Arts & Architecture

Art of Music

The ancient Tamils had their own music system and musical instruments. They had five kinds of Pan (pan), namely Mullai (mullai), Kurinji (kurinci), Marudham (marutam), Neythal (neytal) and Palai (paalai). Apart from this, they had seven musical notes, viz., Kural (kural), Thuttam ((tuttam), Kaykkilai (kaikkilai), Uzhai (ulai), ili (ili), Vilari (vilari) and Tharam (taaram). These seven notes might be roughly equated with the seven modern musical notes sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, and ni. They had their famous yazhs (yaalkal) that are comparable with the modern Veena (veena), Periyazh (periyaal), Maharahazh (makarayaal), Sengattuyazh (cenkoottuyaal), Sagottaiyazh (cakootai) and Siriyazh (ciiriyaal) are the names denoting different kinds of Yazhs (yaalkal). We learn through the Sangam works that the Tamils had many other musical instruments.

It appears that in the period of Alwars (alvaarkal) and Nayanmars (naayanmaarkal), the native system of music was retained with some deviations. In the year 1943 the patron of Tamil language, literature and arts, Dr. Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar started the Tamil Music Academy (Tamil icai cankam) at madras and thereby he attempted to restore and enrich the Tamil music.


Tamil is broadly classified into lyal (iyal) ‘prose’, Isai (icai) ‘poetry’ and Nadakam (naatakam) ‘drama’. Nattiyam (naattiyam) or Kuthu (kuuttu) is mainly concerned with dance. The ancient Tamils had two kinds of Kuthu: (1) Vetiyal (veettiyal) and (2) Podhuviyal (potuviyal). Vetiyal is especially meant for royal families and Podhuviyal is meant for the public. Later on this convention had disappeared. Since the kings had slowly lost their power the arts patronized by them also gradually lost their glamour. Thus the Vetiyal (veettiyal) type of drama became extinct. The ancient Tamil country is the home of the classical dance known as `paratanaatyam’ “Bharata Natyam.”

Drama and dance gradually emerged as two different branches. In 1960s and 1970s cinema has overshadowed drama.

Drawing and Painting:

The kings also patronized the art of drawing and painting. All over Tamil Nadu we can see temples, small and big, and almost all the temples are decorated by drawings and paintings. The paintings at Cithannavasal (cittannavaasal) near Pudhukkottai are worth seeing.
Architecture and Scripture

Tamil Nadu is famous for huge temples and marvelous gopurams ‘temple tower’. Rajarajan, the Chula king, constructed a temple in Tanjavur. This temple gopuram is very tall and it is called Thanjaipperiya Koil (tancaipperiya Kooyil) “the big temple of Tanjavur.” His son Rajendra Chola, who subdued the rulers of the region up to the river Ganges, constructed another big temple in Gangai Konda Cholapuram (kankai konta coolapuram). Except that the Thanjai periya Koil (tancaip periya kooyil) is bigger in size than the temple in Gangai Konda Cholapuram, they are exactly similar. The former was named as “Rajarajeswaram” and the latter was named as “Gangai Kondacholeswaram.” These temples are famous for the huge nandis (bulls) and lingams. The temples of Madurai Meenakshi Amman, Kanchipuram Varadharajapperumal, and Chidambaram Natarajar are worth seeing. The skill of Tamils in architecture and sculpture can be seen in these temples. The five cars carved in rocks at Mahabalipuram are extremely beautiful. There are also other works that show the skill of Tamils in sculpture. The Collections of Vigrahas ‘ icons’, statues, drawings and paintings, etc., found in the museums of Madras, Tanjavur, Pattiswaram and Kaverippumattinam deserve special mention.