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  • Writer's pictureJayakumar

Musical Traditions in temples of Tamilnadu - Kuda Muzha

The percussion ensemble has been an integral part of temple rituals in Tamilnadu for centuries. Sangam poetry and Bhakti literature have abundant mention of drums. Ancient Tamils had more than 30 types of skin instruments made from animal skins, presumably for percussion. These are accompanying melodic instruments, such as Yazh and Kuzhal. Vocal music falls under this category.

Berikai, Padakam, Idakkai, Udukkai, Maddhalam, Sallikai, Karadikai, Thimilai, Kudamuzha are names of percussion instruments mentioned in literary sources. These instruments have been part of the religious and social lives of ancient Tamils. Interestingly, among the many percussion instruments mentioned in Tamil literature, some are still played for performances in temples in Kerala.

Kudamuzha of Thiruvarur Thyagaraja Temple

Muzha, or Kudamuzha, is a prominent percussion instrument of the Tamil country. From Sangam poetry of the Bhakti period and post, literary sources speak about the Muzha. It is an integral part of temple music in Kerala and Kudiyattam performances. This Kudamuzha has evolved over centuries as a Panchamukha Vadyam (fived-headed drum), is still played in two temples of Tamil Nadu, Thiruvaur and Thiruthuraipoondi.

‘Muzhavu’ in Tamil literature is a generic term for any percussion instrument. But, you also find a specific ‘Muzhavu’ mentioned throughout literary sources. Parai, Thannumai, Thadari, Damarukam, Thudi, and Monthai are a few other instruments.

Another source that talks about many instruments is Shaivaite Bhakti literature. Muzhavu gains a special place as it was to accompany none other than Lord Shiva Himself.

From literary sources to sculptural and iconographical references, we see a close association of the Muzhavu with Lord Shiva. The dancing image of Lord Shiva, known as Nataraja, is accompanied by Bana, who plays this single-headed Muzhavu. Shaivite Bhakti literature also mentions the Kudamuzha for the first time. The Muzhavu of the Sangam period became Kudamuzha, a pot-shaped or pot-based drum during Bhakti literature.

Karaikkal Ammaiyar (5th Century CE) was the earliest Saivite Bhakti poet to mention this Muzhavu as Kudamuzhavu. Appar, Tirugnana Sambandhar and Sundarar followed her in their hymns, collectively known as Theveram.

In her Thiruvalangattu Thiruppathikam, Karaikkal Ammayar describes the dance of Lord Shiva at the burial ground of Alangadu as follows:

‘Our Lord sings so tunefully that Tuththam

Kaikkilai, Vilari, Taaram, Uzhai and Yili

Mesh in harmony; Sacchari, Kokkarai, Takkai,

Takunitham, Karatikai, Venkai, Menthol,

Tamarukam, Kudamuzha and Monthai accompany

They sang in admirable unison.

Our father dances to such orchestral polyphony

Behold his place- Tiruvaalangaadu’

She mentions the seven notes and percussion instruments, including the Kudamuzha and Monthai (probably the Ghatam of today). Followed by her, the Thevaram trinities sing of the Muzhavu and Kudamuzhavu in their hymns. They say Nandi himself played the Muzhavu. Another reference is to one Bana who accompanied Lord Shiva on the Muzhavu.

Two centuries later, the Pallavas of Kanchi excavated rock-cut cave temples in northern Tamilnadu. For the first time, we find the dancing image of Shiva in a cave temple built by Mahendra Varma Pallava I at Seeyamangalam in the 7th Century CE. In this sculpture, we see Lord Shiva accompanied by Banan on a single-headed Kudamuzha.

(To be continued)

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