Shertallay Column

The origins of Tamil music -2

Adiyarkkunallar, the commentator of ‘Chilappadikaram’, has given the references of some of the important grammatical works established in ancient time. They are ‘Isai Nunukkam’, ‘Indira Kaliyam’, ‘Pancha Bharathiyam’, ‘Panchamarabu’, ‘Perumkuruku’, etc. The Tamil drama works were ‘Bharathasenapathiam’, ‘Bharatham’, ‘Mathivanar Naadakathamil Nool’, ‘Agathiam’, ‘Koothannol’, etc. Books related to ‘taala’, were ‘Taala Vakaiyothu’, ‘Taala Samudram’, etc.

Among ‘Tholkappiyam’, ‘Ettuthokai’, ‘Pathupattu’ etc. Nachinarkiniyar was the commentator of ‘Tholkappiyam’, Parimelazhakar was the commentator of ‘Tirukkural’, and Adiyarkkunallar was the commentator of ‘Chilapathikaram’. These commentators were also great pundits and have given many nuances of Isai Tamil in their works. Works which give the tradition of Tamil isai grammar are ‘Pinkala Nighandu’ and ‘Chendan Divakaram’.

Origin of Saptha Swara or Ezhisai

It is found in all sorts of music that there are seven basic notes. In Tamil, seven nedil letters and 12 uyir letters are said to be corresponding to the seven swaras and 12 swarasthanas of Tamil isai. Ai, Au - these letters do not have kuril letters and, hence, it is compared to the ‘avikruta swaras’ (which are not taking variety) ‘Shadjam’ and ‘Panchamam’. These references are seen in the nikhandus ‘Pinkala’, and ‘Divakara’.

The names of the seven notes (saptha swaras) are:

Kural – Shadjam
Thutham- Rishabham
Kaikkilai – Gandharam
Uzhai – Madhyamam
Ili – Panchamam
Vilari - Dhaivatham
Taaram - Nishadham

These names can be seen in Divakara Nighandu.

‘Panchamarabu’ and ‘Chilapadikaram’ commentary say that music originated from kuzhal (flute) and the very first scale was ‘Chempalai’ which is corresponding to ‘Ari kamboothi’ (today’s Harikamboji). Another explanation given is ‘Ari’ means ‘bhramara’ and ‘kampu’ means bamboo ‘oothi’ means whistling and this is how raga harikamboodi was named. It is said Nishada, that is ‘Taaram’ in Tamil isai, was the first note that originated and later, through the cycle of fifth and ‘Vaadi – Samvaaditvam’, the other notes were elevated. N-M, S-P, R-D, G-N are the order of these notes.

‘Naada’ originates from ‘Moolaadharam’, ‘Mandra sruthi’ from the chest, ‘Madhya sruthi’ from the neck and the ‘ucha sruthi’ from the head. The seven swaras from ‘Kural’ to ‘Taaram’ originated by the different positions (sthanas) i.e., Thalai, Midaru, Nenchu, Mookku, Uthadu, Pal Nakku, Ulnakku and through the eight kriyas eduthal, paduthal, etc.

Aarosai (arohana) amarosai (avarohana) are the ascending and descending positions of swaras. The scales taking all the seven swaras (heptatonic) are called ‘Perumpan’, the scale of six notes are ‘Panniyal’ (hexatonic), that of five notes are ‘Thiram’ (pentatonic) and that of four notes are called ‘Thirathiram’ (quadratonic).

In Tamil culture, there was differentiation according to the regions of establishment as Kurinji, Mullai, Marutham, Neythal and Palai the same differentiation was taken place in Tamil isai also as Palai yazh, Kurinji yazh, Marutha yazh, Mullai( sevvaszhi) yazh, Neythal yazh, etc.

Tamil isai tradition is a great source for many aspects of south Indian classical music of today. While we think of the history of music, we come across various precious contributions of ancient Tamil literature.

Dr Shertallay K.N. Renganatha Sharma,
Associate Professor in Music,
SSSV College of Music,
Madurai Kamaraj University,


Aug 04, 2010
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