Yazh, Ancient Tamil music instrument
Yazh, Ancient Tamil music instrument

The yazhal (Tamil: யாழ், also transliterated yāḻ) (pronounced [jaːɻ]) is an arched harp used in ancient Tamil music. It was strung with gut strings that ran from an curved ebony neck to a boat or trough-shaped resonator, the opening of which was a covered with skin for a soundboard. At the resonator the strings were attached to a string-bar or tuning bar that laid on top of the soundboard and had holes for the strings. The neck may also have been covered in hide.[1][2][3]

The arched harp was used in India since at least the 2nd century B.C.E., when a woman was sculped with the instrument in a Buddhist artwork at Bhārut.[4] Both the Indian harp-style veena and the Tamil yazh declined starting in about the 7th century C.E., as stick-zither style veenas rose to prominence.[1][2]

The instrument may have a relationship with the mythological yali, the word for which (யாழி) is linguistically similar to the word for this arched harp (முகம்). Whatever relationship the words may or may not have linguistically, some researchers believe the mythological yali was carved into the tip of the yazh harp's neck.[2] The relationship between a stringed instrument and the yali is not limited to this Tamil instrument, but also was mentioned by Śārṅgadeva in his Sangita Ratnakara as a feature of the ekatantri stick-zither veena.[5] The modern Saraswati veena retains this feature.[6]

Historical descriptions

The Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar mentions yazh in his work Thirukkural.[7] Many major Tamil classical literary masterpieces written during Sangam period have mentioned the yazh. Silappatikaram, written by a Tamil Chera prince Ilango Adigal, mentions four kinds of yazhs:[8]

Other types of yazh are:

The Tamil book Perumpāṇāṟṟuppaṭai says the strings of a yazh should not have any twists in them. Other Tamil literature which have mentions on yazh are Seevaga Sindhamani and Periya Puranam.[11] In modern times Swami Vipulananda has written a book of scientific research in Tamil called the Yazh Nool, detailing 6 differnt yazh harps.[12]

There is a city named for the yazh in the story of its founding, Jaffna, known in Tamil as Yazhpanam. A Sri Lankan Tamil legend recounts that a blind man Panan played on the Yazh so beautiful that he was given land from a king, which he named after himself, literally meaning "town of harper".[13][14][15]

Not only seen in literature, Yazh are found in sculptures in the Darasuram and Thirumayam temples in Tamil Nadu and also in Amaravathi village, Guntur district.[16]

The yazh was played in Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple in early centuries. It was mentioned in ShaivaThirumurai 11th Pathigam. It was also played by the musician and poet Panapathirar (Tamil: பாணபத்திரர்) who is mentioned in religious devotional stories.

மதிமலி புரிசை மாடக் கூடற்
பதிமிசை நிலவு பால்நிற வரிச்சிற
கன்னம் பயில்பொழில் ஆல வாயில்
மன்னிய சிவன்யான் மொழிதரு மாற்றம்

பருவக் கொண்மூப் படியெனப் பாவலர்க்
குரிமையின் உரிமையின் உதவி ஒளிதிகழ்
குருமா மதிபுரை குலவிய குடைக்கீழ்ச்
செருமா உகைக்குஞ் சேரலன் காண்க
பண்பா லியாழ்பயில் பாண பத்திரன்

தன்போல் என்பால் அன்பன் தன்பால்  
காண்பது கருதிப் போந்தனன்
மாண்பொருள் கொடுத்து வரவிடுப் பதுவே

References

  1. ^ a b Alastair Dick (1984). "Yāl". In Sadie, Stanley (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. p. 881. Volume 3.
  2. ^ a b c "Musical instruments played in India". Chapter of SPICMACAY, Cornell University. Archived from the original on 10 February 2010. Retrieved 16 November 2011. The yazh is an ancient Dravidian instrument, somewhat like a harp. It was named for the fact that the tip of stem of this instrument was carved into the head of the animal yaali (vyala in Sanskrit). The yazh was an open-stringed polyphonous instrument, with a wooden boat-shaped skin-covered resonator and an ebony stem. It was tuned by either pegs or rings of gut moved up and down the string...was displaced by the veena in the middle ages
  3. ^ "Celebrating unheard melodies". The Hindu. India. 25 December 2010. Yazh (a form of harp)...Notes (svaras) are known as Narambu. Narambu are the gut strings used in the Yazh. Each string of the Yazh was tuned to one note therefore this association of Narambu to note.
  4. ^ Catherine Ludvík (2007). Sarasvatī, Riverine Goddess of Knowledge: From the Manuscript-carrying Vīṇā-player to the Weapon-wielding Defender of the Dharma. BRILL Academic. pp. 227–229. ISBN 90-04-15814-6.
  5. ^ "Varieties of Veena". SARASWATHI VEENA(SARASWATI VEENA). [paraphrased-translation placed online of parts of the Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sarngadeva]
  6. ^ Karaikudi S. Subramanian (Spring–Summer 1985). "An Introduction to the Vina". Asian Music. University of Texas Press. 16 (2): 9-13, 19. doi:10.2307/833772.
  7. ^ Xavier S. Thani Nayagam, ed. (1966). Tamil culture. Tamil (Indic people) (in English and Tamil). 12. Tamil Literature Society, Academy of Tamil Culture. pp. 208, 209.
  8. ^ Rangarajan, Haripriya (2001). Haripriya Rangarajan; G. Kamalakar; A. K. V. S. Reddy; M. Veerender; K. Venkatachalam (eds.). Jainism: art, architecture, literature & philosophy. Religion / Jainism (in English and Tamil). Sharada Publishing House. p. 142. ISBN 9788185616773.
  9. ^ "Musical Instruments". Government Museum, Chennai, India. p. 2. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  10. ^ "Musical Instruments". Government Museum, Chennai, India. p. 3. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  11. ^ "On the basics of conservation". The Hindu. India. 4 December 2009. Archived from the original on 25 January 2013.
  12. ^ "One hundred Tamils of the 20th century: Swami Vipulananda (1892–1947)".
  13. ^ Pārlimēntuva, Ceylon (1 January 1957). Ceylon Sessional Papers. Government Press.
  14. ^ Katiresu, Subramanier (1 January 2004). A Hand Book to the Jaffna Peninsula and a Souvenir of the Opening of the Railway to the North. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120618725.
  15. ^ Rasanayagam, C.; Rasanayagam, Mudaliyar C. (1 January 1993). Ancient Jaffna: Being a Research into the History of Jaffna from Very Early Times to the Portuguese Period. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120602106.
  16. ^ "Recreating treasures of the past". The Hindu. India. 26 December 2007. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008.