Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Forgotten five face

A percussion instrument is called an 'Avanaddha Vadyam' in India. It seems logical to assume that such instruments, played by the performer striking on a taut membrane stretched over a hollow space, can have at most two sides, or faces, to them. But before we jump to that conclusion, let us gently stretch through the different categories of avanaddha vadyams; played by hand, by sticks, using both hands and sticks, struck on one side and stroked on the other, and those that are self-struck. (Maybe an additional category, for the 'stringed percussion' instrument - the bhapang is sui generis, I believe). 

Even the bhapang is a two-sided instrument, and is not one seen very often. An even rarer sight is the panchamukha vadyam, literally the five-faced instrument. I haven't seen one played, ever. For that, I am told that one has to go to Tiruvarur, where it is played during the Trinity Music Festival. Legend has it that the panchamukha vadyam has its origins in the kudamuzham, which was played at the wedding of Siva and Parvati. Looking very much like a pot, the kudamuzham has a large central, circular opening with 4 smaller such openings around it. Hoary literature also has it being one of the instruments played when Nataraja performed the celestial dance. Sculptures from the Rashtrakuta (8th-10th century CE) and Chalukya (10th-12th century CE)  periods show the kudamuzham being played by Nandi, or one of the other Bhutaganas. 

Over the next couple of centuries, the kudamuzham seems to have evolved into the panchamukha vadyam; the five faces became more or less the same size (the central one a tad larger, sometimes), they were named after Siva's five aspects (faces): sadyojatam, isanam, tatpurusham, aghoram and vamadevam. There is some way of distinguishing which is which, because the performer is supposed to stand on the side of the vamadevam while playing this instrument. One day, I will get to see it being played; until then, watching this exhibit at the Tol Isai Kalanjiyam will have to do!

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