Social and cultural impacts of Parai
A historical study
The word 'Music' is called as 'Isai' in Tamil, which means sweetness. The Isai was a part and parcel of the cultural life of the ancient Tamils and was also inseparable from all kinds of their productive activities.
Tamil language has been mentioned as 'Muttamil' which denotes three divisions viz. Iyal, Isai and Natagam. The antiquity of Tamil Isai or Tamil music could not be traced to any particular period in history of Tamils.
A number of musical instruments are mentioned in the Sangam literatures and hymns of Nayanmars. Musical instruments of leather provided with holes, Stringed, Midatru karuvi, throat instruments, flute, lute, trumpets, Parai, murasu, perikai, yal, veenai, muzhavu were very popular during Sangam period.. Tamil isai abounds with details about these various types of musical instruments.
The mountain and mountainous terrain was called "Kurinchi", the life of man started from the region. The mountain ranges were the first living abode of the human beings. In early days, the people killed animals for their food and they used to wear the skins of those animals and to manufacture the musicals instruments.
Parai was the first instrument of leather and so it was considered as the mother of all musical instruments. Initially, the people made use of the broken mud pot covered with animal skin and generated sound with wooden sticks and leather straps. Gradually it became the instrument for communication among the people. They used the instrument to announce or communicate the messages to those who lived at various places.
"ð¬ø ð¬ø õêùˆ«î£´
ðø‚°‹ ¹œ - Þø° ºŠ«ð˜'-
----(Åì£ñE Gè‡´-ð-.477-2, 2, 2,2,2,3 ªðò˜èœ)
Thus, the word Parai has had three meanings such as 1. The drum called Parai, 2.'To Word' and 3. 'Bird's wing'. The meaning of Paraidhal has its origin in the word itself. It means to announce or to declare or to convey something.
The instrument of leather is occupied primary importance among the ancient musical instruments. There were 70 types of musical instruments made up of leather. Out of which, 33 types of Parai were used in those days depending on the appearance and the need. Universally they were called as drums. But the following instruments come under the head of 'Parai'.
There were several types of Parai namely Adakkam, Aripparai, Akuli, Elleri, Erangkol, oruvaikkothai, Kancira, Kanapparai, Kandikai, Kinai, Kotparai, Chakadai, Challeri, Chiruparai, Thakkai, Thakuniccham, Thattai, Thandol, Thannumai, Thamarugam, Thamukku, Timilai, Thudi, Padavam, Padalikai, Pathalai, Perumparai, Peri, Maguli, Kudamuzhvu (Panchamuga vathyam), Thambattam, Sakkattuparai or Sapparai, Kaduvaiparai. These names are collected from the text of Sangam literature and verbal speech.
All these musical instruments were technically developed from one faced leather instrument up to multi faced instruments. These instruments were differed and varied according to the beating sounds, size and structure.
There are innumerable references to the varieties of musical instruments, their construction and to the varieties of musical forms and narrations, in Pattupattu and Ettutokai. The following reference shows different types of Parai and their sounds.
"F¼ñ¬ö î¬ôÞò Þ¼œ Gø M²‹H¡
M‡ ÜF˜ ÞI› Þ¬ê è´Šð ð‡ Ü¬ñˆ¶
F‡õ£˜ MCˆî ºöªõ£´, Ý°O
¸‡à¼‚° àŸø M÷ƒ° Üì˜Š ð£‡®™,
I¡ Þ¼‹ dL ÜEˆî¬ö‚ «è£†«ì£´
è‡ Þ¬ì M´ˆî èOŸÁ àJ˜ˆ É‹H¡
ÞOŠðJ˜ ÞI¼‹ °Á‹ðó‹ É‹ªð£´
MOŠð¶ èõ¼‹ b‹°ö™ ¶¬îÞ
ï´¾G¡Á Þ¬ê‚°‹ ÜK‚°ó™ î†¬ì
è® èõ˜¹ åL‚°‹ õ™õ£Œ â™ôK
ªï£®î¼ ð£Eò ðî¬ô»‹ Hø¾‹
è£˜«è£† ðôM¡ è£Œˆ¶í˜ è´Šð
«ï˜Y˜ ²¼‚A™ è£ò èôŠ ¬ðJ˜
...... (ñ¬ôð´èì£‹. 1-13)
"The blow horn is compared with the lifted trunk of elephant. The melody of the flute was suitably supported by such drums and the talam was maintained by lifting the forearm and with the gestures of hand and fingers the unit of musical time was demonstrated. In no other country can we come across the names of so many drums as we do in
According to some Tamil Scholars, the Parai was associated with themes of love and romance as for as Akananooru is concerned and that it was identified with war and war camp as far as Purananooru is concerned. Besides these there were other Parai that were held in reverences and considered sacred.
