Kerala is a land of rhythms with a variety of instruments associated with its classical, folk and indigenous art forms. Each of these instruments is associated with a community. Mizhavu is an ancient instrument associated with the art forms of Koodiyattom and Chakyarkoothu.
Ammannur Gurukulam at Irinjalakuda dedicated this year’s festival – Gurusmarana, held every year to pay obeisance to Ammannur Madhava Chakyar – to this instrument. A 10-day festival, Koodiyattom-Mizhavu Mahothsavam, highlighted the various fields in which the instrument is now being used such as Melam, Keli, Thayambaka, and Panchari melam.
References have been made about this instrument in ancient treatises such as Chilappathikaram. The instrument is used in rituals like the upanayanam, for instance. Legend has it that this instrument was found on a hillock called Mizhavukunnu or Mridangasailam (now Mizhakunnu in Kannur district). A temple was built on the spot by a local chieftain. Traditionally, it’s the Nambiar community who handles this instrument.
It is not uncommon these days for instruments in one stream being adopted and adapted into another stream like that of Western instruments being used to perform Eastern music, for instance.
Likewise, the mizhavu has slowly moved on. This movement was pioneered by Kalamandalam Eswaranunni. From solo performances to group performances of the mizhavu, this was followed by Keli, Thayambaka and finally Panchari melam. Although the sounds that can be created on the mizhavu is limited when compared to the chenda, the performers – Kalamandalam Rajeev, A.N. Hariharan, K.P. Narayanan Nambiar, Ravikumar, Vineesh and Jayaraj – did a commendable job and created the ambience of a typical Panchari melam. Starting from the moonamkaalam, and braving through the progressive higher stratas, the melam ended with the kalaasam. They were supported by a group of Kurumkuzhal artistes led by Kodakara Sivaraman. “This has been successful only because of the blessings and guidance of chenda artiste Kalamandalam Sivadas,” said Rajeev. “In fact it was our colleague and edakka player Unnikrishnan who ignited the passion and persuaded us to perform this,” quipped Narayanan Nambiar. “Instead of comparisons, one should appreciate the effort taken by the artistes,” said melam maestro Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, who was present for the recital along with Melam exponent Thrippekulam Achutha Marar.
Koodiyattom and Nangiarkoothu performances by senior performers in the field were also a part of the fete as were presentation of papers on various aspects of the mizhavu and its applications by leading practitioners of this instrument.