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Tamil Music and Musicians

  9 AM – 12 Noon, July 4, 2015, Room San Carlos - கூடல், San Jose Hilton


Performing Artists as Portrayed in Caṅkam Literature

  V. S. Rajam, Ph.D.


Ancient Tamil literature (caṅkam literature) abounds in references to performing artists including vocalists, instrumentalists, and dancers. We also hear about various musical instruments and learn about the circumstances when the instruments were used.


When we read caṅkam poetry we realize that music was an integral part of the people. Poetry is based on highly structured meters, and each type of meter is supposed to produce certain resonance. We also hear about seven types of melody. Each type of landscape was associated with certain types of musical instruments and melody. Even the prosaic version of the language is rich in sound-words, which are noted as “onomatopoetic words” in linguistics. One would be surprised to notice how many of such “onomatopoetic words” are used even today in daily Tamil usage.


Performing artists were highly respected in ancient society and were appreciated properly. 

This presentation will be about performing artists as I find them portrayed in caṅkam Literature. The information would include the following: performing artists, musical instruments, usage of instruments, status of performing artists as we see/hear about them in caṅkam literature.


V. S. Rajam, born in Viravanallur of Tirunelveli District, grew up, studied, and taught in Madurai. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, Master’s Degree in Tamil, Certificate and Diploma in Linguistics, Master’s Degree in Linguistics, and a Ph.D Degree in Linguistics. She has also trained herself in computer languages.


In her dissertation for Ph.D., V. S. Rajam showed that the Tamil Tolkāppiyam was NOT modeled after the Sanskrit Pāṇini’s work The Aṣṭādhyayī, thereby opening the eyes of those who have been claiming that Tolkāppiyar borrowed from Pāṇini. Her dissertation advisor, George Cardona, is a top-notch Pāṇinian scholar!


V. S. Rajam has taught Tamil and linguistics at the following places: Fatima College in Madurai, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. She has presented several research papers at academic conferences and published several research papers in reputed academic journals. Her major accomplishments are the following publications: A Reference Grammar of Classical Tamil Poetry and The Earliest Missionary Grammar of Tamil: Fr. Henriques’ Arte da Lingua Malabar: Translation and Analysis. Both of these books were published in the Unites States of America.


The Nature of Sāmavedic Musical Tradition vs. Tamil Musical Tradition

  Michael Witzel, Ph.D.


The gveda alludes to an early bardic tradition of the Vedic people. One Vedic text dealing with the Mahāvrata ceremony mentions popular music very briefly. The Sāmaveda contains the oldest (sung) Indian music, and can be classified as sacred music. The Sāmavedic chanting is still transmitted perfectly both in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, by heart and in purely oral fashion. Its nature is quite different from that of classical Tamil music as we know it since late Caṅkam time and also now.  My talk will highlight some of these differences and also some potential overlaps in the scales and intervals used in both traditions. I shall also play some excerpts of Sāmavedic chanting.


Dr. Michael Witzel is Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University. Born in 1943, Witzel earned his PhD in 1972 from the University of Tübingen, Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany. He had also studied at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu. He has taught at Tübingen, Leiden, and Harvard (since 1986). Earlier he was Director of the Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project and the Nepal Research Center at Kathmandu (1972-1978). He has also held visiting positions at universities in Paris, Kyoto and Tokyo.  Some recent books published by him include Inside the Texts - Beyond the Texts (1997), Das Alte Indien (2003/2010), The Origins of the World’s Mythologies (2012) and Der Rig-Veda (1-5) (2007, 2013). He is Editor of the Harvard Oriental Series, Opera Minora, and Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies. 


The Broken Lute: The Tamil Pāṇar in Myth and History

S. Palaniappan, Ph.D.


In the Tirukkōvaiyār of Māṇikkavācakar, a ninth century text, in a poem depicting the stock Classical Tamil love poetry situation of the bard (Pāṇaṉ) acting as the emissary of the hero, the heroine scolded the Pāṇaṉ as ‘polluted beef-eater’ because she was mad at the hero. Starting in the 12th century, hagiographic texts began to portray the Pāṇar saints as ones belonging to low caste. However, there are many medieval Tamil inscriptions that mention individual or multiple persons of the Pāṇar community. Such inscriptions depict the Pāṇar as being held in high esteem by the society. The Pāṇar seem to have performed Sanskrit dramas, trained temple dancers in singing, and sung inside Brahminic temples in front of the deity.  Both Cōḻa and Pāṇṭiya kings honored individual Pāṇars on victorious occasions. Thus there has been a wide disparity between the portrayal of the Pāṇar in the hagiographic texts and their actual status in Tamil society.

I plan to present literary and epigraphic textual data and explore why and how the hagiographic texts resorted to the portrayal of the Pāṇar as low caste. I shall also discuss how the unrealistic treatment of the literary texts was able to sustain itself.


