The Folk Music  of Tamilnadu
A. Esther Pradeeba
Asst. Professor (Bharathanatyam)
Department of Music, Annamalai University, Chidambaram –608 002 (Tamilnadu) - India
Ph. 99431-16226. email:


Music is an Art; it is associated with human life and is closely related to culture and civilization of a country and its people.
The Tamil language is evocative, replete with poetry, classical allusions and natural phenomena. This poetry is reflected in the arts music and dance, sculpture and painting. The folk music of Tamilnadu reflect the socio-religious customs and practices of rural people.
The folk music of Tamilnadu has very ancient origins and reflects the many activities of village people. It is notable for its intricate Thalas (rhythm), ancient tunes and musical instruments.
There are many folk songs sung by the people, by wandering minstrels and festival singers, which are topical and describe the life, hopes and beliefs of the common people.
The term folk music is often loosely applied to cover all traditional or orally transmitted music, music that is passed on by ear and performed by memory rather than by the written or printed musical score. The common characteristics found in the folk music of all countries are that they are simple and with easy rhythm. Folk music called ‘nattu-p-purappattu or natoti-p-patal in Tamil is the music of villagers. The function of folk music is primarily entertainment. The ideas conveyed through folk songs are highly suggestive and thought provoking.
The classifications of Folk music
1. Themmangu
2. Chindhu
3. Nayandi
4. Oppari
5. Thalattu
6. Villupaattu
7. Occupational songs
8. Marriage songs
Themmangu means, music of the southern region.
Then + Pangu = Themmangu
In Southern parts of Tamilnadu, Themmangu is played in ‘Nadeswaram’ to the accompaniment of the percussion instrument ‘Thavil’. There are different types of ‘Themmangu’. They are,
i) Otthadi - Themmangu
ii) Rendadi - Themmangu
iii) Naladi - Themmangu
iv) Thekkathi - Themmangu
v) Dappath - Themmangu
vi) Iluvai - Themangu
In some of the folk dances, like karagattam, oyilattam, kuravan kurathi attam, Raja Rani attam, these types of Themmangu’s are used in Tamilnadu.
The example given here belong to the southern region of Tamilnadu and hence the name ‘Thekkathi’ temmanku’.
tannanna nananna tannane tane
tana nannana tannane
kalaiyarkoilu katukkulle
Kanni yaliyata tennampulle
tennam pullai yellam palap pokutu
tirumpip parayya kala lingkampotu (tanna nna.........)
There are different types of Chindhu’s in Folk music.
They are
i) Nondi Chindhu
ii) Valayal Chindhu
iii) Kummi Chindhu
iv) Kolai Chindhu
v) Kavadi Chindhu
‘Kavadi Chindu’ is used in kaavadi attam, a folk dance form. In Nondi drama’s, nondi chindhu is used. Kolai chindhu is about the brutally murdered person. This chindhu is used in folk dramas. Vallayal chindhu is a song sung by the ‘Bangal Sellers’ in the villages.
In group dances like oyilattam and kummi, ‘kummi chindhu’ is used.
Kottungadi! Kummi Kottungadi! – Nalla
Kolavap Pottu Kottungadi!
Ettukudi Namma Velavar Samiku
Elaruma sendhu kottungadi!
Vasalile vannak kolamittul – Nall
Vasanaiya paneer Than Thelithu!
Osai Kilamba Kummi Kotti! – Nalla
Osandhu Kulavap Podungadi!
Nayandi Melam
Nayandi means teasing. To make audience happy, the folk artists makes Fun and sings this type of Teasing songs. This type of music is performed mostly with the accompaniment of ‘Nayandi Melam’. This troop has Thavil, Tamuku, Oththudhi kuzhal, Nadeswaram, Pambai, Orumi and Jalra as their Musical accompaniments.
Different types of Nayandi
i) Sivagangai Nayandi
(ii) Solamalai Nayandi
(iii) Vilamba Nayandi
(iv) Thekkathi Nayandi
Nayandi Melam is a rustic imitation of the classical melam or Nadeswaram and is intended purely as an accompaniment to Folk-dance-drama to cater to the tastes of the unlettered audience. The peculiarity of Nayyandi Melam is that the instrumentalists also dance while playing their Instruments.
Oppari (Lamentation)
Music plays an important role in the life of Tamils. There is no wonder in a Tamil woman’s lamenting over her dear one’s death, with music. This is called ‘oppari’ which is of several kinds such as songs meant for one’s parent, brother sister, husband and child. Each type will have suitable vocative such as “ennepetha amma”, “enne petha appa” etc....
In maraddippu attam, a dance form, they sings this ‘oppari’ with rhythm and dances in a circular shape.
One example which describes a young widow’s feeling at the time of her husband’s death.
“Kottatru Kandangi Koidhudukum Nalaiyile
Vellai Pudavaiyinai Veluthudukum Nallache
Poochudum Koondhalile Puludhi Pada Nerdhache
Thangadurai Menithan Thariyil vilundhache
Ponnudurai Menithan Puludhiyil vilundhache
Nengal Irandhu poyache
Indru kanda poo mugathai Ini nan
Endru kanna poren Aiyo!
Thalattu – (Lullabies)
It is a universal and age-old custom among women to sing lullabies while swinging the child in the cradle.
