It could be a daunting task to study the origin of music. However, with the help of traditional musical instruments, we can try our best to trace the ways in which humans viewed music and developed their musical skills.
The Egmore Museum in Chennai has set up an exclusive and curated temporary-exhibit of musical instruments and dance sculptures that will be open until February 12. The exhibit was put up by the Anthropology curators.
Kavitha Ramu IAS, Director, Department of Museums, says that the idea was to bring more enthusiastic folks to visit the museum.
“Being a dancer myself I wished to throw some light on the ancient artefacts and the varied kind of musical instruments already available in the museum. We also wanted to celebrate the fact that Chennai has joined the UNESCO Creative Cities Network recently,” she says.
Niveditha Louis, freelance content contributor of the exhibit, reveals that most of the instruments are on display for the first time.
Most instruments on display were acquired by the museum in 1903 but their precise age is, however, for us to guess.
“The yazhs (harps) here on display are all representational models made at least 100 years ago,” says Niveditha.
“There’s no one who can recreate the instrument or play it. It’s because we’ve forgotten how it sounds. The Virkodi yazh is perhaps one of the earliest versions made when man was a hunter-gatherer,” adds Niveditha.
She points to the erudhu yazh (ox harp) and says, “This can be found on the Harapan seals. This instrument is at least 4,500 years old.”
The Museum has a sizable number of wind, percussion and string instruments on display. Some of the most interesting pieces trickle down to our own inventions.
Curating a guided-tour inside the exhibit, Niveditha shares a number of interesting trivia on the artefacts on display.
Did you know that the Burmese Saung, the only surviving harp in the world, also called the Harp of Asia, sailed from south-eastern India to Burma?
“Perhaps it was some Pallava royal who took it to Burma during their voyages,” muses Niveditha.
Or that there’s a representation of the Panchangi veenai (5-stringed veena) in Ajanta caves dating back to 480-600 AD?
Or that King Raja Raja Chola had an exclusive troupe called the Kombu odhuvar (horn players) appointed for his court?
Or perhaps of the 200 kg percussion instrument cast in brass called the aimugha muzhavam (five-faced percussion instrument)?
Seen in video: Villadi Vaadhiyam, Aimugha Muzhavam, Kombu, Veena variants
“We’ve come across this particular instrument in Chennai itself!” exclaims Niveditha. “At the circle where Broadie's Castle Road meets Ramakrishna Mutt Road on the way to Adyar, there’s a sculpture of a man playing this very same instrument. This was installed a few years ago when Chennai Sangamam used to happen,” she says to an amused crowd.
Although not played by many at present, we learn that this particular instrument is played in Thiruvarur temple in Tamil Nadu.
“However, we will get to hear how the aimugha muzhavam is played here at the Museum on February 11 by a music enthusiast who has recreated the instrument,” says Niveditha.
In addition to Dravidian instruments, the exhibit also has a good collection of Mughal and Sikh musical instruments and sculptures dating back to the Chola period.
You can explore the display that is open for viewing until February 12. The museum also has a two-day fest on February 11 and 12 with a number of interesting events planned.
Check out some of the instruments and sculptures on display!
Mayuri and Sitar on display
Vikodi Yaazh (Bowstring harp)
Jalatarang and Kashta tarangam
Navaneedha Krishnan (extreme left) and Natarajar (extreme right)