Percussion is at the heart of Kerala’s music tradition.
Kerala owns a place in the field of Carnatic Music, thanks to Swati Thirunal, (1829-47), the ruler of Travancore. A musician and a composer of high calibre, Swati Thirunal’s region was called the ‘Augustan Age of Kerala Music’. One of his close associates, Irayinman Tampi (1782-1856) composed the immortal tarattu (lullaby), Omanathinkal Kidavo. An exceptionally gifted singer who enjoyed the patronage of Maharaj was Shadkala Govinda Marar. It is said that Tyagaraja was once so moved by Marar’s performance that he composed the evergreen Telugu song Entaro Mahanubhavalu Antariki Vandanamulu (I bow to all the great men in this world)
In addition to this, Kerala’s contribution to the development of folk music is also noteworthy.
This is sung in front of sopana (steps in front of the sanctum sanctorum). Sopana sangeetham has a distinct style. Bhakti movement in Kerala influenced sopana sangeetham-and most of the lyrics (asthapathi) are based on Jayadeva’s (thirteenth century poet) immortal work Geeta Govinda. The song varies according to the time of performance and the deity. Musicians always stand on the left side of the sopana and singing stops once the shrine opens. Instruments used are edakka and chengila.
Suddha-maddalam, komb, edakka, elathalam, timila are the five instruments used besides sankh (conch) for panchavadyam. The panchavadyam can have different types depending on the number of instruments. The positioning of an artist in a panchavadyam mela (concert) is also important. Panchavadyam starts with the blowing of sankhs. The famous Thrissur Pooram gives an opportunity to witness playing of a full complement of panchavadyam.
Pancharimelam is mainly confined to temples. Pandimelam differs from Pancharimelam slightly, though the instruments used are the same. While the beating of chenda in Pancharimelam is done with two sticks, only one is used for drumming in Pandimelam. Another difference lies in the blowing of kuzhal.
This can be seen during festival days, especially when the temple deity is taken out in procession. Only chendas and elathalams are used. The artist uses his palm and stick for drumming.