The Nagaswaram (often referred to as Nadaswaram owing to its rich tone), belongs to the wood-wind family. It is known as a Mangala Vadya  ('mangala' means auspicious and 'vadya' means instrument), since it is played in temples, processions and other auspicious occasions like festivals and marriages. The Nagaswaram ensemble is known as the Periya melam and generally consists of a lead Nagaswaram player, the Ottu or drone, the Tavil  player and a tala-keeper with a pair of bronze cymbals known as Jaalra.


Types: There are two varieties of Nagaswaram:

  • Timiri, which is shorter (usually about one and a half feet) and higher in pitch.

  • Bari, which is longer (two or two and a half feet) and lower in pitch.

Construction: The Nagaswaram is a double reed instrument with a conical bore that gradually enlarges towards the lower end. It is usually made of a type of seasoned ebony, although there are Nagaswarams made of sandalwood, redwood, silver, gold, etc. The top portion consists of a metal staple (called mel anaichu) and into this is inserted a small metallic cylinder called kendai. The kendai carries the mouthpiece, seevali,  which is made of reed. Along with spare reeds, a small needle, known as kuchchi, made of ivory or horn, is attached to the Nagaswaram. The needle is used to clear the mouth-hole of saliva particles and allow air to pass through. The bottom is decorated with a metallic bell called the keezh anaichu.


Tuning: The standard Nagaswaram, Bari, which is commonly used today is usually set between 2 and 3 (D and E).

Playing technique: The Nagaswaram has seven finger-holes. There are 5 additional holes drilled at the bottom, which are used as controllers. Like the flute, the Nagaswaram has a range of two and a half octaves and the fingering techniques are similar. While in the flute, semi and quarter notes are produced by the partial opening and closing of the finger-holes, in the Nagaswaram, they are produced by varying the power of air blown into the pipe. This makes it a very strenuous instrument to play.

Musical Expressions