Are Malaysians Hearing Proper Mangala Vadhyam (Auspicious Nadhaswaram-Thavil Music)

The blaring high pitch sound of the Nadhaswaram and ear drum shattering beats of the Thavil constitute Mangala Vadhyam, an intrinsic component of South Indian Hindu functions including weddings and temple rituals.

This most auspicious instrumental music is so fully entwined in the rituals of temple worship that every temple is required to hire a fulltime Nadhaswaram-Thavil ensemble.

The Nadhaswaram-Thavil being sharp and loud and also designed for use in processions is suited for open air performances.

According to leading Nadhaswaram maestro, P N Sethuraman the Nadaswaram, is considered to be one of the most ancient and unique musical instruments of Tamilnadu. It would be appropriate to call this instrument a rare combination of music and divinity.

In the maestro’s conference presentation organised by the Chembur Fine Arts Society of Mumbai, India in 2001, he pointed out that each part of the Nadaswaram is related to a Hindu deity.

The bottom circle to Surya, the Sun God, the upper hole to Goddess Sakti, the inner holes to Lord Vishnu, the body to Lord Brahma, and the seven holes to seven mothers.

The music emanating is related to Lord Siva. Such a Nadaswaram is also called “Periya Melam” and “Rajavadyam”.

According to Sethuraman, playing rakti ragas is unique to the Nadaswaram tradition. Ragas like Kalyani, Kambhoji, Todi, Bhairavi are rendered with an exhaustive alapana in various tala structures. This is known as Rakti Melam.

In South Indian music tradition, such recitals are not used for playing of other instruments or even in vocal music. About 60-70 years ago when Varnam, Kriti and Keertanas were not being handled like today, the highlight of a Nadaswaram-Thavil concert was the RaktiMelam.

Performers used to play for hours, or even days together, elaborating on each and every nuance of the raga.

Sadly in Malaysia finding a good Nadhaswaram-Thavil ensemble is becoming rather rare as many improperly trained novices from India are unknowingly hired by temple committees not well versed in Indian classical music.

Listening to the discordant performances of these novices who get away with their incompetency by resorting to playing cinema based light classical songs, is rather painful to the ear.

It is our hope that the relevant Malaysian temple authorities stop this errant practice for the preservation of this most auspicious Mangala Vadhyam.

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Sittam Param

Writer, poet, dramatist and former journalist. I have passion for art in all its forms hence my involvement in this portal.

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