Editor's note: The Chembur Fine Arts Society, one of the foremost cultural organisations in Mumbai, is going places with its innovative and pioneering efforts in promoting and propagating Indian music and dance. The recent thematic annual conferences on Carnatic music have certainly caught the imagination of the music-loving public. The last few years have witnessed detailed discussions and demonstrations on the Musical instruments of Carnatic music. The first conference, on String instruments, was held in February 1999. The conferences in 2000 and 2001 covered Wind instruments and Percussion instruments respectively. Each conference featured top-notch exponents of the respective instruments.

Carnatica already featured the papers from the String instruments conference (Click here to read those articles). Now, we move on to the papers presented in the Wind Instruments conference, held in 2001.


Wind Instruments - 2000



By S Kasim and S Babu

Nagaswaram is what makes the culture of the South special. From a long time ago to this day, although many instruments have been in vogue, only the Nagaswaram and its rhythmic twin, the Tavil, have been considered instruments of auspiciousness (mangala-vadyam), and only the music produced by them held to be auspicious. It is Nagaswaram music that has created a feeling for music among our people. The great poet Subramanya Bharati said Tamil thunders down the streets. Likewise, it is the Nagaswaram that is responsible for music filling the streets. Everyone, from the connoisseur to the layman is attracted by Nagaswaram music.

Nagaswara style:

The speciality of classical Carnatic music is that it is manodharma music, or music of the imagination. This in fact is the high point, the apogee, of our music. The credit for fostering this manodharma aspect belongs entirely to Nagaswaram music. Nagaswara vidwans have nourished this music by literally pledging their very breath to it, and they are still doing so.

Raga Alapana has been, and still is, a special feature of Nagaswarma music. There is room for the most expensive raga alapanas only in this. When a raga is being expensively portrayed in the alapana stage using this instrument, it takes both the artistes and the listeners into another realm beyond time and space.

It is Nagaswaram music that, by stretching the musicians' imagination, gave the idea that the dimensions of the human voice could be enlarged. Vocalists nurtured on Nagswaram music understood this well. The Nagaswara style of presenting music was always a little apart from the style of the Vina (which is a fretted instrument). While the Nagaswara's potential enabled its exponents to open up their imagination, it can be stated that Nagaswaram music helped add a new image and lustre to vocal music. The expansive raga alapanas presented by great Nagaswara vidwans inspired several vocalists and helped give a new shape to their concert presentations. When these vocalists, inspired by the Nagaswara bani, presented raga alapana-s expansively, but rooted in tradition, their fame reached new peaks.

Playing technique:

Nagaswara playing is a complex technique. The half-notes and quarter-notes in Nagaswaram are not produced by the partial closing and opening of the finger holes as in the Indian flute, but by adjusting the pressure of the air blown in the pipe. This is a laborious process, and it consequently takes a long time to attain proficiency in playing this instrument.

Gamakas, which are the life and soul of and also peculiar to Indian music, are easily produced in Nagaswaram by breath control and the fingers of the performer. Nagaswaram produces all the nuances of Carnatic music and in the hands of an expert, it almost speaks like a human voice.


Nagaswaram music is played for every ritual in temples from early morning till night. The people who hear Nagaswaram music visualize the Almighty in the form of music. When the deity is taken out for procession a composition known as Mallari is played in this instrument. It is a rhythmic composition and is usually played in the raga Gambheeranata.

Distinctive technique:

Briga-s and viraladi both solely and exclusively belong to Nagaswaram. In this particular aspect, the late Tiruvadudurai T N Rajaratnam Pillai proved himself an expert; none can excel him. Having him as his role model, our late grandfather, Dr. Sheik Chinna Moulana, was able to captivate rasikas. Thus connoisseurs and laymen held him in high esteem.

Importance of sahitya:

Proper knowledge of sahitya is a must for Nagaswara vidwans. This should not be compromised on. It is very important for every Nagaswara student to learn vocal music first. While rendering the kritis of Muthuswami Dikshitar in Nagaswaram, the tongue plays a major role in producing the tutttukaram-s, which in turn brings out the sahityanubhava (feel of the sahitya/lyrics). Systematic and proper sahitya patantara is the special feature of our school.


While rendering ragas like Sindhubhairavi, Yamankalyani, Desh etc. and also while rendering compositions in those ragas, bringing out melody is another important factor. Melody is brought through breath control, and here lips play an important role. When rendering these Hindustani ragas, listeners can feel the synchronization of Nagaswaram with the Shehnai of the north. This aspect of rendering exclusively belongs to our grandfather, Dr. Sheik Chinna Moulana.


Posted on March 12, 2002

Related links: Other articles from the Chembur Conference
                     Musical Expressions