Watch | From Pambai to kombu: this music museum in Chennai showcases traditional Tamil instruments

Chennai-based Kosai Nagaraan Tholisai Karuviyagam, who has a collection of over 80 instruments, aims to bring traditional Tamil instruments back to center stage

Chennai-based Kosai Nagaraan Tholisai Karuviyagam, who has a collection of over 80 instruments, aims to bring traditional Tamil instruments back to center stage

Koyambedu, one of the most vibrant localities in Chennai, is well known for two places: the vegetable market and the bus terminal.

The din of buses and autorickshaws is deafening on this main road that connects Chennai to other major cities. In Koyambedu, everyone is in a hurry to go somewhere. This is why the music emanating from Kosai Nagaraan Tholisai Karuviyagam attracts attention.

Tucked away in an alley that houses many transport and courier shops, Kosai Nagaraan Tholisai Karuviyagam has been championing the cause of traditional Tamil instruments since 2010.

The thakkai, the kudamuzha and the kokkarai find a place of choice here. “Our goal is to bring awareness to these wonderful Tamil instruments that have been around for many centuries,” says Civattiru S Sivakumar, the man behind the center.

There are no glass display cases at Kosai Nagaraan Tholisai Karuviyagam. Here you can try your hand at hitting a pambai or blowing a kombu. “When you touch and play, you can feel the depth of the instrument.” With director Mani Ratnam’s recent film Ponnyyin Selvan Sparking interest in the Cholas and Tamil culture, this centre, which currently houses more than 80 traditional instruments, is in the spotlight.

music for the soul

The seed of Kosai Nagaraan Tholisai Karuviyagam started in 2010 when Sivakumar, then working in the production unit of a major automobile manufacturer, visited the Thyagaraja Swamy temple in Tiruvarur. “I remember that day very well,” he said, his eyes wide. “Somewhere we were playing an instrument and I started dancing. I was never associated with music until this day, and I didn’t know what made me do it. When I thought about it, I realized that the music of this instrument made me move.

Kosai Nagaraan promotes traditional musical instruments

Kosai Nagaraan promotes traditional musical instruments | Photo credit: Johan Sathyadas

He refers to the udal, a percussion instrument played in Thanjavur and Karur, places he later visited to learn more about music. One thing led to another, and Sivakumar was soon playing this instrument with a few others at events. “When we started, few people even knew about these instruments. We got some rare instruments from musicians in Chennai and then went to Sankarankoil, Namakkal and Salem to find out about the instruments there. Wherever there was music, we went. If we weren’t able to get an instrument for our collection, we would take pictures or take the measurements and try to make it, since we had the technology and the manpower.

Today, he leads a 50-member troupe, made up of IT professionals, tailors and school staff who are bonded by their common interest in music.

The core group performs at social events, temple festivals, and weddings; their most recent outing was at a Mariamman Temple festival in Bangkok last week. “We’ve played 100 weddings so far,” beams Sivakumar, “During those occasions, we also have a booth where we display information about instruments and music. The feedback has been great, with many people becoming aware of our musically rich roots.

Graphic: Albert Francis J

Graphic: Albert Francis J

Along with a few trained musicians, he also takes lessons for people interested in specific instruments. “Anyone can learn. All you need is a desire to learn,” says Sivakumar, who also coaches people to play conch every Sunday morning at Dunlop Grounds in Ambattur. He adds, “We are also training many other people in the nooks and crannies of the state to pick up these instruments that the world has largely forgotten. In five years, you will see them playing in every village in Tamil Nadu.

This traditional instrument museum is located at 1025, Poonamallee High Road, (near Chennai Gateway Hotel), Koyambedu, Chennai.

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