The ‘Narasinghapettai nagaswaram’, an ancient musical instrument handcrafted by craftsmen from Narasinghapettai, a nondescript village in Tiruvidaimarudur taluk in Thanjavur, has been granted the Geographical Indication (GI) label.

This very complex musical instrument, dating from the 13th century, involves complex craftsmanship and only a few craftsmen in Narasinghapettai have inherited the art of carving wooden instruments. It takes three artisans three days to make a nagaswaram.

“The IG label will bring a much-needed turnaround in the lives of the dwindling number of artisans. It will also offer them legal protection and may even inspire younger generations to enter the profession,” said Sanjai Gandhi, Advocate and Nodal Officer, Registration of Geographical Indications of Products, Tamil Nadu. He had filed the application with the GI register on January 24, 2014.

During the early independence period, classical music virtuoso Rajaratnam Pillai designed the nagaswaram with the help of Ranganathan Achari from Narasinghapettai. After a method of trial and error, they achieved perfection by introducing the “madhyamam” scale in the instrument, which was not present in the others.

The unique feature of ‘Narasinghapettai nagaswaram’ is its production process as they are handmade unlike other machine-made nagaswaram. In addition, the ‘Aacha’ wood, naturally resistant to water, comes specifically from the basin of the Cauvery River for the manufacture of the instrument. But fresh wood cannot be used and the instrument is made with old wood which is at least 100 years old. The reeds themselves are made from the leaves of a locally grown plant called ‘naanal’, a variety of bamboo.

Nagaswarams produced in Narasinghapettai are marketed and sold in different states and countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Gandhi said 46 products have so far been granted GI in Tamil Nadu. “We have been fighting for eight years to get the IG tag of ‘Narasinghapettai nagaswaram’. Of the 27 products I registered for GI, 10 were from Thanjavur,” he said.