Notes of nandurni and colours of kalam
A string instrument of Kerala, it is played at Bhagavathy temples
Recently, we were in Kerala, our favourite place, for a concert. Not only does it have discerning audience, but it is also our grandparents’ home state. And like Tamil Nadu, it has a rich musical heritage and unique instruments. The two-stringed nandurni or nanduni is one such instrument.
The nandurni is usually played during Kalamezhuthu Pattu and Kalam Pattu (kalam means, a drawing, and pattu, a song), as part of the rituals at the Mannarkad Bhagavathy temple. Kalamezhuthu is the art of drawing large pictures on the floor using natural coloured powders. The other varieties of Kalam Pattu are Bhagavathy Pattu, Ayyappan Pattu, Vettekkorumakan Pattu and Kalam Sarppam Pattu. Nanduni Pattu (also known as Tottam Pattu) is sung as part of the dance ritual — Karika Thullal, and describes the killing of Darika by Goddess Bhadrakali.
The nandurni comes under the category of tata vadyas or chorophones and is played in all Bhagavathy temples. At the Mannarkad Bhagavathy temple, Thirumandhankunnu temple and in Tharavadus, it is played by artistes from the Kurup community, while the Mannan community (who also perform the Bhagavathy Pattu) play this instrument at Kavus. There is a song, which says that Nanduni is the goddess of Kurumba and should be placed in the divine lap.
Nandurni has a rectangular hollow body, which is primarily made from the wood of the jackfruit tree. About five feet long and six inches wide, it has a projecting tail. Two strings pass over its body through the bridge and are tied to an iron hook at the top end. This is tightened to the two pegs at the bottom. The strings are usually made of palm fibre or sisal.
Of the two strings, the thicker one is used as drone and the thinner is used to produce different notes by pressing the strings on the frets, which are tuned to ‘sa’ and ‘pa’.
It also has a 14-inch resonator, on which the frets, numbering 3 to 5 are fixed.
The strings are strummed by a plectrum made from buffalo horn. It is usually placed on the lap and held in a vertical position, with the pegs on top. The left fingers press the frets, as the artiste strums with the right hand. Nandurni is used both as sruti and laya vadya during the Kalam Pattu.
At the ancient Sree Veerasthanam Viruttanam Bhagavathy Temple situated along the borders of Thrissur and Palakkad, the Kalamezhuthu Pattu is one of the important offerings to Devi.
It starts with the traditional Koorayidal ceremony and is followed by the Kalam Pattu. The pictures of Devi and Veerabhadran are drawn daily and is performed in different stages. The first stage involves the Kalamezhuthu, or the drawing of the deity’s picture, followed by the Kalam Pattu, where songs related to the deity are rendered to the accompaniment of nandurni.
This is followed by the Kalam Thullal, after which the kalam is erased.
The Kurups believe that the nandurni instrument is a form of Siva and Sakthi, where Bhadrakali resides in the middle and the two strings are Anna and Alamba.
The writers are well known Carnatic musicians