From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Classification String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification322.11
(arched harp)
Related instruments
Tharun Sekar[1]

The yazh (Tamil: யாழ், also transliterated yāḻ, pronounced [jaːɻ]) is a harp used in ancient Tamil music. It was strung with gut strings that ran from a curved ebony neck to a boat or trough-shaped resonator, the opening of which was a covered with skin for a soundboard. At the resonator the strings were attached to a string-bar or tuning bar with holes for strings that laid beneath of the soundboard and protruded through. The neck may also have been covered in hide.[2][3][4]

The arched harp was used in India since at least the 2nd century B.C.E., when a woman was sculpted with the instrument in a Buddhist artwork at Bhārut.[5] Both the Indian harp-style veena and the Tamil yazh declined starting in about the 7th century C.E., as stick-zither style veenas rose to prominence.[2][3]

While use of the instrument died out in centuries past, artworks have preserved some knowledge of what the instruments looked like. Luthiers have begun to recreate the instrument.


The instruments were built between 1 and 3 feet tall.[6] Strings made of goat intestine were stretched and shaped to differing thicknesses for different notes.[6] Bodies were carved from local woods, including emmaram (red wood) or pala maram (jackfruit) wood, and today red cedar is used.[6] Soundboards were made of goatskin, glued to the body with a paste made of tamarind seeds.[6] The sound bar beneath the soundboard, which the strings anchor to, was glued to the instrument's body with a lacquer called Arakku.[6]

Kinnara playing a yazh, Kailasanathar Temple in Kanchipuram, India, ca. 8th century C.E.[7]

Harps are tuned to musical scales, with each string being tuned to one note in the scale. According to literature, Tamil land was divided into five regions, each having its own scale (Paan) and variant of the instrument.[6]

The Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar mentions yazh in his work Thirukkural.[8] Many major Tamil classical literary masterpieces written during Sangam period have mentioned the yazh. Silappatikaram, written by a Tamil Chera prince Ilango Adigal, mentions four kinds of yazhs:[9][6]

  • Peri yazh – 21-29 strings – large yazh
  • Makara yazh – 19 strings – makara yazh
  • Cakota yazh – 14 strings
  • Cenkotti yazh – 7 strings

The Tamil book Perumpāṇāṟṟuppaṭai says the strings of a yazh should not have any twists in them. Other Tamil literature which have mentions on yazh are Seevaga Sindhamani and Periya Puranam.[10] In modern times Swami Vipulananda has written a book of scientific research in Tamil called the Yazh Nool, detailing 6 different yazh harps.[11]

Body shape[edit]

The instrument may have a relationship with the mythological yali, the word for which (யாழி) is linguistically similar to the word for this arched harp (முகம்). Whatever relationship the words may or may not have linguistically, some researchers believe the mythological yali was carved into the tip of the yazh harp's neck.[3] The relationship between a stringed instrument and the yali is not limited to this Tamil instrument, but also was mentioned by Śārṅgadeva in his Sangita Ratnakara as a feature of the ekatantri stick-zither veena.[12] The modern Saraswati veena retains this feature.[13]

Other types of yazh are:

  • Mayil Yazh"resembling a peacock"[14]
  • Vil Yazh"shaped like a bow"[15]

The animal used in creating the instrument has an effect on its sound, affecting the instrument's dimensions which changes its sound.[6] The shapes are both culturally aesthetic and lend themselves to incorporating the golden ratio curve into the arch of the instrument.[6]


There is a city named for the yazh in the story of its founding, Jaffna, known in Tamil as Yazhpanam. A Sri Lankan Tamil legend recounts that a blind man Panan played on the Yazh so beautiful that he was given land from a king, which he named after himself, literally meaning "town of harper".[16][17][18]

Not only seen in literature, Yazh are found in sculptures in the Darasuram and Thirumayam temples in Tamil Nadu and also in Amaravathi village, Guntur district.[19]

The yazh was played in Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple in early centuries. It was mentioned in ShaivaThirumurai 11th Pathigam. It was also played by the musician and poet Panapathirar (Tamil: பாணபத்திரர்) who is mentioned in religious devotional stories.