The verses of Panchamarabu, Malaipadukadam, Purananuru, Akananuru, Silappathikaram, Madurai kanchi, Cevakasindamani give various informations in respect of making of parai, the materials used for, the method of tuning and playing and so on. Both wood and mud seem to have been used for the construction of parai. The skin of deer, cow, bullock and udumbu were used for making parai.
It is also clearly explained as to how the leather parchments were kept in correct tension by means of leather strap-links with help to control and about the loosening and tightening of the parchment to produce the desired pitch. Single faced, double faced, three faced, four faced and five faced parai have the references in the olden literature. The five faced parai is called 'Panchamuga Vaithiyam".
"MCŠHE‚ ªè£‡ì ñ‡è¬í ºö¾"
ñ£¡ «î£Ÿ CÁð¬ø, èøƒè‚ è™ªôù-
"è¡QJ÷‹ ð²M¡ è£ò£Š ¹ø‰«î£ô£ñ
H¡Âñî½ Kî¬èò£‹ - ð¡Qò
ð‚èî«î£™ õ£˜ ªè£œ÷Š ð£˜‚A ôî¡ ªè£‹¹
I‚è °´Šð£° ªñ¡"
"¹L«ò£´ «ð£K†´Š ¹øƒªè£ì£¶ ªõ¡ø ÜöAò
è£¬÷Jù¶ «î£ô£™ «ð£˜ˆîŠð†ì¶"
"ñ£Áð£†¬ì ãŸÁ‚ «è£øŸªø£N¬ô»¬ìò ãŸPù¶
ªêšMˆ«î£¬ô ñJ˜ Yõ£ñ™ «ð£˜ˆ¶õ¶‡´
"«î£Ÿªð£L ºö¾‹ ò£¿‰ ¶¬÷ðJ™ °ö½«ñ£ƒè"
---Yõè C‰î£ñE- 675)
In Sangam literature, Kurinchi, Mullai, Marutham, Neithal and Palai have been identified with their respective nature of land, surroundings, climate, seasons, musical instruments, melodies and dances etc., ascribed to them. The construction and nature of parai are also differed to the respective land.
The names of the Parai are not only referred the identity of the lands but also denoted their social and culture life. According to this division of lands, the Parai was also classified as
1. Thondaga cirupari ... Kurinchi
2. Earangkot Parai ... Mullai
3. Thannumai Parai ... Marudam
4. Meenkot Parai ... Neithal
5. Arreri Parai (Tudi) ... Palai
The bards were a distinguished group by themselves. Those who played Yazh were called Yalpanar. The women musicians were called Patini. The dancing damsels were called 'viraliyar'. There is lot of informations about the bards and their musical instruments. Tutiyan, Panan and paraiyan are the names given to those who played the instruments of tuti, yalz and parai respectively.
¶®ò¡ ð£í¡ ð¬øò¡ èì‹ðªù¡Á
Þ‰ï£¡ è™ô¶ °®»I™¬ô --- ¹øï£- 335.7:8
The ancient Tamil literature portrays the different methods and techniques of playing Parai. This will evident to prove the musical knowledge and skills of ancient Tamils. The following are some of the references to the techniques of playing Parai.
1. ÜK‚«è£Ÿ ð¬øJ¡ äªòù åL‚°‹-- (Üèï£. 151:10)
2. "Þ¿ªñù ÞNî¼‹ ð¬ø‚°ó™" ------- (ðFŸÁ.70.24)
3. G¬óFI™ èOø£èˆ F¬óªò£L ð¬øò£è" -- (èL.èì¾œ.149:1)
4. "îjÞˆ îjÞˆ î‡í‹ð´‹" --- (ï£ô®-6..4) (î‡í‹-ê£Šð¬ø)
5. "ªì£‡ªì£‡ ªì£ªì¡Â‹ ð¬ø ---(ï£ô®- 25.4)
6. "ð´ ð´šªõùŠ ð¬øèœ ªè£†®ì ---(àî.°ñ£.33.2)
7. "î£ù î‰îù ù£ªõÂ‹ ð¬ø --- (F¼Š¹è›- 6.52)
8. î£ªñ£‹ ªñùŠ ð¬ø ò£› °ó™ ---- «îõ£. F¼¹è›.800)
9. "ªêèí…ªêè ªõù¾‹ ð¬ø
F¬êªòƒAÂ‹ «ñ£î" --- (F¼Š¹è›. 800)
The above quotations reveal the different methods of playing Parai. The drummers used different types of parai in different landscape and played the parai to generate different sounds. Thannumai was used for producing soft sound. So, it is called as 'Erthan muzhavu'. The word 'Thannu' denotes sweetness of melody. At the same time it can be used for producing a high-pitched loud cracking sound.
