Kavin, a fourth standard student and a fifth generation nagaswaram artist, hails from Idumbavanam, a place of reverence for Shiva, celebrated by Saivite saints in their hymns. When not in school, he assists his father, Prakash Ilayaraja, a nagaswaram artist and instructor, and regularly performs at temple festivals, weddings, and other events alongside Vijay Karthikeyan. Another young talent in the industry is Kalyanapuram K.G.S. Dhayaparan, who is currently pursuing a degree in Visual Communication while also playing the nagaswaram with his brother Vedhagiri, a Class 10 student, under the guidance of their father, the renowned nagaswaram artist K.G. Srinivasan.
The trend of young enthusiasts learning and preserving traditional musical instruments while pursuing their academic education is an encouraging shift from the past. In the past, families of nagaswaram and thavil players discouraged their children from following in their footsteps, viewing it as a challenging and underappreciated vocation.
Straddling two worlds, V. Gopeeswaran, a Class 9 student, has already established himself as a full-fledged thavil player, actively participating in concerts with his instructor T.B. Radhakrishnan. The decision of whether to pursue a career in nagaswaram rests with Kavin, as his family supports his aspirations but leaves the final choice to him.
Traditionally acclaimed places like Thiruvavaduthurai, Thiruvidaimarudur, Thiuveezhimizhalai, Thiruvenkadu, and Nachiyarkoil, known for producing renowned nagaswaram and thavil players, have seen a decline in descendants from these lineages. However, a few schools, including Injikudi and Semponnarkoil, have continued to uphold this musical tradition.
The rise in the number of players can be attributed to the establishment of music schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu, making the craft a more viable and lucrative career option. Additionally, there has been an increase in naiyandi melam troupes, with musicians playing folk tunes, film songs, and Carnatic music at local festivals. The expansion of opportunities has allowed artists to perform in other states and abroad, further boosting the remunerative aspect of the profession.
Exclusive nagaswaram festivals by various organizations have emerged as a significant development in the efforts to promote and preserve this traditional art form. The inclusion of nagaswaram performances in regular concert schedules is advocated by music historian Lalitha Ram, promoting greater visibility and recognition for the instrument within the concert circuit.
Despite the positive developments, nagaswaram and thavil players continue to face challenges, such as comparisons to past masters and the need for more opportunities to perform in concert halls for a discerning audience. Artistes like Prakash Ilayaraja express a desire to showcase their talents in concert settings and not just be limited to social and religious events.
In conclusion, while there has been a resurgence in interest and opportunities for nagaswaram and thavil players, there is still work to be done to elevate the status and recognition of these traditional musical forms in the modern era.