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Updated: March 25, 2010 16:18 IST

Ace helmsman

G. S. Paul
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Sticker for tradition: Kuttan Marar.
The Hindu Sticker for tradition: Kuttan Marar.

Percussion maestro Peruvanam Kuttan Marar has been awarded the fellowship of the Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi. G.S. Paul

There was great jubilation in the world of percussion as Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi announced its fellowship to Peruvanam Kuttan Marar. The Peruvanam-Cherpu region in Thrissur district wore a festive look with hoardings felicitating the percussion wizard. The fellowship is being awarded to a percussion artiste after an interval of three decades. The last recipient was Pallassana Padmanabhan Marar in 1981.

Among the 64 ‘gramams' into which Kerala was divided in the past, Peruvanam stood out for its rich cultural heritage. According to inscriptions on the walls of the Peruvanam Mahadeva Kshetram, the Pooram due to take place there towards the end of March, is the 1,428th. It is widely believed that Panchaari melam took shape in Peruvanam. The long array of percussion maestros who hail from this village is testimony to this. And Kuttan Marar is an heir to that cultural legacy.

Illustrious lineage

Born in the lineage of great masters, Kuttan had his initiation and grooming under his father, Peruvanam Appu Marar, a percussion supremo. Lessons on the Paani, the conch, and the edakka, essential for temple rituals, were started at the age of 10. The advent into the world of melam was at the age of 14, but as the last chenda artiste in the melam led by his father.

However he was initiated into thayambaka only later, at the age of 21. “It was my father's desire that I undergo basic education and land a job. I was lucky to be employed in Cherpu (C.N.N. High School), the heartland of melams, after completing my SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate). But for this, I would not have become a percussionist of this rank,” Kuttan remembered. While Kumarapuram Appu Marar was the guru for thayambaka, Sreenarayanapuram Appu Marar tutored him in melappadam and purappadu.

Endowed with exceptional artistry and leadership qualities, Kuttan is presently the ‘pramani' (helmsman) of melams in myriad temple festivals across Kerala. This includes, among others, those at Thrissur, Guruvayur, Irinjalakuda, Aarattupuzha-Peruvanam, Irinjalakuda, Tripunithura, and Ernakulam to mention only a few.

Uncanny rhythmic skills

What makes him the most sought-after in this regard is his long tenure in the Elanjithara (Paandi) Melam of Thrissur Pooram. Incidentally, the contingent of 300 artistes in Elanjithara Melam makes it the largest in the percussion world. It calls for uncanny skill on the part of the pramani to carry the phalanx of drummers belonging to the departments of kombu, kuzhal and elathalam through the change-over from one tempo to the next, while keeping the basic rhythm steady in this exercise of four hours' duration. When the melam takes place next month, Kuttan will be leading this contingent for the 12th year in succession as the pramani, an enviable position held by stalwarts such as Pallavur Appu Marar and Chakkamkulam Appu Marar in the past.

Kuttan is equally well-versed in the theoretical part of the art of rhythm. Innumerable have been the seminars in which he has presented papers on this singular art. Also, he evinces a deep interest in the five rare melams of the panchaari group that are near-extinct and is perhaps among the few, if not the only artiste who can present them with authority. These are Chemba, Paana Chembada, Anchadantha, Adantha and Dhruvam.

Kuttan is happy that more and more temples, especially those in the south of Kerala, are developing more interest in melams. Also, more youngsters are attracted to learn melams. As for him, he is grooming a small group of children at the Peruvanam Appu Marar Smaraka Kshetra Kalapeedhom.

Awards and titles have followed this percussionist during the four decades of his stint in this profession. Almost all the major temples have honoured him with Veerasrunkhala and gold medallions. ‘Melakalanidhi,' ‘Melachakravarthy' and ‘Vadyothama' are some of the titles presented to him by various cultural outfits.


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