Music

In search of Tamil music tradition

In tune with tradition: N. Mammathu, Musicologist Photo: R. Ashok

In tune with tradition: N. Mammathu, Musicologist Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

Musicologist N Mammathu talks about the intricacies of Tamil music and its contribution to world music

From Tholkappiam, ancient Tamil grammar book, to the latest Lexicon on Tamil Music (Terminologies) Musicolgist N Mammathu’s library is a treasure hove of Tamil music and its deep rooted tradition. “Tamil music dates back to Sangam literature period and it is well defined from musical notations to mood,” says Mammathu.

He asserts Carnatic music is an evolution of Tamil music and draws several parallels. For example, Thodi raga is called Vilari Paalai (melody) in ancient Tamil music and the notations are one and the same, says Mammathu. “Vilari Paalai is mentioned in the 48th verse of the Silapathikaram,” he adds.

In tune with tradition: Students learning music at the Tamil Music Research Centre, Thiagarajar College. Photo: R. Ashok

In tune with tradition: Students learning music at the Tamil Music Research Centre, Thiagarajar College. Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

Silapathikaram is a musical epic where author Ilango Adigal has stated the swaralayam (melodic structure) of several ragas. “It is a musical guide. Sevvazhipalai is a rare raga and it is popularly called Lalit in Hindustani music. Thirugnana Sambandar and Thirunavukkarasar have sung a lot of songs in this raga,” says Mammathu.

Journeying through the octaves and sextets in his musical research, Mammathu recollects the days he spent with his friends listening to multifarious music in his village Idaikal near Tenkasi. “My village is surrounded by temples replete with festivals round-the-year. Music is an integral part of those festivals and I was fascinated by the grandeur of karagattam and villupattu.” The musical sounds left an indelible effect on him. His passion for music was nurtured by C.S. Mani, who worked in Department of Posts. “With his extraordinary memory, it was Mani who motivated me to work on musicology,” he says.

A compact disc form of music dictionary by N. Mammathu, Musicologist. Photo: R. Ashok

A compact disc form of music dictionary by N. Mammathu, Musicologist. Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

Mammathu’s inquisitiveness led him to do research on music even as he was working in Department of Highways. Since his retirement he has published several articles and books on Tamil music. His stupendous work Tamil Isai Peragarathi (Lexicon of Tamil Music (Terminologies) won him State Government’s Bharathiar Award.

He attributes the reason to Paul C. Pandian, a US based philanthropist and the Tamil Music Research Centre of Thiagarajar College. “But for Professor G. Gnanasambandan this could not have happen as he introduced me to Pandian, who funded the project. The book was published by the Tamil Music Research Centre, where I work as Principal Investigator,” says Mammathu.

Mammathu is inspired by writer Tho. Paramasivan. He has also worked closely with V.P.K. Sundaram, an accomplished music researcher. “He was my guru and motivated me to write the lexicon of Tamil music. He is also the author of encyclopaedia of Tamil music grammar,” he says.

Tamilisai Peragarathi (Lexicon on Tamil Music (Melodies) by N. Mammathu, Musicologist. Photo: R. Ashok

Tamilisai Peragarathi (Lexicon on Tamil Music (Melodies) by N. Mammathu, Musicologist. Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

Music is deeply rooted in our culture as every landform has a corresponding music to it. “The seven Melakartha ragas (Heptatonic scales) called Yazh Palai Perum Pann in Tamil music belong to five Tamil landscapes of Kurinji, Mullai, Marutham, Neithal and Palai. For example, Neithal (seashore) land’s pann (melody) is Thodi and Sevvazhipalai and the mood associated with the land is Irangal (pathos). Several film songs reflecting this mood are picturised on the seashore like ‘Aval Paranthu Ponale…’ number from Paar Magale Paar,” says Mammathu.

Mammathu’s latest work is on scales and methodical structure of Tamil Music, which is yet to be published. He has taken 100 Carnatic ragas for his research and has done a detailed study. He has drawn the similarities between the Carnatic ragas and how it evolved from Tamil music. Since music is a performing art, he has also recorded the sound in CD format.

Sevvazhipazhai is not widely performed, so I have tried to reconstruct the raga based on the notations I have gathered from Silapathigaram. We are also going to release the CD simultaneously with the book,” he says.

His passion has driven him to learn music from vocal music expert Raghavachariar. “I learnt music out of passion and I am not interested to perform on stage. Also I have learnt to play keyboard to aid my research,” he says.

Now, he is busy collecting details about the forgotten ancient Tamil music instruments for his next book. “Several instruments are dead and gone. There is no proper record of them. I have planned to gather information about the available ones and document them,” he says.

To begin with he has taken 50 instruments including the Pancha Muga Vathiyam (five faced percussion instrument), Udalkooru and Paani (percussion instruments) to document. “We are going to make a 360 degree video of the instrument and we are in the process of finding artisans who could make and persons who could perform with it,” says Mammathu.

Centre of attraction

Tamil Music Research Centre came into being in 2013 with an objective to promote Tamil music and help students learn music. “A chance meeting with Paul C. Pandian, US based Tamil music enthusiast and philanthropist, sowed the seeds for this project. We felt if Tamil music has to reach larger audience, we have to tie up with an educational institution and Thiagarajar College management came forward to help us,” says G. Gnanasambandan, Professor Emeritus, Thiagarajar College.

The centre’s aim is not only to teach Tamil music but also involve in musical research. The centre has published N. Mammathu’s Tamil Isai Peragarathi (Lexicon of Tamil Music) series. The Centre is affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Music and Fine Arts University and runs certificate and diploma courses in music.

“It is first of its kind centre for Tamil music in the country. It is a big value addition to our college. We have all traditional instruments here and our students are already employed in several institutions. We also encourage students to do research in music. From next academic year we are going to introduce undergraduate programme in music,” says D. Pandiaraja, Principal (incharge), Thiagarajar College.

Carnatic ragas and their Tamil names

Harikambothi – Sempaalai

Hindolam – Neithalpaani

Karakarapriya – Kodipaalai

Kalyani – Mersempaalai

Sankaraparanam – Arumpaalai

Suthadhanyasi – Maruthapaani

Thodi - Vilaripaalai

Mohanam - Mullaipaani

Some of the popular film songs on ragas

Thodi ragam (Neithal Yaazh) – Gangai Karai Mannadi Ullam Kavar Kalvanadi…

Nadabhairavi (Kurinji Yaazh) – Orayiram Paarvaile…

Madhyamavathi (Kurinji Paani) –Aagaya Gangai…, En Kalyana Vaibogham…

Mohanam (Mullai Paani) – Malargal Nanainthana Paniyale, Kannan Oru Kaikuzhandai…, Thillai Ambala Nataraja…

Kalyani (Mersempaalai) - Sundari Kannal Oru Seidhi…

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 12:31:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/musicologist-n-mammathu-talks-about-the-intricacies-of-tamil-music-and-its-contribution-to-world-music/article19502645.ece

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