External links[edit]


  1. ^ Gershon, Livia (26 April 2021). "Listen to the First Song Ever Recorded on This Ancient, Harp-Like Instrument; Tharun Sekar, a luthier based in southern India, has painstakingly recreated the long-lost yazh". Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian. Retrieved 3 October 2022.
  2. ^ a b Alastair Dick (1984). "Yāl". In Sadie, Stanley (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. p. 881. Volume 3.
  3. ^ a b c "Musical instruments played in India". Chapter of SPICMACAY, Cornell University. Archived from the original on 10 February 2010. Retrieved 16 November 2011. The yazh is an ancient Dravidian instrument, somewhat like a harp. It was named for the fact that the tip of stem of this instrument was carved into the head of the animal yaali (vyala in Sanskrit). The yazh was an open-stringed polyphonous instrument, with a wooden boat-shaped skin-covered resonator and an ebony stem. It was tuned by either pegs or rings of gut moved up and down the string...was displaced by the veena in the middle ages
  4. ^ "Celebrating unheard melodies". The Hindu. India. 25 December 2010. Yazh (a form of harp)...Notes (svaras) are known as Narambu. Narambu are the gut strings used in the Yazh. Each string of the Yazh was tuned to one note therefore this association of Narambu to note.
  5. ^ Catherine Ludvík (2007). Sarasvatī, Riverine Goddess of Knowledge: From the Manuscript-carrying Vīṇā-player to the Weapon-wielding Defender of the Dharma. BRILL Academic. pp. 227–229. ISBN 978-90-04-15814-6.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Rajeswari, Janani. "Yazh: rebirth with a twist". The Verandah Club. Retrieved 1 October 2022. ...five major types of Yazh based on the number of strings: Sengotti Yazh (seven strings to play seven swaras); Sagoda Yazh (14 strings); Makara Yazh (19 strings), Periyazh (containing 21-29 strings which was closer to the Veena on which one can play 27 notes) and the Seeryazh...ancient literature divided the land into five forms: Marutham, Mullai, Paalai, Neidhal and Kurunji. "It is believed that each of the regions had a Paan (ancient scale of music) and also a Yazh that was unique to it," says Tharun.
  7. ^ லலிதாராம் (translation from Tamil: Lalitaram) (15 February – 14 March 2005). "யாழ் என்னும் இசைக்கருவி – ஒரு பார்வை (translation from Tamil: Jaffna Musical Instrument – A View)". Varalaaru.com. No. 8.
  8. ^ Xavier S. Thani Nayagam, ed. (1966). Tamil culture. Tamil (Indic people) (in English and Tamil). Vol. 12. Tamil Literature Society, Academy of Tamil Culture. pp. 208, 209.
  9. ^ Rangarajan, Haripriya (2001). Haripriya Rangarajan; G. Kamalakar; A. K. V. S. Reddy; M. Veerender; K. Venkatachalam (eds.). Jainism: art, architecture, literature & philosophy. Religion / Jainism (in English and Tamil). Sharada Publishing House. p. 142. ISBN 9788185616773.
  10. ^ "On the basics of conservation". The Hindu. India. 4 December 2009. Archived from the original on 25 January 2013.
  11. ^ "One hundred Tamils of the 20th century: Swami Vipulananda (1892–1947)".
  12. ^ "Varieties of Veena". SARASWATHI VEENA(SARASWATI VEENA). Archived from the original on 2 October 2022. [paraphrased-translation placed online of parts of the Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sarngadeva]
  13. ^ Karaikudi S. Subramanian (Spring–Summer 1985). "An Introduction to the Vina". Asian Music. University of Texas Press. 16 (2): 9–13, 19. doi:10.2307/833772. JSTOR 833772.
  14. ^ "Musical Instruments". Government Museum, Chennai, India. p. 2. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  15. ^ "Musical Instruments". Government Museum, Chennai, India. p. 3. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  16. ^ Pārlimēntuva, Ceylon (1 January 1957). Ceylon Sessional Papers. Government Press.
  17. ^ Katiresu, Subramanier (1 January 2004). A Hand Book to the Jaffna Peninsula and a Souvenir of the Opening of the Railway to the North. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120618725.
  18. ^ Rasanayagam, C.; Rasanayagam, Mudaliyar C. (1 January 1993). Ancient Jaffna: Being a Research into the History of Jaffna from Very Early Times to the Portuguese Period. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120602106.
  19. ^ "Recreating treasures of the past". The Hindu. India. 26 December 2007. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008.