SNA awardee Mattanur Sankarankutty Marar talks about his contribution to Kerala’s traditional art of Thayambaka
Born and brought up in a devout Hindu family of Marar in Mattanur, in Kannur district of Kerala, Padma Sri Mattanur Sankarankutty Marar’s life has always been closely related to the temple. His family had the ‘Chenda duty’ — called adiyandiram — in the temple, he recalls. At the age of five, he had to help his father K. Kunjikrishna Marar in the temple in performing his Chenda duty. Seeing his interest in tala, his father felt it would be better to train him in the traditional percussion instrument Chenda. Winner of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2012 for his contribution to the State’s traditional art of Thayambaka, Mattanur Sankarankutty Marar says he also started learning Karnataka Sangeetham at the same time under Thalassery Padmanabha, Bhagavathar for about three years. Here, he takes a few questions on his early days that shaped him as an artiste and his role in adding value to Thayambaka. Excerpts:
What percussion instruments other than Chenda have you learnt?
When I was 12, I joined Gandhi Seva Sadanam, Pathirippala, Palakkad, as a student of Kathakali Chenda under Pallassena Chandra Mannadiyar and Sadanam Vasudevan. After completing the four-year course of Kathakali Chenda, I went to Pattaraath Sankara Marar to learn Idakka. I learnt to play the Thimila under Guru Pallavur Maniyan Marar.
When did you start performing in public?
My first performance was at Mattanur Mahadeva Temple under my father K. Kunjikrishna Marar who trained me in my initial years. In was eight years old then. In the northern part of Kerala, there was no scope of developing or improvising on Thayambaka. Aalipparamb Krishna Poduval, a great coordinator and performer of Thayambaka and Melam, asked me to join him. I accepted his invitation and started performing with him. That was how I got a chance to perform with maestros like Aalipparamb Sivarama Poduval, Thrithala Kunjikrishna Poduval and Thrithala Kesavan. My first performance with Alipparamb Sivarama Poduval in Double Thayambaka was a memorable event for me. That experience gave me confidence and people began to recognise me.
What path breaking steps did you take towards improvement of Thayambaka?
The two styles in Thayambaka are Palakkad style and Malamakkav style. Aalipparamb Sivarama Poduval, Thrithala Kunjikrishna Poduval and Thrithala Kesavan were the maestros in Malamakkav style and Chithali Rama Marar, Pallavur Appu Marar, Pallavur Kunjukuttan Marar were accomplished in Palakkad style. I have performed in both the styles. I collected the good elements from both and tried to create a new style myself. Rasikaas enjoyed this very much and they named it “Mattanur Banni or Mattanur style”.
When I was young, I got a chance to attend a Thayambaka performance of late Pallavur Appu Marar. I was so impressed by his performance that I began to specialise in Adantha Kooru, which usually begins in a medium tempo of tala. I performed it in a very slow tempo and improvised it in a speedy tempo. I divided the improvisation in Chathurasram, Thisram, Misram, Khandam and so on in a vey slow tempo. Rasikas appreciated this improvisation very much.
In the course of your experimentations, what criticisms did you face and how did you overcome them?
In Thayambaka, the first part (mukham) was not played in a way as it is done nowadays. I was instrumental in changing it. The reason for my doing so was that the improvisation made the style more attractive. In the beginning I was criticized by rasikaas. But in the end the new style of playing mukham was enjoyed by the audience and almost all new generation artistes follow this style . In Panchari Melam, in the Malabar area, the artistes used to play Chenda with two sticks ( Irukol Panchari ) and in Thrissur area, they used to play with one stick (Ottakkol Panchari ). I prefer the first one because nobody can play with the left hand with the same effect for three to four hours continuously. In a seminar, I argued for Irukol Panchari Melam. In Samakaalika Malayalam Weekly, a debate was held on the same subject. I wish Melam to be musical. The instruments of Kombu and Kuzhal should be of the same pitch Sruthi. Thus I improvised Sruthi Melam, for which I was criticized a lot. But I have withstood all criticism with fortitude, which is why I am what I am today.