Percussion: Sadanam Sreedharan’s innovations and improvisations on the maddalam are unparalleled.
The scope and significance of maddalam are best realised in Panchavadyam, the traditional temple orchestra, and in Kathakali. Both call for different forms of creativity and discipline. In the entire history of Kerala’s percussion ensemble, only a handful of instrumentalists could command authority in these two genres of music. Sadanam Sreedharan is undoubtedly one among them.
A native of Thrikkandiyoor village in Malappuram district, Sreedharan’s upbringing was inextricably linked to the Siva Temple where his father, Kunhikrishnan Nair, had ‘adiyanthiram’ (hereditary rights) as a maddalam player. The annual festivals in the temple were an aural feast to Sreedharan who was drawn to the maddalam after listening to the indomitable Kadavalloor Aravindakshan in the Keli and in the Panchavadyam. Sreedharan began learning themaddalam from Thirunavaya Kunja Poduval. Later Trikkandiyoor Narayana Marar and Vanneri Raman Namboodiripad encouraged him to join Gandhi Seva Sadanam for further tutelage.
At Sadanam, Paloor Achuthan Nair guided him through the intricacies and tonal subtleties of the instrument. By then, Sreedharan was recognised as a noted artiste in Panchavadyam. Familiarity with the Kathakali cholliyattam helped him grasp the role of melody on the maddalam in conjunction with emotional transitions. Sreedharan naturally chose the style of performance enunciated in the beginning of the 20th century by Thiruvilwamala Madhava Warrier who, more often than not, eschewed the adichukottal (heavy accent on strokes) in Panchavadyam.
From 1962 to 1975, Sreedharan served at the Sadanam Kathakali School as teacher of maddalam. Since 1975, he had been instructor of maddalam at the Government High School, Attakkulangara in Thiruvananthapuram. This shifted his focus to the Kathakali stage.
Together with the highly innovative chenda player Sadanam Vasudevan, Sreedharan succeeded in carving out a bewitching baani of Melappadam. In the Chambada vattom, the ennam in Thisram – ennagu tharigagu tharigagu tharikita dhikkinna kinna dhimikinna kinna – is Sreedharan’s imaginative improvisation. Likewise, in Mishram (seven beats) and Khandam (10 beats) too, his manodharmas are totally refreshing. Under the spell of the late Chalakkudy Narayanan Nambeesan, Sreedharan proved himself to be unrivalled in chappu, pothu, ‘na’karam and ‘dhim’karam. His entire strength and resourcefulness lie on his ‘left hand’.
Sreedharan holds celebrated actors of yore in the Kaplingadan School of Kathakali in high esteem. Chengannoor Raman Pillai, Mankulam Vishnu Namboodiri and Pallipram Gopalan Nair are his favourites in addition to Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair whose performances had blurred the boundaries of the Kalluvazhi and Kaplingadan Schools.
The mellifluous notes on his maddalam, Sreedharan believes, are the outcome of the histrionic adroitness of those maestros whom he accompanied on stage for years. ‘Rasavishkara’ (emotional articulations especially on the face), says Sreedharan, has a direct and dynamic impact on the music generated on the percussion. His artistry accentuates this truth.
Recipient of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi and Kerala Kalamandalam awards, Sreedharan has several gifted disciples to carry on his legacy. Of them Kalamandalam Ramadas, Kottakkal Ravi and Sadanam Ramachandran are known to a wider audience in Kerala and outside.
In the absence of patrons and sponsorship it was a huge struggle for Sreedharan to establish his identity in Panchavadyam and Kathakali Melam. Nature and nurture helped him build up a prosperous career. In today’s art world of unscrupulous competition and ethical degradation, Sreedharan is an artist extraordinaire.