Thursday, February 21, 2013

Musical Pillars

Temples often have some pillars portraying human figures playing musical instruments, but seldom do these pillars themselves produce music. At the Nellaiappar temple in Tamil Nadu, gentle taps on a cluster of pillars carved out of a single piece of rock produce the basic notes of Indian classical music, viz. Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa. Vibrations of these pillars depend on elasticity of the stone used, its density and shape.
Musical pillars are categorised into three types: The first is called the Shruti Pillar, as it can produce the basic notes — the “swaras”. The second type is the Gana Thoongal, which generates the basic tunes that make up the “ragas”. The third variety is the Laya Thoongal pillars that produce “taal” (beats) when tapped. The pillars at the Nellaiappar temple are a combination of the Shruti and Laya types.
Archaeologists date the Nelliappar temple to the 7th century and claim it was built by successive rulers of the Pandyan dynasty.
The musical pillars of Nelliappar and several other temples in southern India like those at Hampi (picture), Kanyakumari, and Thiruvananthapuram are unique to the country and have no parallel in any other part of the world.