Dr. K Parameswaran*
months of April and May, when the temperatures soar and the country side is
soaked daily in the brightest of sunlight, villages and small towns in the
Malabar region (Northern parts) of Kerala reverberate
to the exciting rhythms of various instruments. The colorful and musical
festivals of Poorams are held during this period.
The pooram festivals are conducted with the local
temple as the centre. The biggest and most colorful festival takes place at Vadakkumnathan temple in Thrissur
and is called Thrissur Pooram.
It happens during the Malayalam month of Medam
(April/May). Another important festival not far from Thrissur
is the Arattupuzha Pooram,
which has around 60 elephants. This year the Arattupuzha
pooram is being celebrated on April 11.
Arattupuzha is a village located near Puthukkad
in Thrissur district of Kerala,
in South India about 12 kilometres south of the town
of Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala. It is located on the banks of the Karuvannur River. The temple at Arattupuzha
is the central site of the annual Arattupuzha Pooram that stages the grand spectacle of scores of
caparisoned elephants lined up in a row to the accompaniment of ethnic
Thrissur pooram, the grandest
spectacle of all has its beginnings during the reign of Sakthan
Thampuran – one of the strongest rulers of the
erstwhile kingdom of Kochi. He is said to have started the system of staging a
grand pooram festival in repentance of having accidently beheaded an oracle (what is locally known as a velichappadu – one who acts as a spokesperson for the local
Panchavadyam, a rhythmic orchestra, that may feature more than 100
artists, playing five (pancha) different kind of instruments, is one of the major ingredients of the Pooram festivals. The term panchavadyam
literally means an orchestra of five instruments. It is basically a temple art
form that has evolved in Kerala. Of the five
instruments, four — timila, maddalam,
ilathalam and idakka —
belong to the percussion category, while the fifth, the kombu, is a wind instrument.
Much like any chenda melam, panchavadyam
is characterized by a pyramid-like rhythmic structure with a constantly
increasing tempo coupled with a proportional decrease in the number of beats in
cycles. However, in contrast to a chenda melam, panchavadyam uses
different instruments (though ilathalam and kompu are common to both), is not related very closely to
any temple ritual and, most importantly, permits a lot of personal
improvisation while filling up the rhythmic beats on the timila
maddalam and idakka.
Panchavadyam bases itself on the 7-beat thripuda
(also spelt thripuda) thaalam
(taal) but amusingly sticks
to the pattern of the eight-beat chempata thaalam — at least until its last parts. Its rhythmic
structure calls for 896 beats in the first tempo and halves itself with each
stage, making it 448 in the second, 224 in the third, 112 in the fourth and 56
in the fifth. After this, panchavadyam has a
relatively loose second half with as many stages, the rhythm beats scaling down
to 28, 14, 7, and so on!
Whether the panchavadyam was originally a feudal art
or was it a rhthym ensemble
that evolved out of the temple practices over a period of time is still a
matter of debate among scholars. However, recorded history indicates that its
elaborate form in vogue today came into existence in the 1930s.
primarily the brainchild of late maddalam artistes Venkichan Swami (Thiruvillwamala Venkateswara Iyer) and his
disciple Madhava Warrier in
association with late timila masters Annamanada Achutha Marar and Chengamanad Sekhara Kurup. They have been
credited with evolving the pancha vadyam
into a five-stage concert, using five time tempos and with an intelligent
mixture of composed and improvised parts. Spanning about two hours, it has
several phrases where each set of the instruments complement the others.
The panchavadyam and other rhythm ensemble of Kerala temples also have a pleasing appearance. In these
art forms, the artistes line up in two oval-shaped halves, facing each other.
However, unlike any classical chenda melam, panchavadyam seemingly
gains pace in the early stages itself, thereby tending to sound more casual and
breezy right from its start, beginning after three lengthy, stylised
blows on the conch (shankhu).
A panchavadyam is anchored and led by the timila
artist at the centre of his band of instrumentalists. Behind him the ilathalam players can be seen to be lined up. Opposite them
stand the maddalam players in a row, and behind them
are the kompu players. Idakka
players, usually two, stand on both sides of the aisle separating the timila and maddalam line-up.
The maddalam and thimila are hide covered
percussion instruments. The maddalam is played using
both the hands, while the thimila is a more difficult
instrument played on one side alone with the fingers and palms of both hands,
the ilathalam is basically a set of metal shields
that are clashed together in rhythmic sequences to mark the time and indicate
the changes in tempo.
The Kompu is a wind instrument. However in the pancha vadyam the kompu also functions as a rhythm instrument using the same solfa syllables used by maddalam
and thimilla artistes.
offers a view of a pancha vadyam
performance in full swing).
*Assistant Director, PIB, Madurai