I’ve always been curious about various things around me, and I generally take time and do my study on them as well. Nanthuni, a musical instrument, is something that caught my attention recently. I heard it in a Malayalam song, though I’m not able to recollect the song. The word Nanthuni has a resemblance to the Malayalam word thuni which means cloth. This is what quipped my curiosity. I wanted to find out the roots of this instrument, and here is what I gathered from all the online and offline sources available.
Nanthuni is believed to be having a history dated back to the times of the Puranas and other Indian texts. It is said that sage Narad or Narada, also known as Narad Muni, had played this stringed instrument called Nanthuni during the time of Shiva Tandava. History has it that several Hindu communities used to play Nanthuni during various traditional festivals and religious occasions. The name Nanthuni, as per some online sources, is derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Namdhwani’. It used to be called by several names like Nanduni, Naldhuni and Nanthurni. This wooden instrument has strings made of ‘pinjaavalli’ or ‘eerachulli’, though today most use metal strings to play it. A thin stick made of splinters is used to play the strings. Nanthuni is 4 feet long and a foot wide. The upper part of the instrument is divided into seven parts, depicting the seven notes of classical music. The wood used to make Nanthuni include Kumizhu, Koovalam and Chiitamruthu.
Nanthuni is used for Hindu rituals and related music like Kalamezhuthu paattu, Bhadrakali paattu, Ayyappan paattu and Vettaykkorumakan paattu. It is generally played by the Kurup community, who are believed to be the descendants of Narad. However, other communities like Ganiya and Pulluvan also use the instrument for some of their rituals. For instance, the Mannaan community of Central Kerala uses Nanthuni as a part of a ritual, Bhagavathy Thottam. The Ganiya community of the southern part of Kerala uses this instrument for ‘oottum paattum’ as a part of their custom. The songs in which Nanthuni is used, are collectively known as ‘Nanthuni paattukal’. There is a mention of the instrument in Unnuneeli Sandesham, one of the oldest Malayalam literary works, which was written in 14th century.
As per Natya Shastra, there are four types of musical instruments – stringed, percussion, hollow and solid. Nanthuni belongs to the category of stringed instruments. Saraswathi Veena, one of the variants of Veena, is said to have been inspired by Nanthuni. Interestingly, Nanthuni is also a female Hindu name, though I’ve not heard anyone with that name! ;)
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