A musical instrument that announces festivals

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One of our favorite destinations is the temple town of Kanchipuram. During one of our visits, we attended the pujas performed at Kanchi Math. Our attention was drawn to the silver colored musical instrument called Gowri Kalam.

It belongs to the category of aerophones or wind instruments, which are further classified into wood and brass (the classification is not based on the materials of which they are made). Coppers are often made of silver, horn, ivory, copper and even wood. Gowri kalam falls under the brass subcategory.

It looks like a trumpet and is a long, straight, tapered silver instrument. Some blown instruments produce melody, while some of them are blown just to announce a particular event and gowri kalam belongs to the latter variety.

For religious ceremonies

The instrument is divided into 2 parts of 3 feet each joined together, thus becoming 6 feet. The upper part is called “mel pakkam” while the lower part is called “keezh pakkam”. Sometimes this instrument is also made of brass or copper. There is a disc-shaped bell and a built-in mouthpiece. Gowri kalam is mainly used in temple processions and religious ceremonies.

This instrument is special for the Kanchi Kamakoti Math, where it is blown into the Math during Deeparadani which is made for the 3 kalams. Many instruments join the periyavas when they go out to camps in various places and the gowri kalam is one of them. He is blown (as an alert) every time he goes out and returns to math and is known locally as “echarikai vadyam”. The sound can be heard for about 3 km.

In the temple of Kanchi Varadar, which is one of the most important holy places for the Vaishnavas, this instrument is called the gowri kalai.

At Varadar Temple, this instrument is made of silver and is approximately 4.5 to 5 feet long. It is blown by two performers during the main utsavams such as Sattrumurai for Manavalamamuni, Desigar, Udayavar or Ramanuja and Perialwar.

The Tirunakshatram of Aani Swathi Periazhwar is celebrated with grandeur at the koil of Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal. Gowri kalai is performed in front of Lord Varadaraja’s purappadu, which will be on garuda vahanam, and during the procession.

During Chitirai Tiruvadirai for Udayavar sattrumurai, gowri kalam is blown for Madiyadai for Udayavar in the evening. He is blown away when Jeeyar comes and also when he receives the satari.

The writers are well-known carnatic musicians


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