"î‡µ¬ñ ºöõ ªñ£‰¬î î°E„ê‹ Hø¾‹ æ¬ê"
--- (Yõè. °í 965:115)
"Þ¼î¬ô °M‰î ªï†´ì™ î‡µ¬ñ
å¼ ºè‹ î£›ˆF Þ¼ è®Š¹ åLŠð --- (è™ô£ì‹ -8.12.22)
"ªð£¶MŸ Úƒ°‹ MC»Á î‡µ¬ñ
õOªð£¼ ªî‡è‡ «è†H¡
Ü¶«ð£ ªó¡Â ªñ¡¬ùò º÷«ù --- (¹øï£ÛÁ. 87.27-9)
The above descriptions reveal the different melodies and scales played on Parai. Parai used to play during the celebration of weddings, for gathering the people to cultivate the land, for making announcement of messages and orders of Tamil kings etc. In Palai land, the hunters and dacoits used to play Parai while worshiping their Goddess Kotravai. Thus, the Parai had played a vital role in all walks of life.
Thudiyan, Panan, parayan, kadamban were the groups of musicians. They used to play the Parai commonly in various places and in various occasions. The following poem of Tolkappiyam describes the divisions among Tamil people.
'GôŠªðò˜ °®Šªðò˜ °¿M¡ ªðò«ó
M¬ùŠªðò˜ à¬ìŠªðò˜ ð‡¹ ªè£œ ªðò«ó
ð™«ô£˜‚ °Pˆî º¬ø G¬ôŠ ªðò«ó
ð™«ô£˜‚ °Pˆî C¬ù G¬ôŠ ªðò«ó
ð™«ô£˜‚ °Pˆî F¬í G¬ôŠ ªðò«ó
Ã®õ¼ õö‚A¡ Ý´ ÞòŸ ªðò«ó
Þ¡Á Þõ˜ â¡Â‹ â‡aòŸ ªðò«ó£´
Ü¡P Ü¬ùˆ¶‹ ÜõŸÁ Þò™Hù«õ'
According to this verse, the social system was divided on basis of the nature of work they done, in those days such as Alavar, Ediyar, Eyavar, Umanar, Uzhavar, Eeinar, Kadambar, Kammiyar, Kalamar, Kilaizar, Kuyavar, Kuravar, Kurumbar, Kutthar, Kollar, Kosar, Thatcher, Thudiyar, Therpagar, Thunaiyar, Barathavar, Paraiyar, Panar, Pulaiyar, Porunar, Mazhavar, Vadavadukar, Vannar, Vanikar, Vedar.
This classification denotes the divisions of working class in Sangam Age. In this classification, only the paraiyar has subsequently been named as Ezhicinan and Ezhipirappalan, as they played the instrument of Tudi, Parai and Thannumai.
'M™ à¿¶ à‡ñ£˜ ï£Šð¡ å™ªôù
ÞNHøŠð£÷¡ è¼ƒ¬è CõŠð" --- ¹ø‹ - 170
"¶® âP»‹ ¹¬ôò
ãP«è£™ ªè£œÀ‹ ÞNCù ---- ¹ø‹.-287
"Ì‚«è£œ Þ¡Á â¡Á Ü¬ø»‹
ñ®õ£Œˆ î‡µ¬ñ ÞNCù¡ °ó«ô" --- ¹ø‹- 289
"è†®™ Gù‚°‹ ÞNCù¡ ¬èò¶
«ð£› É‡´ áCJ¡ M¬ó‰î¡Á ñ£«î£" ¹ø‹ - 82
The well known drumming castes are paraiyars, named after the Parai they used and Chakkiliyars who speak Telugu language. The drum used by the pariyars is called as 'Parai' and the drum used by the latter is called as 'Thappu'.
The instrument of Parai has its own distinct and peculiar physical appearance. The Parai is a frame drum about 35 centimeters in diameter. It consists of a shallow ring of wood, covered on one side with a stretched cow hide that is glued to the wooden frame. The preferred wood is neem wood although other types may be used. The shell is made up of three separate pieces of wood each in the shape of an arc. These pieces are held together by three metal plates. The Parai is played with two sticks: one long and thin flat bamboo stick (approx. 28 cm) and one short and thick stick that can be made from any variety of wood (approx. 18 cm).
