Wednesday, 28 June 2017


When strings produce rhythmic beats

Dr M Lalitha and M Nandini

Gethuvadyam has close links to Avudayarkoil.
Pudukottai has been our favourite destination for two reasons: This is where the adhistanam of Sri Judge Swamigal is. He is our spiritual guru Sri Santhananda Swamigal’s parama guru. The temple of Goddess Bhuvaneswari is also located here.
During one of our trips, we visited the famous Avudayarkoil, where we heard about the instrument gethuvadyam.
Earlier, while doing research on rare musical instruments , we had come across this one.
Gethuvadyam (also known as getchuvadyam or gettuvadyam) is a string instrument that comes under the category of chord /stringed percussion and is today played by only a few musicians. A hammered lute, the gethuvadyam resembles the tambura and veena. It is about 2-3 ft long having a neck with four strings and is fretless. It has a spheroid-shaped kudam with a flat bottom. There is a fixed bridge set at the chest of the kudam through which the strings pass. A mobile bridge is inserted at the requisite place on the left side of the trunk to obtain sthayi sruti. The gethuvadyam has no suraikkudukkai. The yaali of the gethuvadyam faces upwards and serves as a pad to ensure that the instrument rests firmly on the ground.
The strings are made up of metal. The four strings are attached to the biradais or the pegs for tightening or loosening the strings at the top, while there are beads for the micro tuning near the bridge.
The strings are tuned to the madhya sthayi shadjam, anumandra sthayi shadjam, anumandra sthayi panchama and tara sthayi shadjam.
It is played with two bamboo mallets or sticks having two handles. These sticks are well chiselled. The metallic ring has a couple of small balls attached inside and gives a jingling effect.
Of the two mallets, one is short and the other long. The short left stick strikes all the strings simultaneously and usually at the middle of the trunk. It produces regular rhythmic beats. The right stick is chiselled as a flat spatula and produces complex rhythmic beats.
According to Auvudayarkoil Subramanyam, exponent of the gethuvadyam, limited and measured jingle, with the finely tuned string base, brings out the proper sruti melakattu .
In concerts, it is performed along with the mridangam.
There is a legend behind this instrument. It is said that the king of Thanjavur along with his men went on a sethu yatra and visited Avudayarkoil (this is also known as Tiruperundurai). The temple is unique as both Sri Athmanathar and his consort Yogambigai are in the Arupa or formless nature. Here, Siva is represented by ‘Avudayar’. Since the goddess Yogambikai is said to be in meditation, no instruments, (not even nagaswaram) were allowed only from the second prakaram. The Thanjavur king and his retinue were received by the king of Ramnad Sethu Samasthanam.The king was accompanied by two singers, who sang and also played the gethuvadyam.
Apparently, one night a small girl came in the dream of both the kings. She said that the Thanjavur singers’ music was conducive to meditation and wanted them to continue singing in the shrine accompanied by their instruments, the gethuvadyam and veena.
The Thanjavur king made the singers stay permanently in the temple to sing and play the gethuvadyam. Hence, gethuvadyam came to be the only instrument allowed inside the inner prakaram of the temple and the tradition continues. And the gethuvadyam came to be associated with the Goddess. This instrument with the patronage of the Sethupathis (rulers of Ramnad) were brought on to the concert platform later on.
It is said that Harikatha exponent Ennapadam Venkitaramana Bhagavathar’s father Padmanabha Iyer and his grandfather were experts in singing the kritis of Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar to the accompaniment of gethuvadyam, which they played themselves.
It is sad that there are few who play this instrument today. The good thing is that Avudayarkoil Subramaniam has been teaching a few students to play it. But greater effort is required to sustain this tradition.
(The writers are well known Carnatic musicians)

As the gethuvadyam is performed in the Yogambikai sannadhi, it became associated with the Goddess.!

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