S. Palaniappan is the President of South Asia Research and Information Institute in Dallas. He completed his undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering from IIT Madras, and an MS in Industrial and Management Engineering from the University of Iowa. He also earned an MBA from the Wharton School and a PhD in Civil Engineering (Transportation) from University of Pennsylvania. He chose to go to University of Pennsylvania because of his passion for Indology. He is interested in researching Indian cultural history using philology, linguistics, and epigraphy. He has been invited to talk at Delhi University, University of Madras, Chennai Mathematical Institute, Kalakshetra in Chennai, Tamiḷ Icaic Caṅkam in Madurai, and Pandya Nadu Centre for Historical Research in Madurai. At various academic conferences, he has presented research papers on topics such as the culture change in ancient Tamil society, the dance of the ancient Tamil dancers (viṟaliyar), Tamil Vaiṣṇava saints’ attitude towards social hierarchy, and Tamil nationalism. His published articles deal with the Bhakti movement, and the development of caste in the Tamil society. His articles on the date of Bhavatrāta (a commentator on the Sāma Veda) and the history of the Tamil Pānar will be forthcoming this year. 


Musical Forms in Campantar’s Tēvāram

Sr. Margaret Bastin, Ph.D.


The Tēvāram belongs to the Tamil Bhakti literature.  We see many internal evidences about music in it. Scholarly works on the Tēvāram speak about the history of retrieving the Tēvāram hymns (patikams) and the method of arranging their tunes (paṇs). These hymns form seven out of the 12 canonical texts (Tirumuṟais) of Śaivism. Campantar’s hymns form the first three Tirumuṟais. Appar’s hymns form the next three Tirumuṟais, and Cuntarar’s hymns form the seventh Tirumuṟai.

One can note a number of special musical features in Campantar’s hymns. Based on these features, we can identify 17 musical forms in Campantar’s hymns such as Namaccivāyat Tiruppatikam, Moḻi Māṟṟu, Kōḷaṟu Patikam, Tiruppācuram, Yamakam, Tirunīṟṟup Patikam, Tiruvirukkukkuṟaḷ, Mālaimāṟṟu, Tirukkōmūtri, Ēkapātam, Tiruveḻukūṟṟirukkai, Tiruccakkaramāṟṟu, Nālaṭimēlvaippu, Īraṭimēlvaippu, Tiruttāḷaccati, Tiruvirākam and Yāḻmūri. These will be explained and demonstrated with singing of select hymns.   


Dr. Sister Margaret Bastin belongs to the religious congregation, Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph.  Specializing in Tamil music, she was the first nun to earn a Ph.D. in South Indian Classical Music from the University of Madras.  She has authored four books on music namely: Iṉṉicaic Cilampu (Melodious Anklet), Iṉṉicai Yāḻ (Melodious Lute), Research Methodology for Fine Arts, and Tamiḻar Icaiyiyal (Musicology of the Tamils). She has also published many music-related research articles dealing with ancient Tamil music. She has performed more than thirty lecture demonstrations. Earlier this year she published a commentary for the Tēmpāvaṇi. She has taught at Adayar Music College, University of Madras, and Mother Teresa Women’s University in Tamil Nadu. She has retired as the Principal of Kalai Kaviri College of Fine Arts (affiliated to Tamil Nadu Music and Fine Arts University) in May 2015.


Session Moderator

Mrs. Vaidehi Herbert, M.A.


Mrs. Vaidehi Herbert was one of the founders of the Bay Area Tamil Manram.  She has completed an M.A. in Healthcare Administration from San Francisco State University.  She has translated the 18 texts of Caṅkam literature into English giving word by word meanings.  She won the Nalli Ticai Eṭṭum Virutu and Tamil Literary Garden Award in 2012 for her translations.  She was honored at the Puṟanānūṟu conference in Silver Spring, Maryland in 2013 and by FeTNA in 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri.  She has also translated seven of the 18 Patiṉeṇkīḻkkaṇakku texts and the Muttoḷḷāyiram. She is currently working on translating the Pāṇṭikkōvai and creating a dictionary for the Caṅkam literature.  She has conducted workshops on Caṅkam poetry sponsored by Tamil Sangam of Carolina, Tamil Sangam of Greater Washington, Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex Tamil Sangam, Avvai Tamil Center, and Sastha Tamil Foundation.  She has upcoming workshops sponsored by Michigan Tamil Sangam, Tamil Literary Garden, and Toronto Tamil Sangam. She has started a project to teach Puṟanānūṟu poems to school children in Tamil Nadu.  From 2003 to 2013 she was the president of Kolam Foundation, a non-profit organization that helped school children and poor women in Tamil Nadu.

To attend the session FeTNA 2015 registrants should email with names and contact information of the attendees.


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