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(Continuation from the previous issue)

Dr Radhika Jaidev

References to musical form and structure in Sangam literature

The Arangetrukaadai, a chapter of the Silappathikaram, mentioned earlier, also provides details the musical instruments of the day such as the yal (a kind of a 14-stringed lute or harp), kulal (flute) and percussion instruments as well as pann, the equivalent of musical scales in the Western music paradigm. The chapter describes in intricate detail how the use of different notes with the help of the yal resulted in different pann. It appears that the equivalent of the seven basic notes (SRGMPDN) that form the foundational construct upon which all South Indian Carnatic and Hindustani music is built today, were in existence during the Sangam period but known by their Tamil names of Kural, Tuttam, Kaikilai, Uzhai, Ili, Vilari, and Taram. Additionally, there were terms for the upper and lower octaves of each note for example Kurai Tuttam and Nirai Tuttam for the lower and upper octaves respectively. According to Venkatasubramaniam (2010), the Tiruvaduturai Mutt palm leaf manuscripts (AD1742) list the twenty-one common pann that were sung during the day and night and their contemporary approximations.

10 different Pann sung during the day Ancient Contemporary Approximation were Puranirmai –  Srikanti, Gandharam,- Hejjuji,  Kausika, -Bhairavi, Indalam -Lalitha Panchami, Takkesi – Kanbodhi,  Nattaraga – Sadari Pantuvarali,  Nattapadai – Nattaikurinji,  Pazham Panchuram –  Sankarabharanam,  Gandhara Panchamam – Kedaragaulam, Panchamam -Ahiri

8 Pann sung during the night  were Takkaraga – Kannada Kambodhi,  Pazham Takkaraga -Suddhasaveri,  Sikaamaram – Naadanamakriya,  Tiruvirattam – Sindhu Kannada,  Vyazha Kurinji – Saurashtra,  Megaraga Kurunchi – Neelambari, Kurinji – Malahari, Aandhali Kurinji  – Sailadesaki.

However, the 3 most common pann were: Sevvazhi Yedukula Kambhodhi Senchurutti Madhyamavathi Tiruttandakam Begada.

Similarly, a system akin to the present melakarta, or collection of musical scales present in Carnatic music, was often discussed and described in Sangam and post-Sangam works by the term palai, and sthayi or octave was referred to as mandilam. Additionally, there was reference to something similar to the 12 swara in a scale, shadja-panchama or shadja-madhyama relationships. This was termed kizhamai by the Sangam Tamils. In their system there were seven major palai.

The concept of graha bhedam in Carnatic music, which is the process of shifting the sruti or tonic note to another note in the raaga and arriving at a different raaga is referred to as pannu peyarttal in Sangam literature such as Ahananooru, Madurai Kanchi and Malaipadukadam. Variations of Graha bedham or pannu peyarttal have also been identified in these texts under the terms of aaya palai, vatta palai, tirikona palai, and sadura palai. It has been said that the ancient Tamils also knew the method by which a scale of seven notes could be made out of only five, referring to this as nertiram.

The major seven palai or parent scales of that period were Vatapalai or Sempalai which corresponds with the current Harikambhoji; Padumalaipalai with Mechakalyani; Sevvalipalai with Hanumatodi; Arum Palai with Kharaharapriya; Kodi Palai with Dhirasankarabharana; Vilaripalai which is obsolete today; and Merchem Palai with Natabhairavi. From these, 103 pann or raaga were derived of which there were 17 Perumpann or sampoorna raaga; 70 Panniyal or shadava raaga; 12 Tiram or audava raaga; and four Tirattiram or Swarantaram raaga.

(Premalatha, 1985; Sundaram, 1995; Jeyalakshmi, 2003). Sundaram (1995) also informs us that there were a number of literary works that illuminated the concept of Tala which is rhythm or musical meter even during the Sangam age. Some examples include Tala Eri and Tala Vagaiyottu, Chacchaputa Venba, Tala Samudram, Talakkali Venba, Adi Bharatam, Suddhananda Prakasam, etc. The Pancha Marabu, a Sangam work on music has descriptions of approximately 108 tala and percussive instruments in it. The tome explains terms like vattanai which means avarta or repetitions.

The Tirukkural (Sacred Couplets) also called Kural constitute the most celebrated of the Patiren-kirkkanakku (“Eighteen Ethical Works”) in Tamil literature and a work that has had an immense influence on Tamil culture and life. The Kural is attributed to the poet Tiruvalluvar (Fig 22), who is thought to have lived in India in the 6th century, although the exact dates as to when he lived and when this text was written is still a mystery. Its discusses a wide variety of subjects such as morality, religious secularity, filial piety, fidelity, friendship, false and harmful friendship, ethics and others. Its universal and timeless approach compares it with some of the greatest works in the world.

As an important guidebook on ethics, the Tirukkural advises the avoidance of killing and falsehood. It also exalts the virtues of compassion for all individuals, regardless of caste or creed. Its 133 sections of 10 couplets each are divided into three books: aram (virtue), porul (government and society), and kamam (love). The first section opens with praise of God, rain, renunciation, and a life of virtue. It then presents a world-affirming vision, the wisdom of human sympathy that expands from one’s family and friends to one’s clan, village, and country. The porul section projects a vision of an ideal state and relates good citizenship to virtuous private life. The kamam section addresses both “secret love” and married love; the section on married love is written as a dialogue between husband and wife. The Tirukkural has been translated into English and other languages. Karaikal Ammaiyar  was a poetess who was named after her birthplace Karaikal composed the two works Adbhula Tiru Antadi and Tiru Rettai Mani Malai. She is revered as the Grandmother of Tamil Isai because of the richness of the music in her compositions. Although there is almost no concrete evidence that these couplets were set to music or sung at that time in history today, the couplets have been set to music and sung widely. This information throws light on the highly sophisticated systematisation of Tamil classical compositions even in that period.

Premalatha (1985) documents in her book, “Music through the ages” that despite the controversy over the exact periods of the Sangam periods, the last of the great Tamil works that existed prior to the Christian era, Isainunukkam, which when translated into English, means Subtleties of Music, “indicates by its very name that it should have dealt with the science of music” (p. 88). Other great works from the period after the Sangam era include Ettutogai, eight anthologies comprising short songs, and Pattupatttu or Ten Idylls. These songs were not only composed long after the Sangam period, they were not composed all at the same time. Nonetheless the fact that they have survived the ravages of time suggests their significance in South Indian classical music in terms of subject matter, elegance in terms of expression and relevance to modern society.

(to be continued)

Photo Courtesy:  Mr Sivakumaran

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