It’s a Sunday morning in Coimbatore, and drum beats fill the air. These people, from various age groups, are playing a musical instrument known as Parai.
You may be surprised to know that the Parai has long been associated with death rituals in Tamil Nadu. Unlike other percussion instruments like the mridangam and tavil, the parai is not allowed entry inside temples.
But now, a group of young artistes are trying to remove the stigma associated with the parai. This has led to a surge in interest to learn to play the parai among the young Tamils in India and abroad.
Learning the parai
The instrument is made of neem wood and buffalo hide and its weight ranges from 1 kg to 5kg .It is played with two sticks – a short thick one and a long thin one with the drum balanced on the elbow.
G Srinivas, along with P Chandrika and Suresh Krishnan run the Nigar Kalai Koodam, which holds parai classes in Coimbatore. Parai artistes are spread across the State, a majority of them from Tanjore, Madurai, Dindigul, Theni and Ramanathapuram.
Srinivas, who hails from Tanjore, says that the instrument is often associated with people from socially-disadvantaged communities. The politics surrounding this instrument is what drew Srinivas to the parai.
Even today, parai artistes are told to play without footwear and shirts to denote their position in society. Nigar’s students, however, play in jeans, T-shirts, and shoes to change the narrative. The team plays at celebratory events across Tamil Nadu dressed in red and blue T-shirts. They also talk about the instrument’s history on stage to create more awareness.
Nowadays, trainers too travel to teach parai at Tamil associations in several countries.
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Reporting: Akila Kannadasan
Voiceover & Production: Abhinaya Sriram
Videos: Periasamy M