The Nagaswaram


The  Nagaswaram

The nadaswaram (also spelt nadhaswaram, and also called nagaswaram) is one of the most popular classical instruments of South India and the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic instrument. It is a wind instrument similar to the North Indian shehnai but larger, with a hardwood body and a large flaring bell made of wood or metal.

In India the nadaswaram is considered to be very auspicious, and it is the key instrument which is played in almost all Hindu marriages and temples in South India. It is part of the family of instruments known as a Mangala Vadya (lit. mangala means auspicious, vadya means instrument). The instrument is usually played in pairs, and accompanied by a pair of drums called thavil.


The nadaswaram contains three parts namely, kuzhal, thimiru, and anasu. Traditionally the body of the nagaswaram is made out of a tree called aacha.

It is a double reed instrument with a conical bore which gradually enlarges toward the lower end. It is usually made of a type of ebony. The top portion has a metal staple (called “Mel Anaichu”) into which is inserted a small metallic cylinder (called “Kendai”) which carries the mouthpiece made of reed. Besides spare reeds, a small ivory or horn needle is attached to the Nagaswaram. This needle is used to clear the mouthpiece of saliva particles and allows the free passage of air. A metallic bell (called “Keezh anaichu”) decorates the bottom.

The Nagaswaram has seven finger-holes. There are five additional holes drilled at the bottom which are used as controllers. The Nagaswaram has a range of two and a half octaves like the flute. The system of fingering is similar to that of the flute. But unlike the flute, where semi and quarter tones are produced by the partial opening and closing of the finger holes, in the Nagaswaram they are produced by adjusting the pressure and strength of the air-flow into the pipe. Hence it is a very exacting instrument. Also, due to its intense volume and strength it is basically an outdoor instrument and much more suited for open spaces than for closed indoor concert situations.


Some of the greatest early exponents of the nadaswaram include Thiruvavadudurai Rajaratnam Pillai and Sangita Kalanidi Thiruvizhimizhalai Subrahmanya Pillai. In more recent times Namagiripettai Krishnan, Karukurichi Arunachalam, Sheik Chinna Moulana, Thiruvarur S Latchappa Pillai are well known nadaswaram artists.

U.S. composers such as Lewis Spratlan and Carl Stone have expressed admiration for the nadaswaram, and a few jazz musicians have taken up the instrument: Charlie Mariano (b. 1923) is one of the few non-Indians able to play the instrument, having studied it while living in India; and Vinny Golia, J. D. Parran, and William Parker have recorded with the instrument. Tim Price, a student of Charlie Mariano at Berklee, also plays the nadaswaram. The German saxophonist Roland Schaeffer also plays it, having studied from 1981 to 1985 with Karupaia Pillai.

(Courtesy of lakshmansruthi)


Sheik Chinna Moulana



Sheikh Chinna Moula – known in Tamil Nadu as Sheikh Chinna Moulana hails from Karavadi, Andhra Pradesh, in South India. He moved to Srirangam in 1964 and lived there the rest of his life. His ancestors were all Nagaswara Vidwans (Nagaswaram and Nadaswaram are interchangeable words) and belonged to the Chilakaluripeta School (Style of) Nadaswaram playing. This style of playing originated in the second half of the 18th century. It consisted exclusively of Muslim pipers though a few Hindu players were also trained in this style. From a very tender age Chinna Moula was enthralled by the Nadaswaram playing of T. N. Rajarathanm and would listen to his gramaphone records repeatedly without ever tiring. He became successful as a concert artist but felt that to further his career he needed to heavily use the Thanjavur Bhani(style). He went to Nachiarkovil in 1950 to become a student of the highly respected Duraikkannu Pillai and every year for two months (for 9 years) he became a student. Duraikkannu Pillai later said that Sheikh was quick in grasping whatever he was taught, like the inflammable camphor Sheikh became an expert in handling ragas and incorporated the Thanjavur Bhani in his own playing.