The music of lullaby differs from caste to caste and region to region, but they are so melodious that the child stops crying and begins to sleep. Lullabies are passed on through generations by oral tradition and they form an important part of the folk music of Tamilnadu.
There are songs which exemplify the child as a king, a God and all illustrious man. Many lullabies narrate the childhood, development and heroic deeds of the divine incarnations Rama and Krishna.
Generally, lullabies glorify the uncle (mother’s brother)
Araro! Ariraro! Oonai Adithadhu Araro?
Aditharai Choli Alu – En Kanne
Akinaigal seithiduvom!
Thottarai choli Alu – En kanne
Thol vilangu pottiduvom!
Amma Adithalo Amudhuthum Kaiyale
Patti Adithalo Paluttum Kaiyale
Annan Adithano Anaithedukum Kaiyale
Athai Adithalo Adhalippu Chendale?
Among the various types of folk music, villupaattu (bow song) is the most famous. It is very popular today in the southern districts of Tamilnadu, such as Thirunelveli, Ramanathapuram, Kanyakumari, etc.....
The villu is a long, lacquered bow made either of a sturdy branch of the palmyra tree or of a bamboo stick, whose two ends are joined by a strong high-tensioned string made either of skin or nerve. One end of the bow is set to rest on the neck of a large sized earthen pot, which in turn, rests on a soft cushion or a circular cavity made of coconut fibre, on the whole, it looks like a magnified crescent with its two ends pointed upwards to produce melodious music.
The small bells which are tied to the string are struck by two slender wooden rods known as veesukol, to which beads are attached just above the grip of the land. The chief vocalist, who is the story teller, plays on the villu with two vessukol’s, one in each hand and sings.
The orchestra includes other musical instruments like the udukkai, a second villu, a pot and the thaala kattai, all of which are played along with the villu.
The orchestra, which consists of eight members, takes up the refrain and repeats the last phrase of each line, or say ‘aama’ (yes) and other sounds to denote agreement when the story teller finishes a tune, couplet or a stanza.
Very well – coordinated, vigorous and fast moving music is one of the special characteristics of this form. When the chief sings, the others play on the instrument. But when the others sing, the chief plays with his veesukol on the string of the bow. The deftness and the imagination with which he plays his veesukol is a marvel during such performance.
Occupational songs
Occupational songs are an important aspect of rural life, since there is hardly any occupation without song and music. These songs are relevant to the various activities and aspects of rural life which involve hard work and toil. For each stage of cultivation, the agricultural labourers have an appropriate song. Cleaning the fields by cutting the shrubs, and creepers that grow in the off season, ploughing the soil, planting the seeds, watering the field, transplanting, weeding, reaping, collecting grain on the threshing floor, transporting the produce to carts, pounding in the mortar, grinding in a handmill and similar activities are the stages through which staple food is produced, processed and prepared for cooking. While singing these occupational songs people do not use any percussion aids, since these folk songs are devoid of rhythmic support.
Harvesting Song
“Kodaikala Kadirarupam! Elelangadi Elelom!
Kodikaloram kadirarupam! Elelangadi Elelom!
Nalum Nalla Kadirarupam! Elelangadi Elelom!
Nanum Varathonudhadi! Elelangadi Elelom!
Marriage Songs
These songs are still preserved in some castes all over Tamilnadu. This is classified into two the first one entertaining teasing and rejoicing and the second one praising and Blessing.
Nalunku and Pattiyam belong to the first category while Boat songs, swing songs and blessing songs, belong to the second.
Bride’s sisters tease the Bridegroom; in the same way bridgroom’s sisters will tease the bride there are songs which the bride and the groom sing themselves to each other.
The brid’s and the Bridegroom’s mothers will also exchange words through some songs which are known as ‘pattiyam’.
Swing songs
The bride and the bridegroom will be seated on a swing while auspicious women will sing ‘swing songs’ in which the newly married are compared to divine couples.

Boat song
The newly married couple is again praised as one of the divine couples. The musical syllable in this song is found in fishermen’s songs that is ‘elelo, elelo, which makes this song a ‘boat song’.
Music plays an important role in the life of Tamils. Folk songs reveal the real feelings and ideas. It explains the culture of a people. The rural folks of Tamilnadu love and enjoy of life. Music at every phase of life. Folk music is a valuable source of history and need to be preserved for all time.


© Author

(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Summer 2013)