The Folk Music of Tamil Nadu

The folk music of Tamil Nadu is a rich and varied tradition that has been passed down through the generations. From simple ballads to complex compositions, this music is an integral part of the cultural heritage of the region. In this blog, we explore the different aspects of Tamil folk music and its history.


The folk music of Tamil Nadu is rich and varied, reflecting the diverse cultures and traditions of the region. From the haunting melodies of the love-sick heroines to the energetic folk dances, Tamil Nadu has a wealth of musical traditions to offer.

The music of Tamil Nadu can be divided into two broad categories: folk and classical. Folk music is typically based on simple, repetitive melodies and often has a rustic, rural feel. It is often accompanied by dance, and is usually performed by groups of musicians. Classical music, on the other hand, is more complex and sophisticated, and is usually performed by soloists or small ensembles.

Tamil Nadu has a rich tradition of folk music, which includes a variety of genres such as ballads, laments, work songs, love songs, festival songs, and more. The region also has a thriving classical music tradition, with a number of prominent composers and performers.

The History of Tamil Folk Music

The folk music of Tamil Nadu is one of the oldest forms of music in India. It is rich and diverse, and has been influenced by a variety of factors over the centuries. Tamil folk music has its roots in the rural folk traditions of the Tamil people. The music is often based on themes from nature, and is often accompanied by dance.

Ancient Tamil Music

The folk music of Tamil Nadu is diverse and includes several different types of music, each with its own history. Ancient Tamil music was largely influenced by the Carnatic music of southern India. This style is still prevalent in Tamil Nadu today and is performed at temple festivals and other religious events.

Tamil folk music has also been influenced by the music of other cultures, including the music of the Mughals who ruled India for many years. This can be heard in the qawwali songs that are popular in Tamil Nadu. Qawwali is a form of Islamic Sufi devotional music that originated in India and typically features a solo singer accompanied by a group of musicians playing traditional instruments.

Another type of Tamil folk music is known as kavadi chindu. This is a form of devotional music that is often performed at Hindu temples. It usually features a group of singers who sing hymns or devotional songs while accompanying themselves on traditional instruments such as the nadaswaram (a type of wind instrument) and the mridangam (a type of percussion instrument).

Today, Tamil folk music continues to be popular in Tamil Nadu and is often performed at events such as weddings, festivals, and other celebrations.

Medieval Tamil Music

The erosion of the Cholas’ power at the beginning of the 13th century saw a corresponding increase in the influence of the Pandyan kingdom. This period saw the development of two musical forms unique to Tamil Nadu. The first, which flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries, was devotional music dedicated to the Tamil poets-saints known as the Nayanars and directed to the Hindu god Shiva. This music, known as Carnatica, was structured around improvisation and set to highly complex ragas (musical modes), with lyrics that were either religious or secular in nature.

The second form to develop was Harikatha, a storytelling repertoire that dramatized stories from Hindu mythology and religious texts through song, dance, and dialogue. Popular among Tamil Hindus of all classes, Harikatha reached its peak of influence in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Both Carnatica and Harikatha found their way into popular performance in the 20th century through film music and radio broadcasts. While Carnatica continued to be heard mainly in temples and concert halls, Harikatha took on new life as a form of street theatre known as Kattaikkuttu.

Modern Tamil Music

Tamil folk music has undergone a major transformation in the last hundred years. With the arrival of modernity and globalization, folk music has been affected by popular and classical music, as well as by film music. While there are still traditional folk musicians who perform in the old style, many folk songs have been adapted to fit the tastes of a modern audience.

One of the most important changes to Tamil folk music has been the introduction of new instruments. The melam, a large percussion instrument, is now commonly used in Tamil folk bands. The violin and harmonium have also become popular in Tamil Nadu, playing an important role in accompanying singers.

Another change that has taken place is the increasing use of electricity to amplify sound. In the past, Tamil folk music was mostly acoustic, relying on instruments like the nadaswaram (a type of oboe) and drums to create sound. Nowadays, however, it is not uncommon for bands to use electric guitars, keyboards and even drum machines.

While some purists may lament these changes to Tamil folk music, there is no doubt that they have made it more accessible and popular than ever before.

The Instruments of Tamil Folk Music

Nagaswaram and Tambura are the two main musical instruments of Tamil Nadu. The Nagaswaram is a double reed wind instrument while the Tambura is a string instrument. Both these instruments are used in Tamil folk music. In addition to these, the Ghatam, Mridangam, and Kanjira are also commonly used in Tamil folk music.

String Instruments

String instruments are a vital part of the folk music of Tamil Nadu. The most important string instrument is the yazh, a harp with between five and seven strings. The yazh has been mentioned in Tamil literature since the Sangam period, and it is still played today, both as a solo instrument and as part of ensembles.

Other important string instruments include the solai vina (a two-stringed lute), the janjira vina (a four-stringed lute), and the makara vina (a five-stringed lute). These instruments are all played with a plectrum, and they are used to accompany singing as well as to provide accompaniment for dance.

The folk music of Tamil Nadu also makes use of a number of different types of drums, including the thavil (a two-headed drum), the parai (a large frame drum), and the urumi (a metal spring drum). These drums provide the rhythmic foundation for many folk songs and dances.

Wind Instruments

Tamil folk music is traditionally accompanied by a variety of instruments, including the flute, kanjira, morsing, veena and thambura.urumbu, a type of drum, is also popular.

Percussion Instruments

Percussion instruments play an important role in Tamil folk music. The most common percussion instrument is the drum, which comes in many different sizes and shapes. The kottu, a type of small hand drum, is often used to provide rhythm in folk songs. Other popular percussion instruments include the ghatam (a clay pot), mridangam (a large double-sided drum), nagaswaram (a wind instrument) and shehnai (a type of oboe).

The Styles of Tamil Folk Music

Tamil Nadu’s folk music is diverse and has a long history. The music is often based on Hindu epics and Puranic stories, and it is usually accompanied by dance. Tamil folk music is often divided into two categories: village music and temple music. Village music is usually more upbeat and lively, while temple music is more slow and devotional.

Devotional Songs

Devotional songs, or bhajans, are another popular form of Tamil folk music. These songs are usually sung in praise of a deity, and often tell stories from Hindu mythology. Like carnatic music, bhajans often make use of complex ragas, and can be quite beautiful and moving.

Love Songs

Love songs are the most commonly sung type of Tamil folk song. These songs often tell stories of young lovers meeting in secret, eloping, or of unrequited love. Most love songs are sung by women, and they often take the form of a conversation between the singer and her lover. Love songs typically have a slow, mournful melody and are often sung at night or during religious festivals.

Work Songs

Work songs were created to make manual labor tasks easier and more fun. These songs were often repetitive, with a simple call-and-response structure. The leader would sing a line, and the workers would repeat it back. These songs were used for everything from farming to construction work. In addition to making work more enjoyable, they also helped workers stay coordinated and motivated.

Folk Tales

Folk tales are an important part of Tamil folk music. They are often used to teach moral lessons or to entertain. Some of the most popular folk tales include the story of the king who lost his way in the forest, the story of the fisherman who caught a magical fish, and the story of the princess who was turned into a frog.


In conclusion, the folk music of Tamil Nadu is full of beautiful melodies, intricate rhythms, and soulful lyrics. It is a genre that is full of life and vitality, and it captures the spirit of the Tamil people. If you’re looking for something different from the usual Bollywood fare, then this is definitely worth checking out.

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