Sheikh Chinna Moulana and his wife Beebi Jan had a daughter, Jan Beevi (Sheikh Suban Sahib is her husband). Sheikh had five grandchildren (Mastan, Kasim, Babu, Chinna Kasim and AlliSahib). Kasim and Babu learnt from Sheikh and accompanied him in concerts during the latter part of his career. Earlier in his career he was accompanied by Sheikh Hassan Sahib. Kasim and Babu have teamed up and perform all over India. They are one of the leading groups in Nadaswaram playing today.

Sheikh gave his first concert in 1960 and was in demand till he passed away. He has toured Sri Lanka and toured the USA and Canada in 1973 under the auspices of the East-West Exchange, Inc. Professor William Skelton of Colgate University (himself a Nadaswara Vidwan — see picture below, right) requested and hosted his first program in the USA. There was a televised procession around the campus and an elite gathering, which included the President of the University and the Indo-US Association, attended the inaugural concert. In San Francisco Professor Robert Brown arranged an open air concert during lunch time at Union Square, where over 2000 office workers (eating their lunch outdoors) attended and cheered him on. Incidentally, he started with a morning concert in San Diego, a luncheon concert in San Francisco and an evening concert in Los Angeles! His major foreign tours included: Hong Kong (1982), Former U.S.S.R. (1987), Germany and France (1991), Finland (1996) and U.A.E. (1997) The honors and highlights of his career are listed below:
Major honors and highlights of career

1973 Nagaswara Acharya, Vassar College, New York
1976 Kalaimamani, Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Manram
1977 Sangeetha Nataka Academy, Award from the Government of India,
Padma Sri Award from the President of India (Delhi)
1980 Ganakala Prapoorna, Title from Andhra Pradesh Sangeetha
Nataka Academy
1984 Appointed State Artist of Tamil Nadu
1985 Honorary Doctorate (Kala Prapoorna) from Andhra University
1987 Honored by Telugu University, Hyderabad
1988 Appointed to the Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Manram
Awarded Senior Fellowship by the Government of India
1993 Nagaswara Visarada Bridu and appointment as Sringeri Mutt
Tamil Isai Perignyar title and President of Tamil Isai Music Festival
1994 Mangala Vadya Visarada title with a 40 grams gold medal presented by the            citizens of Kumbakonam
1995 Mysore T. Chowdiah Memorial Award, Bangalore
T.N. Rajaratnam Award, Muthamizhperavai, Chennai
1999 Sangeetha Kalanidhi Award and President of Music Academy Festival

Sheikh was such a great person that he managed to overcome a strong prejudice against a Muslim playing at sacred Hindu functions. In my opinion, the one true Brahmin (in the truest sense of the word) I have met so far is Sheikh Chinna Moulana Sahib. Those who are used to Hindu-Muslim differences will be astounded to learn about his eclectic approach to religion. Though a Muslim by birth, name, religion and heritage, he spent his spare time reading Ramayana and Mahabharata. His Ishta Devata was Rama. He was a man of deep faith and stoic disposition. Music was his religion and perfection his aim.
At the end of his illustrious career Sheikh Chinna Moulana was presented with the coveted T. N. Rajaratnam award by Sri. M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Sheikh probably cherished this award the most because he started by listening to T. N. Rajaratnam’s gramaphone records. He also reached the great heights reached by T. N. Rajaratnam. Many discerning Nadaswaram listeners realized that his Nadaswaram playing, Raga exposition and Kriti playing brought back memories of the greatest of them all.

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About RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

Ram51 is a researcher in the various fields of Musicology, Philosophy and History as well as old languages. One of his first topics is the wide scope of Indo-arabic cultures as represented in various art-forms religion and history. Below a list of selected Research topics which sum up partitionally the task of anthropological Frameworks in totaliter : Sanskrit Hinduism and Mythology Hindustani Music, The Muqhal Empire Gharanas from North India Kashmir Sufiyana The Kashmir Santoor Traditional Folk Music from USA Philosophy in Orient and Okzident Genealogy of musical instruments Ethnomusicology, Arabic Maqams, No Theatre fromJapan, North american poetry, Cultural heritage of mankind and Islamic architecture... View all posts by RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

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