Temple Musicins and Dancing girls of the Kongu country -
Former director of Archaeology, Tamilnad
Temples are the abodes of divinity, art, religion, literature, music, dance and all other activities of human existence .in ancient times. While sastric and literary works give guide lines about the lives of the people, how they actually lived at a given point of time, is given in inscriptions on stone, copper, palm leaves, ivory, wood or other material. The Southern part of India experiences temperate climate, the writings on palm leaves are lost due to heat., humidity, termites and other insects and also ignorance of the people. Inscriptions on stones are found in thousands on temple walls and have survived for almost 2000 years, They do provide a glimpse into the life of different professional groups.
A few inscriptions are examined here, with reference to the life of musicians especially attached to the temples. The Dharma sastras call the musicians, especially Instrumental musicians as Uvaccans belonging to the family of Parasivas who were the progenies of mixed castes. The service of playing instruments is generally reserved to their castes They had the exclusive privilege to play the Panca-maha-sabdas – the five great instrumental music –Sankha (sea borne instrument), wind instruments (pullan -kulal), metal instruments ( Sekandikai) percussion instruments (Mrdanga, Tavil, udukkai, dakka etc)and stringed instruments.(Vina or Yaz)..In general playing on these instruments are called Kottutal.
There are three important forms of rituals in temple worship called 1).Aaradhana, (16 stages of worship – shodasa upacara), 2).Bali offerings and 3).Festivals (utsavas). Instrumental music plays a vital role in all the three forms of worship. The presence of Instrumental player is a must for every temple. As these are essential part of temple rituals many records of ancient times mention the endowments for services of Instrumental MusiciansThe endowments created and the stipulations provided are the subject matter of such inscriptions. We examine here some such inscriptions from Coimbatore region of Tamilnad called in ancient times the Kongu country.
A record from Annur in Avinasi Taluk, Coimbatore District, ia an order of the then ruling -13th cent creating a new village Rajadi and gifting it to the local Temple –Mannisvara temple and transfering all the royal revenues from the land to the temples to meet the services of Devaradiyars (dancing girls), Natyacharyas (Dance masters), Gandharvis (Vocal musicians) and Thriuppadiyam paduvars (Tevaram reictors) and other services. This is an example of royal patronage coupled with piety to different musical performances in the temple. It was a permanent endowment out of which the artists were to receive remuneration in perpetuity. Among the boundaries mentioned is a land belonging to a dancing girl Pandya-kula-manikkatti, who received this name as a royal title.
It may be seen that among the services there were Dancing girls (Devardiyals) and Nattuvars (Dance masters). While the Dancing girls claimed descend from divine origin and higher hierarchy in caste status, the Nattuvars belonged to the Parasiva family as per the inscription. .
Another related record in the same temple refers to Uvacca-kani- musicians service who is mentioned as Vaaccya-maaraayan ( Vaadya maaraayan ). He is also mentioned as a Parasiva serving in the nearby temple of Thirumurugan pundi, and was now given the additional service of this temple indicating there were not enough such artists in the region resulting in one person servicing in two or three temples. The situation arose because the person serving in the temple died calling another appointment in his place.
Another record from the same temple at Annur refers to him as a Baanan Nrtta –perariyan who was said to be a Vadugan ( of Telugu origin ) serving as a Nattavam and Maddala player. He also belonged to the Parasiva caste. He was enjoying this service tenure but died and the present appointment was made in his place.
That he had the clan name mentioned as “Baanan” is interesting. The musicians were called Banars in the Sangam age -2000 years ago. The present inscription also calls this Musician as a Baana shows that their clan traces itself back to 2000 years, if not earlier..The Sangam poems mention in most cases the musicians and dancing girls together as Baanas and Virali and that in this inscription we find Dancing girls and Musicians mentioned together pointing to an age old tradition. That was the situation in the 13th cent.