Wednesday, 28 June 2017


Resonance Music

Drums that have fallen silent

Surya and Chandra pirais were part of rituals at the Kanchi Varadar temple
Our research for this column took us to the temples in and around Kanchipuram, where several musical instruments are played during various rituals. At the Kanchi Varadar temple, for instance, we found that Srinivasan plays the instrument Udal there. He has also been associated with the temple for many years, and talked about a pair of drums called Surya Pirai and Chandra Pirai. These drums used to be played during the procession at the Varadar Temple along with other instruments.
Surya Pirai and the Chandra Pirai come under the category of membranophones or avanaddha vadyas and are the simplest forms of frame drums found mainly in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. A thin parchment stretched over an iron ring with a handle makes up the instrument. The sticks are made from Kuruvi Kombu. The surya pirai, also called suryamandalam, is about 25 cm diameter and represents the sun, while the chandra pirai (chandra mandalam) has a crescent shape. The surya pirai is played in the morning and the Chandra pirai in the evening. These drums are tied to the forehead of the performer by a frame.
These skilled performers have known to accompany nagaswaram artistes during processions.
But all this has become a thing of the past. “It has been more than 35 years since the sound of surya vadyam reverberated through the Kanchi Varadar temple. Thenambakkam Muthu used to play the pirai, but it stopped after his demise.
The pirais were performed during Purappadu and Brahmotsavam at the Kanchi Varadar temple. During the latter event, the surya pirais, which were a part of the nagaswaram-thavil ensemble, accompanied the deity’s procession from the temple’s vahana mandapam up to the Anjaneyar temple in Sannadi Theru. This ritual took place twice daily for 10 days. The pirais fell silent when the deity went from Sannadi Theru to Kachapeswarar temple, and playing was resumed there and continued up to the Gangaikondan Mandapam.
The pirais were also a part of the Pancha Paruva Purappadu, where they were played for five days, every month (the Madhapirappu, Nakshatram —Sravanam, Ekadasi, Amavasya and Pournami ), and also during Thayar purappadu. Now these instruments are rarely heard at the Kanchi Varadar temple. The drums, which were a part of the temple culture, need trained artistes to keep the beats alive.
The writers are well-known Carnatic musicians!

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