(Last Updated on : 11/03/2015)
History of music in Tamil Nadu is relevant from the prehistoric times. History has become a shifting, problematic discourse, about any aspect of the world. Art is a complex subject of historical enquiry and aesthetic cognition at each stage of its development. Music is the most abstract of all arts as mathematics is in the region of science. Pure essence of expressiveness in existence is offered in music. In sound, it finds the least resistance and has a freedom unencumbered by the burden of thoughts and facts. It gives it a power to arouse an intense feeling of reality; it seems to be leading into the soul of all things and makes a person feel the very breath of inspiration flowing from the supreme creative joy. In music, the feeling extracted from 'sound' becomes an independent object itself. It assumes a tune-form which is definite, but a meaning which is indefinable and yet grips the mind with a sense of absolute truth. After all, art is the response of man's creative soul to the call of the real.
The history of music requires a pre-existent canon pinned down by tradition that is a structured account of the past. An aesthetic canon is a premise of music historiography. The world of Tamil music is fortunate in having inherited a rich legacy of Lakshanagranthas. The authors of these Granthas have made a scientific and systematic study of art-forms. The classical arts derive vitality and strength from these treatises, which provide the structural framework relating to the rendering of these arts. But 'True Music' attempts to make people believe in the contextual representation of the world. In the Indian state
of Tamil Nadu
the first stage of the attempt is marked by sacrifice, characterized by ritual practices. Right from this stage, music is a professional activity. During the Bhakti
phase the Azhwars and Nayanmars made use of it as a medium to propagate religious dogma. The Nayaka and Maratha rule reveals the potential of music as a saleable asset.
An endless period of 'reproduction' follows, matching the creation of demand. Music compositions are canonized and catalogued. The trend continues till this day. In this process of transformation arises a symbolic confrontation between joyous enjoyment and austere power. The signification of music becomes a relation embedded in specific culture. A musical message is expressed in a global fashion in its operationality; it is no longer a mere juxtaposition (signification) of each sound element. In the course of their fluctuating history, the Tamils have not suffered a total overthrow. Most of the threads are intact. The sequence of development components runs parallel to the renovation of culture. Music gains a meaning operationally beyond its own syntax, since music falls within the very power that produces society.
During the age of the Pallavas, music grew in a fertile soil and climate well irrigated by the Bhakti. The Azhwars and Nayanmars form a conglomeration whose element and social status vary considerably. They belong to different castes. In Sangam and Silappathikaram days Panar were the custodians of music and classified as low born. Music and dance have become a part of temple service under the Pallavas. Association with temples imparts a divinity to the arts and sanctity to the exponents. Temples from now on promote arts.
Musical treatises of the period between the ninth and fifteenth centuries have not survived. In the fifteenth century a giant among composers, Arungirinatha, appeared. Arunachalakavi composed Ramanatakam. The Nayaka and Maratha rulers were great patrons of music and dance. The Nayaka (AD 1532 to 1673) and Maratha (AD 1676 to 1865) provided major institutional support as well. The court at Tanjore had a direct hand in the development of musical theory. The period witnessed the consolidation of musical wealth. Between Tulajendra and Arunachalakavi the crimson dawn was radiant with the promise of glorious sun-shine. Convention clubs Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri as a Musical Trinity. Many others fill the interval between 1760 AD and 1857 AD.
The institution of reciting (singing) the sacred hymns composed by the first three 'Samayacharyas' came into existence in the ninth century AD and that of consecrating their images in the tenth century AD. As endeavours of religious fervour they grew in intensity during the successive four centuries reaching the peak in the thirteenth century AD. The end of the Chola and Pandya rulers records a sudden drop in the degree of intensity of these activities in the fourteenth century AD. The rulers of Vijayanagara Empire
of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries attempted to revive the services in some of the temples. Their efforts in this direction did not help to recreate the status. Vijayanagara leaders were preoccupied with architectural expansion and sculptural embellishment.
The period of the Nayaka kings of Tanjore was one of splendour and richness of output, the immediate corollary of the period of Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagara. Nayaka patronage could be epitomized. It manifested itself in the shape of (a) the appointment of professional composers, performers to serve in the court, (b) the construction of an auditorium, (c) the concerts in the royal durbar, (d) liberal grants of lords to musicians and artists, (e) extension of facilities for cultural exchange, (f) encouragement to manufacture of musical instruments, (g) appointment of supervisors to direct the execution of schemes, and (h) endowments to temples for purposes of maintaining artists.
The seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed unprecedented progress in the theory and practice of Tamil music. The roots of the arts of dance and music, which are current, could be traced back to this epoch. By the time of the rule of the Tanjore Nayakas, the Laksbanagrantbas (musical treatises) had been accepted. They lent support for the consolidation of 'Art Music'. The veena
with twenty four frets had ushered in the Tanjore melam. Venkatamakin systematized the seventy-two melakartas and laid the foundation of the edifice. Lakshana and Lakshya (theory and practice) were happily blended and the best music talents flocked to Tanjore. Musical formats like Kriti, Kirtana, Varna, Ragamalika etc., are not cited as lakshyas. They must have gained currency not classification. Ragas had come to be a group under the seventy-two melakarta scheme.
Past views are not suppressed by successors. The initiative for innovation patently operated during Nayaka-Maratta rule of the Tanjore. The 'element of function' had not been irrelevant. The functional notion clearly dominates the court-music of Tanjore, but at the same time the representational aesthetic drawing from ancient theories had not been a casualty. A healthy relation grew between the ends that music was intended to serve and the technical means considered being appropriate to achieve that end. There had been no confrontation between ends and means.
Musical works might have outlived the musical culture of their age but history and aesthetic exist in a reciprocal relation in music history. The aesthetic premises that might sustain the writing of music history are themselves historical. With some leeway in chronology and some stretching of fact, it can safely be said that the art theory of Tamil music was based in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on the relationship of compositional techniques but relate to social foundations of the Sangam age.