Instrumental role: The last of the nadaswaram makers

Besides the family of Ranganatha Aasaari, that includes his son NR Selvaraj and his two sons, there are three other families engaged in making nadaswaram in Narasingapettai.

“The lord of nadaswarams, I hereby say that I have played nadaswarams bought from many places. But none of them played the ‘Suddha Maddhyamam’ raga. Whereas, in a place called Narasingapettai, half a kilometre from Thiruvavuduthurai, there is a traditional nadaswaram maker NGN Ranganatha Aasaari, who gave me a 6-hole nadaswaram. That particular instrument plays the above said raga beautifully and effortlessly. I found no flaw in this instrument. Hence, I request the government to acknowledge the skill of Ranganatha Aasaari and honour him.”

These lines were written and signed by none other than the famous nadaswaram virtuoso, Thiruvavuduthurai TN Rajarathinam Pillai. With the guidance of Pillai, Ranganatha Aasaari made a nadaswaram, a double-reed wind instrument, which has 2 and 2.5 kattai (a musical unit) and which was named Paari nadaswaram.

Before this, the Timiri nadaswaram, which has 5 and 5.5 kattai, was in use. But that needed more lung power for the nadaswaram player whereas the Paari nadaswaram could be played effortlessly.

Although unrecognised, Ranganatha Aasaari left an indelible mark on the wooden instrument. And that craftsmanship is being continued by his son and grandsons in their village Narasingapettai, 275 km from Chennai, in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, after his death. He would have turned 100 this year.

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