The ancient instrument Kal Nayanam aka Kal Nagaswaram at the Adi Kumbeswarar temple, Kumbhakonam is usually played during the Masi Magam Utsavam that falls in the Tamil month of Masi (February – March)  

N Swaminathan learnt to play the Nagaswaram from his guru Kottur N Rajaratnam Pillai at an early age and later underwent advanced training at the `padasalai’ run by the Sikkil Singaravelan temple for four years.

He has been playing both Nagaswaram and Kal Nagaswaram for more than 28 years at the Adi Kumbeswarar Temple, Kumbakonam.

The instrument Kal Nagaswaram or Kal Nayanam is unique to the Adi Kumbeswarar temple in Kumbakonam. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is a `paadal petra sthalam’ (275 temples mentioned in thevarams which are considered as great Shiva temples). Lord Shiva here is worshipped as Lord Adi Kumbeswarar and his consort Parvati as goddess Mangalambikai. 

Swaminathan who plays the Nagaswaram in this temple says that the Kal Nagaswaram at the Adi Kumbeswarar temple is said to have been made during the time of King Rajarajan. It roughly weighs around four kilograms and is around two ft long.

The body part of the instrument is made of granite stones while the`Anaisu’ (bottom part shaped like a bell) is joined by the `Vengalam’ or brass and the `Seevali’ holder is made of brass. The Kal Nagaswaram has six holes compared to the ones made in wood which has seven holes. Hence prati madhyama ragas like Kalyani, Shanmugapriya, Dharmavati, Hemavati and madhyama varja ragas like Mohanam, Hamsadhvani can be rendered with ease while `mela ragas’ with `Suddha Madhyama’ like Shankarabharanam, Karaharapriya, Todi are difficult to handle says Swaminathan. 

Not easy to master

Swaminathan who has won many awards including Nagaswara Isai Gana Thilakam, Nagaswara Kalanidhi, Nagasvara Kalai Jnana Sigaram from Ettukudi Murugan temple and the Asthana vidwan honour from the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam says that `in order to perform this instrument rigorous practice along with a lot of energy is required. As the instrument is very heavy, extra efforts with controlled blowing techniques with heavy force are to be practised along with the right fingering are required to play this instrument effortlessly. Careful handling of the instrument is necessary as it is heavy too’.

Kal nayanam is normally rendered with the 3 kattai sruti or the E pitch. 

The Kal Nagaswaram was mainly performed at the Adi Kumbeswarar temple during the Masi Magam Utsavam. This is a 10-day festival. This annual event occurs in the Tamil month of Masi (February – March) in the Tamil star of Magam. The day after the 10th-day main utsavam is known as the `Saptavarnam’ where the procession of the Lord takes place. There are seven rounds in total and six rounds are performed inside the temple.

On special occasions

For the first two rounds `Vedas’ are recited, then for the next two rounds rendering of the Tevaram, for one round there is `mounam’ or silence. For the sixth round, the Nagaswaram ensemble performs. The seventh-round is performed outside the temple and in the `Veedhi Ula’ the procession takes place in the four `Veedhis – streets’. Here too the Nadaswaram ensemble performs. Swaminathan mentions that he played this Kal nayanam around 10- 15 years back for the Saptavarnam after the 10 days `Masi magam utsavam’. 

Though this instrument was once played during `mahamaham’ (that is celebrated every 12 years in Kumbakonam and is considered sacred by the Hindus) and `masi maham’, its use was stopped for the last 15 – 20 years. In the year 2017, he played for an hour for the Saraswathi puja. He played Kritis in the ragas Hamsanadam, Shanmugapriya and Hemavathi in Kal Nayanam. After that, this instrument has not been played till now at the temple. Kal Nayanam was also played when important visitors came to the temple. The instrument was then taken out of the temple possession and the performers were asked to play.

“In earlier days Kunchithapatham Pillai and Kumbakonam Pakkirisami Pillai performed the Kal Nayanam at this temple”, he says. 

Swaminathan regularly performs the Nadaswaram at many temple festivals. Recently the Rotary Club of Madras Heritage honoured 25 temple performing artistes with the Rotary award of Excellence. We were chairpersons for this project. Receiving this award is one of the most memorable moments in my life, says this legend who has dedicated his entire lifetime in pursuit of this art form.


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