Nagaswaram is an instrument that provides musical background to poojas and functions like weddings. The instrument is also known as ‘nakaswaram’, but scholars refute this word. Legends tell us that Lord Shiva gifted this instrument to the demon, Nagasuran. Further, it has the shape of a snake. Also nagas used this instrument hence it came to be known as nagaswaram. It is similar to Kerala’s Kurumkuzhal. Nagaswaram, however, is quite longer. While Kurumkuzhal can be used only as a tala instrument, nagaswaram has no such limitation. It can be used as a gana (song) instrument as well.
Made out of wood, the main centre where this instrument is carved or produced is Thanjavur. The horn like portion of Nagaswaram is known as ‘olavi’ and the loud speaker like portion ‘anasu’. ‘Jeevali’ is played at one end of the horn. It is through this ‘jeevali’ that air is blown. Through the ‘anasu’ the music comes forth. There are seven small holes on top of the kuzhal and five below it. When the player moves his fingers across the holes while blowing, through the top hole on the kuzhal emanate ‘swara’ or notes.
In nagaswaram kutcheri (concert), kuzhal (kurumkuzhal) is used for sruti and tala, ilathalam as accompaniments. During weddings ‘gattimelam’ would be played on nagaswaram. In temple rituals like sewa, pallivetta and aarattu, the ‘mallari; of nagaswaram is played. ‘Mallari’ is the blend of ‘swaram’. Now-a-days film songs and drama songs are also played through nagaswaram.