musical instruments, including leather drums, string instruments and wind instruments.

Oral traditions

Language (Iyal) and Isa (music), underwent changes. To understand the music of the Sangam age one has to refer to ancient works, Pari Padal and Kalithokai.

In Paripadal there are references to numerous Puns. But they were never preserved properly. Most of these rested in oral traditions. The theme of the music was love and the songs to which they danced were love songs. This evidence is supported by certain verses appearing in Pari Padal ‘Parivoonda Padaloddu Adalum Thonra’.

The post-Sangam era is known as Sanga Maruviya Kaalam. During this era, the ancient Tamil Epic Sillapathikaram was written by Illango Adikal. According to it, Mathavi the dance heroine danced eleven dances at her Arangetram.

Those eleven dances were based on religious themes and consisted of ‘Thiva Viruthi’. The music for all these dances was based on Pun. This would be seen in the last verse of the chapter on arangetram.

After The Sanga Maruviya period, Tamil music and language suffered a setback because of the foreign invasion. But this dark era did not last long because Karaikal Ammaiyer appeared on the scene with the deeply devotional music.

Devotional hymns

This age of Karaikal Ammaiyar was followed by the Bakthi period from the 7th century A.D. till the 14th century A.D. Tamil music revived largely due to the four Saiva Saints and twelve Alwaars and various other saints composed devotional hymns.

Still, most compositions of the Saints and Alwaars are sung with the same devotion and following the traditional Puns.

The three Saiva saints Appar, Sampanthar and Sundarar composed Thevarams religious hymns. Varam means music. Thevaram means devotional hymns. These three saints were called ‘Thevara Mum Moorthikal’ or ‘Thevara Trio’. Those who sing Thevaram were called ‘Thevara Nayakam’. Those who danced for Thevaram were called ‘Thevar-Adyarkal’.

The outstanding dancers were honoured by conferring the title ‘Thalaikolli’. But there is a reference to ‘Sivagana Sampanthear Thallai Kolli’ which is a reference to those who sang and danced for Thiru Gana Sampanthar’s hymns.

Originally seven Puns existed but later out of these seven Puns altogether 103 Puns developed. Poet Sekkilar referring to saint Sampanthar called him the saint who propagated the seven Puns to glorify the Puns. Even today in Carnatic music all the ragas are based on seven swaras (Sabtha Swaras).

Dance recitals

Those who sing the Thevarams are called Othuvars. The musical traditions of the Puns are persevered by oral traditions. Even in today’s dance recitals, the Thevarams are danced by most accomplished dancers though not by all. In dance recitals, most of these Thevarams are danced with the same the ‘Pun Traditions’or Viruthams without thala. Thevarams when they are used in dance with thala and Pun Isai is called Pannankam. Here Nirtham and Nirthyam are interwoven.

Twelve Vaishnava Alwaars sang songs on Vaishnava themes. These were believed to have been sung in 108 Vaishnava temples. All these Paasurams were based on Pun Isai.

These were compiled by Natha Muni and published to the world as ‘Nalaaieram Thiviyia Pirapantham’. Curiously enough only in the Paasurams, of Nammalvar the Puns are noted. Altogether 13 Thevara Puns and six special Puns are mentioned.

There is evidence that at Sri Rangam Temple the dancers danced for Paasurams and danced with Abinaya. The males who danced for Paasurams were called Arraiyar and their service was called ‘Arayar Sevai’. The female dancers were called Sri Vaishnava Maanikam. Today in dance stages, the dancers use these Paasurams based on Carnatic music but not based on Pun Isai.

The ancient Tamil music Pun Isai is used by co-ordinating with Carnatic Music ragas. In the olden days, a song called ‘Devapaani’ was sung at the beginning of a dance recital as an invocation song.

This was based on Pun Isai. This tradition is still followed at the beginning of a dance recital by singing Vinayagar Sthuthi or Thodaya Mangalam in modern stages.