He made the nagaswaram sweeter

Not many know that Narasingampettai, a small town in the Thanjavur district, has an important role to play in the world of Carnatic music, especially in enriching the music of the nagaswaram. It was N.G.N. Ranagantha Asari, an ace carpenter from this village, who completely transformed the instrument, which is now known as pari nagaswaram.

December 2018 marks the birth centenary of the Ranganatha Asari, who produced the instrument in collaboration with nagawaram wizard Thiruvavaduthurai T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai.

“Rajarathinam Pillai wanted to replace the old, short timiri nagaswaraam with a new instrument because it could not produce the mathyama sruthi perfectly. He worked together with Ranganatha Asari and produced an instrument. The result is terrific. We have a pleasing sound and the instrument is also easy to handle,” said Kalaimamani Kilvelur M.G. Ganesan, a senior nagaswaram player.

Mr. Ganesan, who has purchased about 200 instruments from Ranganatha Asari, said great players like Karukurichi Arunachalam and Namagiripettai Krishnan also used the instrument made by Ranganatha Asari.

“Rajarathinam Pillai was pleased with the sound of the instrument and presented Ranganatha Asari a pair of diamond ear-rings. Karukurichi Arunanchalam gifted him a diamond ring,” recalled Mr. Ganesan.

36 inches long

Before the arrival of pari nagasaram, the timiri was used by nagaswaram players. The timiri produced a high-pitched sound and demanded enormous physical effort from the musician handling it. The improved pari nagaswaram is 36 inches long.

Timiri was needed when there were no loudspeakers. Singers also rendered songs in a high pitch to reach out to the man sitting in the last row. Modern audio systems rendered them [these efforts] unnecessary. My father used to tell me that many nagswaram players suffered from hydrocele because of timiri,” recalled nagaswaram player Enjikudi E.M. Subramaniam.

The pipe (ulavu) of the nagaswaram is made of from the wood of the acha maram, which is known for its hardness.

The lower section (anusu) is made from the wood of the vagai tree.

But nagaswaram makers now are also known to purchase old wooden pillars for creating the instrument.

Nagaswaram makers have also modernised their units, with machines replacing hand-drilling tools and chisels. Ranganatha Asari’s sons continue to make nagaswarams today.

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