Shertallay Column

The origins of Tamil music

Tamil language has been divided into three important facets: i.e. ‘Iyal’, ‘Isai’, ‘Natakam’, which were commonly called ‘Muthamil’. In ancient times, Tamil scholars were proficient in all these three areas. Later, three differentiations were generated: ‘Gitam’, ‘Vadyam’, ‘Nrithyam’. If the term ‘Tamilisai’ mainly purposed for the music composing for Tamil compositions, the term ‘Isai Tamil’ explores the history evaluating the ‘Sanga kalam’ of Tamil tradition.

The first Sangam is calculated as the region of south Kumari which took south Madurai as its capital from 9760 BC to 5320 BC. It is said in those times there were seven southern regions and each had seven sub-regions - a total of 49 sub-regions. The southern regions were Madurai region, Munpalai region, Pin Palai region, Kundra states, Kunakarai states, Kurumbanai states, etc. There regions were ruled by 89 Pandya rulers. Agathiar was the main grammatical poet during that time. The important grammatical and poetical Tamil works that originated in those times were ‘Agathiam’, ‘Perunarai’, ‘Perumkuruku’ and ‘Paripadalkal’.

The second Sanga kalam, i.e., ‘Idai Sangam’, is said to be the time from 5320 BC to 1620 BC - around 3,700 years - with the state capital ‘Kapada Puram’. This Sangam period was ruled by 59 Pandya rulers like Vender Chezhiyan and Mudathirumaran. Tholkappier was the chief scholar during this period. The grammatical and poetical works that originated in this period were ‘Perumkali’, ‘Kuruku’, ‘Isai Nunukkam’, ‘Paripadal’, etc.

This Sangam age grammatical work ‘Tolkappiyam’ mentions the various music pertaining to the five landscapes (called ‘Thinai’) of Sangam literature. The five landscapes are associated with a particular mood of the poem and to give colour to these moods, each had a musical mood called ‘Pann’, a melodic instrument called ‘Yaazh’ and a percussion instrument called ‘Parai’.

For example, ‘Neithal Thinai’, that dealt with incidents around the seashore, had the musical mood of Sevvazhi, Vilari yaazh as the musical instrument and Pambai for the percussion.

‘Tolkappiyam’ also mentions the musical form known as ‘Paattu Vannam’ and various types of songs like Asiriapattu, Neduven Pattu, Adivarai, Seer, Ahaval Osai and Vellosai, which are classified on the basis of the musical quality, metrical structure, etc. Poems of ‘Ettuthohai’ such as the ‘Nattrinai’, ‘Paripadal’ and ‘Kalithogai’ are extensively musical in nature and are based on various Panns to create the mood.

The third and the last Sangam period, called ‘Kadai Sangam’, is said to be the period from 1620 BC to 230 AD, i.e., around 1,850 years. The region was the present Madurai and 49 Pandya rulers ruled this region. The chief grammatical poet was Nakkiran. ‘Panchamarabu’, ‘Chitrisai’, ‘Perisai’, ‘Paripadalkal’, ‘Koothannool’, etc., were the grammatical works.



(To be contd)


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


Jul 29, 2010
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