Ancestry of Nadaswaram musicians of Kongu country
Former Director of Archaeology, Tamilnadu
A Nadaswaram musician of the Kongu country – Coimbatore region, recently applied to the Government of Tamilnadu, seeking a “certificate of traditional Nadasvaram player”, a recognition that would enable him to play in temple festivals. Similar certificates are being issued to musicians from the Chola region.. A revenue Official wrote to the Government that the Nadaswavaram players are called “Isai velalars” and that as there was no tradition of nadasvaram musicians in Kongu region he can not claim any ancestry. Based on this note the government is said to have rejected the application. This raises the question of the ancestry of this art and patently the conclusion was not based on any historical analysis of Social history or Temple culture but based on hearsay account. There are hundreds of mediaeval historical records like stone inscriptions and royal orders on copper plates that provide enough data about the service of Nadasvaram, Tavil players, Dancing girls and also Temple culture, coming from the Kongu region showing that this was part of Temple arts through out Tamilnadu..
First of all Temple service is not restricted to Priests alone but included services like musicians like Vina players, Tavil players, Nadasvaram players, dancers and others as regular temple retinue. Without the service of Nadaswaram players and dancing girls, who were expected to play different ragas and talas (rythmic beats) suited to various pujas, the temple rituals is not complete. The treatises on temple rituals like the agamas make it clear that that service of Nadaswvaram player is as much required as the priests, but for which the temple ritual would remain incomplete, and that there were hundreds of temples in the Kongu region where such services were prevalent. The Nadasvaram and Tavil players originally belonged to the “Parasava” caste, a progeny of mixed castes. The ancient law codes reserved the service of temple musicians to these castes, as in the case of modern reservation policy. They played on Udukkai, Idakka, Tavil, Maddalam, Timili, Cendai and other such instruments
A record from the Marutisvara temple of Kadattur, Udumalaipettai taluk, Coimbatore district, dated in 13th cent, record the gift of gold by the then ruling king, with which a land was purchased to meet the services of Musicians in the temple and this land is mentioned as “Uvaccap puram” in the record, (Uvaccu i.e instrumental music). The king requested that the service should be conducted daily in the temple during pujas for his welfare and as such the order was issued by the king himself. “Namakku nanraaka uvacca-puramaaka itta nilam”. Three men were instrumental for this service and one among them had the title “Kalamani” Pallavarayan showing he was greatly interested in the arts. The record shows that this service already existed in the temple and that one Kongu vitankan was performing the service. As he died the present service was instituted by further augmenting the income. .
Another record from the same temple, registered in the same century. records that one Cholendra-siinga-deva made a gift of land for oblations and food offerings to the deity on special days, stipulating that six measures of rice must be paid per day to “Paadu paattiram” (musicians) and “Aadu paattiram” (dancers) who were expected to perform in the festival. This service was to be conducted in perpetuity.
At Sangramanallur, in Udumalaipettai Taluk. of the same district, is an inscription dated in 12th cent which records the order of the king permitting the Dancing girls of the temple to live in the “mada-vilagam” ( streetes around the temple) without paying any tax to the Government. It was also ordered that if any one of them committed any crime the government Officials should not interfere, enquire or punish them but only the temple trustees, administrators and the priests should enquire and impose fine or punishments. The Local authorities were thus given greater freedom in such cases and governmental interference was strictly avoided.
I may cite another record from Annur in Avinasi taluk of the same District which was also a royal order creating a new village “Rajadhi” stipulating that the revenue from the land should be used to meet the services of vocal Musicians (Gabdharviss), Recitors of Tevaram (Thiruppadiyam), Nattuvas (Dance masters) and also dancing girls.
These records and there are many more, show Musicians, and dancers were serving in the temples of the Kongu country as in other parts of Tamilnadu and their ancestry recorded from almost one thousand years ago is continuing to this day and they deserve the same rights extended to similar artists as in other parts of the state. It also seems that in such matters the Social historians may be consulted than other sections of the Governament Officers before the Government decisions.