In a small, sparse workshop in Chennai, Tharun Sekar spends hours constructing and perfecting the yazh. A distant cousin of the harp, the two,000-year-old instrument was as soon as a mainstay in royal courts, and produced “the sweetest sound.” Then, it disappeared, preserved solely in historic texts—till now.
The yazh is one in all a handful of misplaced or obscure folks devices that Sekar, 24, has been recreating in a studio he started in 2019. It takes Sekar 5 to 6 months to construct a yazh. Every handcrafted instrument is constituted of a strong block of wooden, and, when completed, is about two ft tall, with seven or 14 strings, a distinctively carved peacock head, slender neck, and a bowl-like resonator. Prospects from as distant as Norway, Dubai, and the U.S. have been drawn to its ethereal sound.
Atlas Obscura spoke to Sekar about his mission to convey again forgotten devices and the way he discovered his craft.
How did you get curious about constructing musical devices?
I used to be in tenth grade after I noticed the Hawaiian lap metal guitar and needed to play it. Nevertheless, at the moment, this guitar wasn’t obtainable in India. The one choice I had was to construct it. I watched YouTube movies and tried making the guitar.
The method of working with wooden grew to become addictive; I used to be fascinated by it. I considered its texture, the way it felt in my arms. Lastly, after I made the instrument and heard its sound, it felt fantastic. Later, I made a decision to pursue structure in faculty, as a result of I needed to check design. Throughout my summer season holidays, I constructed a string instrument every year, together with a banjo and a ukulele.
I went for an architectural internship to Auroville. It was there that I met a widely known luthier, Erisa Neogy, to whom I confirmed my devices. He was variety and was keen to show me extra about instrument-making, which led me to coach underneath him for six months. For the reason that course of fascinated me, after graduating from faculty, I made a decision to commit all my time to creating devices.
How did you transition from constructing guitars to crafting historical Indian devices?
Throughout my time in Auroville, I questioned why I used to be solely making Western devices. I spotted that Western devices, just like the guitar, have been all over the place. If college students needed to be taught music, the primary thought they’d have was to select up a guitar or play the drums. They wouldn’t even consider enjoying an Indian instrument. This was one thing that bothered me.
The guitar, which solely has a historical past of 500 years, continues to stay standard on account of gradual design modifications made to it each decade. Lots of of luthiers work on the instrument, making an attempt out one thing new to maintain the shape trendy for youthful generations. I assumed I ought to do the identical with Indian devices. This is the reason I began Uru, an organization the place we redesign folks devices.
The primary instrument you designed was the yazh. What fascinated you about it?
The sweetness about this instrument is that it was as soon as performed in temples and in royal courts, in addition to amongst panars, who have been an historical group of musicians. There are Tamil scriptures and literary works written through the Sangam interval, sixth century B.C. to the third century, that point out the yazh. But, it disappeared. Right now, whereas there are replicas of the yazh obtainable in museums, they’re neither authentic nor playable. I wasn’t additionally capable of finding any recorded sound samples or movies of the instrument. So, this created a curiosity in me.
What was your analysis course of?
The very first thing I did was gather analysis paperwork in regards to the instrument. If you happen to learn the Sangam period literature, they exaggerate about it. As an example, it was mentioned that the yazh produced the sweetest sound mankind had ever heard. Nevertheless, I couldn’t discover any factual info, when it comes to the size of the strings, or the construction’s correct dimensions. There have been no illustrations accompanying the textual content both.
Finally, I discovered the Yazh Nool, written by Swami Vipulananda in 1947, which is the one correct analysis e book obtainable on the instrument. The e book has detailed info on music concept, how the strings have been aligned and musical notations that helped to recreate the sound precisely.
What challenges did you face when recreating the yazh?
Historically, the yazh makers used jackfruit wooden. Goat pores and skin can be tightly positioned over the instrument’s bowl-shaped resonator. They might use crushed turmeric paste to connect the cover onto it. Nevertheless, there was an issue on this. If you happen to needed to alter the tone of the instrument by tightening the pores and skin, you would need to open all the piece and expose it to warmth every time.
So, I made a decision to introduce the hook-and-bracket system to compensate for this. I additionally used pink cedar, which is lighter than jackfruit wooden, to make sure ease in mobility. Whereas carving the resonator, its thickness is decided by tapping the physique of the wooden and listening. On the level the place it begins to ring effectively, I cease.
What different historical devices are you bringing again?
The panchamukha vadyam, or the five-faced drum, which belonged to the Chola dynasty interval, from the ninth via thirteenth centuries. It’s a percussion instrument that has 5 hole tunnels with pores and skin hooked up to it. The physique was made from bronze and weighed round 200 kilos (440 kilos). Right now, the one authentic piece exists in a temple in Tiruvarur.
Historically, the makers used deer pores and skin. Nevertheless, since that’s not attainable now, I’ll be utilizing goat cover as a substitute, and the physique shall be made utilizing clay to cut back the load. Proper now, I’ve solely constructed a prototype. Nevertheless, I’m considering of going to Tiruvarur and finding out the instrument correctly, earlier than I start redesigning it.
I’m curious about making completely different devices from around the globe, as a result of I wish to research completely different sounds. I not too long ago made the cajón (a Peruvian percussion instrument), which took two months to construct. I additionally wish to craft the Mongolian morin khurr (also called a horsehead fiddle) and have began researching it. Nevertheless, a part of my course of contains listening to tales from native folks, which supplies me a greater understanding of the instrument. Because of the pandemic, this isn’t at present attainable. So, I assumed that it may be higher to concentrate on the devices we now have in my a part of the world in the meanwhile.