In Panchamoorthy Kumaran’s hands the Nadaswaram, a South Indian music instrument, looked grand. Looks matched the music he produced with the Nadaswaram that everyone gathered at the Jaffna Municipal Ground were impressed. It wasYaal Kiramiya Sangamam’s (Jaffna Village Committee) Carnatic music which marked the inauguration of the Jaffna Music Festival held two weeks ago.
“For more than 30 years we were kept apart and it’s not only the brotherhood we lost during this crucial period. We lost touch with our cultures and traditions,” said YaalKiramiyaSangamam lead performer, Panchamoorthy Kumaran speaking to The Nation at the Jaffna Municipal Grounds. “Now it’s time to come together again, share our cultures and arts with each other. There is a lot to be shared and be glad about,” he added. He is glad that the armed conflict is over, that he can now perform freely anywhere in the country. He strongly believes that music can bring back lost harmony; music can heal unseen wounds. He further said that arts and cultural festivals like the music festivals can help people to come together and this is the best period to conduct such programs.
Panchamoorthy Kumaran, a native from Kondavil, Jaffna who is considered as one of the most skillful South Indian musicians in the country, belongs to a family of traditional Carnatic musicians. All his musical skills, as told to this writer, were learned from his father who began teaching him when he was six years old. He was skilled enough to perform as a Carnatic musician on stage when he was just ten years old. Now in his early thirties, he says that having to perform on stage is the most precious thing he gets to do in his life. In the last couple of years, he has been invited to play in Europe, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Canada and Switzerland. Yet he said, “There is nothing like having to play in my country, in front of my people.”
During the last couple of years, Carnatic musician Panchamoorthy Kumaran has been invited to perform in Europe, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Canada and Switzerland. Yet he said, ‘There is nothing like having to play in my country, in front of my people’
He has mastered many Carnatic musical instruments. He has a voice which can grab people’s attention at once that he is adored as a vocalist too. However, he is best known for his performances with his pet instrument. The Nadaswaram is one of the most auspicious instruments in South India. He said that it was the most difficult South Indian musical instrument to master. In South Indian culture, a wedding is incomplete without the sound of this most popular wind instrument. Counted among the ‘mangalavadhyam’, or auspicious instruments, the Nadaswaram is the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic instrument according to Wikipedia.
Traditionally the Nadaswaram is played in various rituals and ceremonies in temples and during special events like marriages. A person familiar with South Indian music can easily identify the ritual or the ceremony taking place just by hearing the raga played on the Nadaswaram. There are ragas specifically played during different times of the day for different rituals at temples or different occasions.
As Panchamoorthy Kumaran explained, the Nadaswaram is considered to be a Rajavadyam (A royal instrument) and the instrument’s different parts are supposed to represent the different forms of God. The Nadaswaram was traditionally made from Aachatree wood, although nowadays bamboo, sandalwood, copper, brass and ivory are also used.
It is an extremely powerful double reed instrument. Due to its intense volume and strength it is basically an outdoor instrument. “Fingering is similar to that of the Indian flute, but the pitch can also be altered by changing the pressure of lips,” he explained. Playing the Nadaswaram is a hard-skill, since it requires good breath control, added Kumaran. Most of his outstanding performances are available on his Youtube channel.
He also emphasized the importance of the artisan skills, passed from generation to generation in protecting arts and culture. Traditional Carnatic Music is often passed on from generation to generation, like how Kumaran learned his music from his father. “Music is said to have begun from the sounds of the Universe. Carnatic itself can be traced back to a time when Hinduism emerged,” he iterated. “Since then, the traditions of this have been passed on from generation to generation and preserved until today,” he said adding that the future of the traditional Carnatic music will depend on the enthusiasm shown for it by the generations to come. He said that this theory applied to any other line of work.
However he said that he was never forced to learn music. “I have been compassionate about music since I was very young. I started learning to play instruments out of the adoration that grew while observing my father plays,” he recalled. “My son too, will never be forced to learn this. To become a musician or not, or to play the Nadaswaram or not, will solely be his choice,” he said adding that compassion towards music cannot be forced on a person.
(Special thanks to Jaffna Music Festival Program Coordinator, G Krishanthan from Sevalanka Foundation)