Bringing Parai music to the community

With the aim of teaching artists the nuances of Parai music, Damaru Singapore founder Akshara Thiru organised a four day masterclass with Tamil Nadu-based exponent Velmurugan last month.

Parai is a traditional Tamil frame drum about 35cm in diameter.

The masterclass taught the students the basics of playing the Parai and how to harmonise.

Velmurugan, affectionately known as Velu Aasan, is a renowned Parai artist from Alanganallur, near Madurai. He learnt to play the instrument from his father and plans to take Parai music to the wider community as well as raise awareness on the importance of this form of music.

Thiru met Velu Aasan during one of his trips to India, when he wanted to learn about the Parai in depth as he wished to create a curriculum for it to be taught properly.

Velu Aasan has played the Parai and acted in various Tamil films such as Soorarai Pottru, Petta and Dharma Durai - through which he started getting more recognised for his work. He has performed in Dubai, Sri Lanka, Singapore, China and Malaysia.

During the masterclass, Velu Aasan told the Damaru students that playing the Parai does not just involve hitting the instrument with the sticks, but they should bring in soul and facial expressions as they attempt to play in harmony.

"Velu Aasan taught us how we should hold the Parai and how we could perform the challenging parts, such as when we have to get into a squatting position and back on our feet seamlessly," said Sanjieve Segaran.

Fellow Damaru student Mithra Naidu recalled how Velu Aasan emphasised on the importance of enjoying themselves in playing the Parai and in every performance.

"He said 'When you perform with a smile, the audience will naturally be drawn to you and feel happy too.

"Velu Aasan taught us how to be expressive while performing.

"He also highlighted how we should be more aware of how we perform as a team as the energy people get from us will completely improve when we perform with close to perfect coordination."

Thiru believes such masterclasses are crucial not only in raising awareness on Parai music, but also the finer details of the art form.

He plans to stage an arangetram (debut performance on stage) where Damaru students would perform what they have learnt in front of the public as well as Parai teachers from India.

This performance would also serve as a platform for Thiru and his team to share their knowledge on the history and significance of Parai music, and the rationale behind the masterclass syllabus.

Parai, which means to speak or communicate, was used by the olden royal courts for ceremonial purposes, to draw the crowds to important announcements.

However, Parai music was later associated with the Dalit (untouchable) community and as music that would be played at only funerals.

In recent years, the instrument has become an icon of liberation and social justice, breaking caste stereotypes.

"Parai music was born even before humans learnt to speak," said Velu Aasan.

"This art form is divine and bereft of caste or religion."


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