To Kalamandalam Krishnankutty Poduval, who was synonymous with the instrument.
Kalamandalam Krishnankutty Poduval, who redefined and repositioned the place of the chenda in Kathakali, will be remembered at a function organised by Kalasagar, an institution founded by him on October 14, at Chandra Mandala, Beach Road, Chennai. On the occasion, gurus Prof. T.N. Krishnan and the Dhananjayans will be felicitated.
When he introduced the high-decibel chenda to Ramanattam in the early 18 century, the provincial king of erstwhile Vettathunadu (currently in Malappuram District of Kerala) might have had a magnificent obsession with the masculine verve of this dance-theatre form. It was only by the beginning of the 20th century that the chenda and the maddalam actively intervened in the angika and satwika abhinayas of Kathakali.
Moothamana Kesavan Namboodiri and Thiruvilwamala Venkichan Swamy were pioneers who initiated the chenda and the maddalam into Kathakali. For Krishnankutty Poduval, the former was a role model and the latter, a venerable guru, the rigour of whose tutelage he always remembered.
Krishnankutty Poduval had his first lessons of thayambaka and edakka from his uncle Govinda Poduval. Prompted by his uncle and poet Olappamanna Mana, Poduval enrolled as a student of chenda at Kerala Kalamandalam.
He started his career as a substitute/supporting player for Moothamana Kesavan Namboodiri.
The recognition from the Maharaja of erstwhile Travancore as the ‘Kottaram (palace) artist’ made Poduval a celebrity in south Kerala. From then on, Poduval accompanied many eminent Kathakali artists such as Kavalappara Narayanan Nair, guru Kunju Kurup, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Vazhenkada Kunju Nair, Chengannoor Raman Pillai and Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair.
With an incomparably evocative nerkol (vertical falling of the stick on the chenda) and gloriously carved out urulukai (twisting of the wrists to the left and the right), Poduval translated the emotional state of the characters and the shifting context of the plays into widely varying tones on the chenda.
Poduval’s playing in the Melappadam and for the story was punctuated with silences which were pregnant with meaning. He was prudent in not interfering with or intruding into the maddalam player's foray on stage.
Modesty and irreverence played hide and seek in his life. He always held aloft the autonomy and stateliness of the artist. Little surprise then that Poduval faced the wrath of the administration at Kalamandalam where he was the principal teacher of chenda. He was removed from service in 1967, but reinstated in 1979 by Olappamanna.
Although a school dropout, Poduval had a flair for languages and literature. In a documentary made by Prakash Jha, Poduval defined the prominence of chenda in Kathakali thus: “Kathakali without chenda is like an ocean without waves.”
His book, ‘Melappadam’ and the posthumously published ‘Melapperukkam’ contain interesting and informative articles on Kerala’s traditional arts. ‘Bheeshmaprathijna’ (Bhishma’s Pledge), the play he wrote is known for its theatrical panache. He even sang for Kathakali plays when the situation demanded.
Poduval was the first Kathakali percussionist to win the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. He also bagged awards and Fellowships from the Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi and Kerala Kalamandalam. He passed away in 1992.