The Parai is slung by a strap on the left shoulder and is held vertically against the left side of the performer’s body. This simple harness allows the drummer to play while standing, walking, or dancing. The Parai is played entirely with sticks. There are three fundamental strokes from which all of the rhythmic patterns derive: striking the center of the drum with the shorter stick held in the dominant hand, “slapping” the center of the drum with the long stick held in the off hand, and striking the drum with both sticks, the dominant immediately followed by the off. The short stick is loosely held between the thumb and three other fingers: index, middle, and ring. It is held vertically upright, positioned near the lower rim of the drum. The off hand which holds the long stick rests on the upper part of the frame. This stick is positioned at a angle pointed downward. The base of the stick is gripped by the thumb and index fingers and balanced between the middle and ring fingers. Prior to every performance, Parai drummers will heat their instruments, holding them extremely close to a small bonfire. The heat from the fire absorbs the moisture in the drum heads tightening them considerably. After heating, the drums produce a high pitched loud cracking sound when struck.
As a rural tradition, Parai folk drumming does not have a codified system of written notation. Musicians learn through years of unconscious absorption, conscious listening, imitation, and practice. Drumming is also learned through the recitation of spoken syllables reminiscent of solkattu in Carnatic music. Each rhythm has a corresponding set of syllables. However, the correspondence of strokes to syllables is not absolutely fixed. A drummer’s choice of syllables depends upon the specific combination or permutation of drum strokes, the speed at which they are played, and his own personal aesthetic and lineage. Unlike the Carnatic system, rhythmic syllables in the Parai tradition are not recited in relationship to a tala cycle designated by prescribed hand gestures.
The Paraiyar, the group of musicians and the Pulaiyar, the working class have been treated as untouchables. They have been confined in the lowest level of the Hindu social order, below the four varnas of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sutras.
In ancient times, the instrument of the Parai was not connoted with untouchability. In the later days, only after the implication of Brahmanical thoughts, the instrument of Parai is considered as an identity of untouchablity.
In addition to performing the Parai music at their temple festival and religious and ritual celebrations, they had to provide inauspicious ritual services and to perform drumming for funerals for the higher caste people. Because of its association with death, drummers and the Parai drum have been treated as both impure and degraded by upper castes.
There are two paraiyar sub-castes viz. Necavar (weaver) and Totti paraiyars. Only the latter held the public office (Totti) an provide specialist impure ritual services such as drumming- horn blowing funeral services announcing death, wailing, carrying burning pots and the removal of dead cattle. There have been several instances of refusal by paraiyars to do the said services and due to which, they were punished mercilessly.
Parai beats are resurrected in the late 90s by the Tamil youths. This music got promoted from centuries of being played only at funerals to mainstream music. Parai music is everywhere now. Lately, Tamil Diaspora musicians have been mixing it with Soca, Rap, Hip Hop, Raggae etc.
In the advent of the upraising of the Dalit movement in the recent decade, there have been considerable changes in their conditions of social, economical and cultural life. This leads to several changes in their life style and cultural scenario. The Parai has become the cultural identity and the symbol of social freedom to a certain extent, of the Dalit community. It is felt that the Parai music reflects the feeling of the working people.
One of the consequences of this movement is commercialization of Parai music. It is true that the traditional musical system did not observe the Parai music. But due to the recent changes, the Parai music draws the attention of the traditional music system. The so called low class Dalits had preserved and improved the great music of the ancient Tamils.
Nowadays, the music of Parai takes place a dominant position in all the musical systems and is playing an important role in reflecting the feelings of the downtrodden people. But at the same time, the commercialization will lead to alienation of the Parai music from the drummer as well from the working masses.
However, the Parai belongs to working people. The Parai music reflects the feeling of the working masses. It is the time to make efforts to bring this Parai towards the socialization of music.
Originally the Parai music emerged from the people. Then, it was subjected to social boycott by the Hindu caste system for several centuries. But, the Parai will definitely liberate all the working people from all the clutches.
1. ð¬ø Þ¬ê‚ è¼M- æ˜ ÝŒ¾, º.õ÷˜ñF, F¼ñèœ G¬ôò‹, ðFŠ¹-1999.
2. «ê‰î¡, Fõ£èó‹, Hƒèô‹ Åì£ñE, ê£‰F ê£îù, ªê¡¬ù-28, º.ð. 2004
3. Heritage of the Tamils- Art and Architecture, Ed. S.V. Subramanian & A.N. Perumal, I.I.T.S. Chennai – 113, 1983