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.
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. 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.
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. 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. The modern Saraswati veena retains this feature.
The Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar mentions yazh in his work Thirukkural. 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:
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. In modern times Swami Vipulananda has written a book of scientific research in Tamil called the Yazh Nool, detailing 6 differnt yazh harps.
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".
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.
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
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
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.
[paraphrased-translation placed online of parts of the Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sarngadeva]