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The wedding beats

Saint-Denis, Réunion - August 25 2015: Musician playing with a nadaswaram during a Tamil festival.  

Nagaswaram is a mangala vaadya, an instrument that ushers in an auspicious atmosphere. Conducting a South Indian wedding without the nadaswaram is like celebrating Deepavali without lights or Holi without colours. So intimately are the sounds of the instrument woven into the occasion.

In the early hours of the morning, even before the wedding gets under way, the nagaswaram troupe is at the hall. The troupe consists of the main musician, his deputy, a drummer (thavil vidvan) and occasionally, a cymbals player. The main artiste usually has a regal appearance, draped in a spotless silk kurta and dhoti and decked with gold chains and medals. He displays them with pride like an Army officer wearing the badge of honour. The deputy artiste literally plays the second fiddle. His task is important as he has to maintain the pitch, while the main artiste improvises the music over this drone The drummer’s fingers are taped in white bandage, or so it seems to the onlooker. It is as if he needs that protection as he pounds his drum.

Having settled down in a corner of the hall, the troupe transforms the place with just a clatter of the drum and the first few notes of the nagaswaram. The hall and the entire neighbourhood is charged with festivity. Such is the nagaswaram’s magical effect, like the background score in a film.

Weaving together

The groom and the bride occupy centre stage, the priests maintain a rhythmic chant and family members welcome the guests. Women appear in colourful silk saris, children run around, there is laughter and conversation, everything plays out over the music.

The nagaswaram artiste is like a monk, unmindful of the overwhelming commotion. He maintains a line-of-sight communication with the main priest. At opportune moments in the wedding, the priest waves his hand like a music conductor. The cue is for the musician to change the tempo and raise the pitch to a crescendo. That is the only attention that comes his way.

In the same hall sits an elderly gentleman in the far corner. Family members are unsure which side of the family he comes from. They leave him alone. For him, the wedding has receded to the background. His attention is entirely on the music. His head sways, he blurts out shabhash and he keeps track of the beat when the drummer gets into action.

The only time this gentleman gets up from his seat is to bless the couple with a shower of rice grains, that too because someone thrust the grains into his palm!

By midday, the wedding comes to a close. Everyone congratulates the couple and head for the sumptuous lunch. Our gentleman walks in a different direction, to the corner where the artiste has just packed away his instrument. “Your Todi raga was grand! And the percussion today was A-class!” The nagaswaram artiste’s eyes light up. He touches his heart with a gentle bow as he gracefully accepts the words of appreciation. “It is all my guru’s blessings,” he trails away.

shankar.ccpp@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 9:48:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-wedding-beats/article34857212.ece

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