Kalamandalam Sasikumar has proved his virtuosity and creativity on the maddalam, both on the Kathakali stage and in a Panchavadyam.
The maddalam has been inextricably linked to art forms such as Krishnaattam, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. ‘Kathakalirangam' by K.P.S.Menon, a seminal record on the socio-cultural history of Kathakali, has many references to names of reputed maddalam artistes of yore. This prestigious lineage continues even today. Among the names of fabulously talented maddalam artistes well known in Panchavadyam and Kathakali, Kalamandalam Sasikumar's name is written in golden letters.
As the son of the renowned chenda player Kalamandalam Kesava Poduwal and Kambrath Pothuwattil Radha Pothuwalsiar, Sasi, popularly known as Tripunithura Sasi, had a privileged entry to temple-percussion music. He was all the more fortunate to have Kalamandalam Sankara Warrier, the wizard in maddalam, as his first guru. Why did he choose the maddalam instead of the chenda? “As a child, I was carried away by the sheer magic of Sankar asan's performance on the maddalam for the Kathakali recitals during the Poornathrayeesa temple festival. It was an irresistible temptation for me and I made up my mind to learn the maddalam,” recollects Sasi.
Along with the rudiments of the instrument, Sasi mastered its tones that energise composite art forms such as Kathakali and the Panchavadyam. At 14, he joined Kerala Kalamandalam as a student of the maddalam. Under legends like Kalamandalam Appukutty Poduwal, Narayanan Nambeesan and Narayanan Nair, Sasi figured out the salient features of functional music. This made him competent to play for key Kathakali plays such as ‘Kalakeyavadhom,' ‘Kalyanasaugandhikam,' ‘Ravanolbhavam' and ‘Narakasuravadhom.'
Upon completion of the Diploma Course, Sasi had a short stint as tutor at the Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Kochi. He then joined the R.L.V. College of Music and Fine Arts as Instructor of maddalam. From then onwards, Sasi has been acknowledged as a remarkable percussionist in almost all the major Panchavadyams and Kathakali recitals in central Kerala.
Simultaneous falling of the two palms on both surfaces of the horizontally held Maddalam is a challenge for even the most gifted percussionists. “In the last couple of years, I have noticed this positive development in the playing of Sasi on the Kathakali stage,” comments T.S. Madhavankutty, an authentic voice among art critics of the day. The syllables he re-creates on the maddalam with his nimble fingers are articulate and alluring to the ears of rasikas. The ennams in the melappadam, especially those closely following the charanam, navabhava of the Ashtapadi, manjuthara kunjathala, are strikingly graceful. Sasi's imaginative wherewithal is fully evident in this segment. The deep resonance of his strokes and the tonal breadth varying in its volume, depending on the textual and contextual confederations in the critical plays, distinguish Sasi's playing from that of most of his contemporaries. Through a process of trial and error, he has tempered his obsession with the techniques to ensure simplicity and profundity.
Having closely followed the major protagonists on the Kathakali-stage, his fingering on the maddalam enhance the sthai (abiding) and vyabhichari (transitory) bhavas, especially in an emotionally vibrant play such as Unnai Warrier's ‘Nalacharitam.' While Panchavadyam calls for an explosion of energy by the participant-performer, Kathakali compels the musician to be perceptive to its visual syntax.
Acknowledging his contributions to Panchavadyam and Kathakali, various cultural organisations in Kerala and outside have conferred on him awards and honors. The notable among those is the in the name of Chalakkudy Narayanan Nambeesan, instituted by the Kathakali Club at Chalakkudy. For Sasi, such an award is apt for Narayanan Nambeesan was an awe-inspiring presence in Panchavadyam and Kathakali for decades.