It definitely takes years of hard work to play to perfection the thavil, as Alappuzha S. Vijayakumar will vouch. The barrel-shaped percussion instrument is played at marriages, festivals and music concerts. Vijayakumar is perhaps the first thavil artiste in Kerala to receive an A grade from All India Radio (AIR). The recipient of many awards, he has performed at several leading festivals in Kerala and India. He has performed with international orchestras during his trips to Italy, Portugal and France. Excerpts from an interview…
I started training at the age of seven. My grandfather took me to Paramu Panicker who taught me for only one day. Then I learnt from Kollam Shankaran Kutty for one-and-a-half years before going to Tamil Nadu where I trained under Palanivel and Kalai Murthy. I have also learnt from Nagapatnam Keezheveloor Kunjusingara Velu Pillai in Thanjavur and P.P.Venkatesan and Arani S. Balu.
On choosing the why thavil
I had a liking for percussion instruments. When I first saw the thavil, I decided that this was the instrument I wanted to learn to play. My grandfather, a ‘melshanti’ (chief priest) of a temple, used to invite thavil artistes to our house, where I had a chance to interact with them.
I’ve performed a lot with Kadri Gopalnath. If I remember correctly, the first time was in 1982 when I performed with Kadri for about 20 minutes. After that we performed together on many stages, including the Thyagaraja Music Festival at Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur. I also cherish my concerts with nagaswaram artistes such as Thiruvizha Jayashankar and Madhura M.P.N. Sethuraman. I enjoyed the thavil taniavarthanam with Kavalam B.Sreekumar and performances with Balabhaskar (violin) and Prakash Ulliyeri (keyboard). I have also participated in concerts with Kaithapram Damodaran Namboodiri, Sheik Chinna Moulana and other leading thavil musicians. These days, I perform a lot with Shenkottai Harihara Subramaniam. I perform ‘konnakol’, the recitation of ‘solkattu’ – vocal syllables related to the sounds of the mridangam – on the thavil.
As an instructor
I joined Kshetra Kala Peedom, Vaikom, under the Travancore Devaswom Board, in 1994 and am currently working as a senior thavil instructor there. I enjoy finding new talents and training them at the Kalapeedom. In my time I had to go to Tamil Nadu for training. But now there are many opportunities for learning the thavil in Kerala. The Devaswom has done a commendable feat in opening such an institution.
I have already performed thavil thayambaka and now I want to do a thavil-chenda thayambaka recital.