The Panars of ancient Tamil culture were wandering Minstrels. Originally singers and royal
bards and panegyrists, they followed an ancient and honoured, though ill-rewarded,
profession among the Tamils. During the long ages when the pure Tamil culture flourished,
the Panars were respected and often called upon to give counsel to the Kings. Unfortunately,
in later times and due to alien influences which had crept in the life-styles of some of them
resulted in the social degradation of the Panars, until they eventually became regarded as
one of the lowest castes of South India.
Arunachalam Ayya belongs to the Panar community and lives in the village of Kunnathur in
Tirupur district in Tamil Nadu. He is the last standing musician to play the Kinnaram,
a musical instrument made from a type of surakkai (gourd) native to the area.
He has been playing this instrument for 50 years, having learnt it from his
father and grand-father who also went from
place to place performing to earn a living. It is said that his ancestors who served Royalty lived
a life of comfort and privilege, while today Arunachalam Ayya barely earns his daily bread and
lives in a six by six foot hut in Kunnathur.
The song you hear is a verse from the tragic love story of Kovalan and Kannagi in the ancient
epic poem known as Silappathikaram. Silappathikaram has ancient roots in the
Tamil bardic tradition, as Kannaki and other characters of the story are mentioned
in Sangam Literature. The story blends the themes, mythologies and theological values found
in the Jain, Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions.
Song - SILAPPATHIKARAM EXCERPT
- Voice and Kinnaram : Arunachalam Ayya