Hear the sound of tiruchinnam
Dr M Lalitha and M Nandini
We performed at the Kanchi Varadarajar temple for the Brahmotsavam and at the end of our concert, arrangements were made for the Lord’s procession. We were awestruck by the beauty of the Lord and also got attracted by the sound of a wind instrument — the tiruchinnam, made in brass which is special at this temple.
Considered as a mangala vadyam, tiruchinnam is normally played at Vishnu temples in the beginning and during a procession. It is also played on occasions such as the mangala arati, to welcome the mutt heads, during purnahuthi at the time of the Kudamuzhuku and during the temple car festival.
Usually two tiruchinnams are joined by a chord and blown together. Also known as tiruchooranam and tiruseeranam, this instrument has a long pipe with just one hole to blow and a conical bore in the end. To know more about this rare instrument we made a special trip to Kanchi Varadarajar temple, where we witnessed the tirumanjanam being performed for the Lord to the accompaniment of tiruchinnam followed by the udal and the talam. We also noticed that only one tiruchinnam is played and not two as is done in other temples.
The legend has it that Vedanta Desikar, who used to attend utsavams at the Kanchi Varadarajar temple was enamoured by the sound of this instrument, which is used to announce the start of Lord Varadaraja’s procession. Lord Varadarajar gave one tiruchinnam to Vedanta Desikar as a reward for his services rendered for the propagation of Vaishnavism and from then on only one tiruchinnam is used at this temple during rituals and utsavams.
An overwhelmed Vedanta Desikar composed the Tiruchinnamalai, a Tamil Prabhandam, thanking the Lord. A mix of poetry and philosophy with 11 paasurams including the phala stuti slokam of eight lines in each of the verses, Tiruchinnamalai is set in the Tamil meter known as the Yenn Seer Asiriya Virutham.
Inscriptions at the Nellaiappar and Kanthimati Amman shrine in Tirunelveli mention about the donations given to two musicians — one playing the tharai and the other the tiruchinnam.
In Avudayar Koil, there was a practice not to allow any instrument inside the temple except the tiruchinnam. At the Adikesava Perumal temple in Sriperumbudur, tiruchinnam is played after the performance of Srinivasa Tirukalyanam.
Tiruchinnam is also heard at Siva temples along with the udal and talam. At the Tiruvarur Tyagaraja Temple there was a custom to play just one tiruchinnam, occasionally played now by the Sivagana group.
According to the Agamas, the Tiruchinnam should be used during the commencement of the procession at Perumal temples and during the mangala arati. At the Srirangam temple, this instrument is heard, along with the bigger variety of the ekkalam, during Vaikunta Ekadesi. It is also played at the Kanchi Kamakshi Temple, when the mutt heads are given the temple honours. is also played when the mutt heads/adheenams/sannidhanams leave for their puja. And it is still heard at the Tiruvavaduthurai Adeenam.
References say that this instrument along with udal, ekkalam, brahmatalam and sangu are some of the favourites of Lord Siva that came to the earth due to the efforts of Muchukunda Chakravarthy.
Tiruchinnam like the other instruments such as ekkalam, ganjira, poosari kai silambu, davandai, udukkai and thambattam is played in villages.The tiruchinnam artists stay close to the Sundara Perumal Temple near Thanjavur and in villages near Tiruchirapalli. When the soorasamharam takes place at the Swamimalai Temple, thiruchinnam, ekkalam and tharai are played by the villagers during the procession to the temple.
There are many records and inscriptions that speak highly of this ancient instrument. Some temples still have the tiruchinnam . It would be nice to revive its playing and preserve its sound for posterity.
(The writers are senior classical violinists)