With the important role played by music and dance in the cultural life of Tamil Nadu, it was inevitable that the making of musical instruments would become a major craft. Most of the centers for this craft are situated around Thanjavur, which has also produced some of the country's finest musicians.
The Tamils classify their instruments not only according to their types, but also according to the different occasions on which they are used. The naadaswaram is an essential part of the marriage ceremony and the kumbu is associated with religious festivities. Percussion instruments are sometimes used to make announcements just as the tom-toms of Africa are used to pass on messages from one village to another.
The Tamil classic, the Silappadikaaram, mentions an ancient Tamil instrument, the wooden Yaazh in the shape of boats, fishes, and crocodiles. Similar to the harp or lute, this now obsolete instrument has been replaced by the more versatile veena. Made of Jackwood, the various parts of the instrument-the kudam (pot), top plank, neck and yaali-are first assembled and a mixture of honey wax and black powder is applied to the top plank. Then it is further processed for completion. Renowned as a centre for the manufacture of veenas, Thanjavur has families employed in this trade for generations.
Then there are the thamburas with their wooden bases, the flute or kuzhal-a wind instrument associated with Lord Krishna. Popularly known as vangiyam, they are made of bamboo, sandalwood, bronze, sengaali and karungaali woods.
Udukki is an instrument held in the left hand and played by the finger of the right hand. It is used in all folk temples and is an emblem of Shiva.
Davandai is a large Udukki and is played with a stick.
Gummati is a pot-shaped drum held in horizontal posture while playing.
Ekkalam is an s-shaped horn played with the trumpet and the drum.
Pambai is a pair of coloured and painted cylindrical drums used in temple festivals