Achievement: Kuzhoor Narayana Marar is the first percussionist from Kerala's indigenous music tradition to be honoured with the Padmabhooshan.
Of all the temple percussion instruments, the thimila is perhaps the only one that shares its space and time between temple rituals such as vilakkacharam and the aesthetically demanding Panchavadyam. The history of temple music have references to a handful of doyens who safeguarded the thimila’s ritual beats while bringing out its tonal brilliance in the Panchavadyam.
Kuzhoor Narayana Marar is the last of those grand old percussionists who upheld the twin functions of the thimila with missionary zeal. He is the first instrumentalist from Kerala’s indigenous music tradition to be honored with the Padmabhooshan. Marar is a recipient of the Pallavoor Appu Marar Award, the highest honour for percussion music instituted by the Kerala Government.
Narayana Marar was born into a family of illustrious percussionists. As the son of Vadakkinimarath Kochupillai Kurup and Kuzhoor Nedumbarambath Marath Kunjippillai Amma, Narayana Marar had his training in Panchavadyam under stalwarts such as Vadakkedath Rama Marar and Perumbilli Kesava Marar. He had his tutelage in Melam and Thayambaka from Manikyamangalam Narayana Kurup. Narayana Marar’s maiden recital was at the age of 15. Since then, he, together with his brother, Kuttappa Marar, became the epitome of Thimalavadanam in Panchavadyam. His commitment to the art transcends all other considerations such as the merit of musicians who play along with him, their expertise, importance of the venue and so on. Moreover, Marar belongs to that fast vanishing group of percussionists who are proficient in the temple rituals such as ‘paani’ and ‘poojakottu.’ While playing for the temple rituals, Marar is more of a devotee than a performer. In Panchavadyam, performance gains the upper hand while devotion is replaced by an aesthetic fervour.
Narayana Marar is a hardcore traditionalist in certain aspects. He is unswerving when it comes to the structural sturdiness of the Panchavadyam felt in terms of the positioning of the fingers on the thimila and the stages of transition in the tempo. At the same time, his creativity blooms especially in the ‘triputavattam.’ Thrikkamburam Krishnankutty Marar, a leading Thimila player of the succeeding generation, aptly sums up the genius of Narayana Marar. “His playing of ‘triputavattam’ follows a unique style. The swara cadences of the tavil, mridangam, ghatam and mukharsanghu gracefully decorate this segment.”
The leather surface of the thimila is limited to two ‘staanams’ – ‘tha’ and ‘thom.’ If one has an inclination towards philosophising it, it can be termed ‘tha thwam.’ The unusually gifted Narayana Marar pushed the boundaries of this musical instrument with telling effect. Marar’s fingering in regard to the mellowed and loud ‘tha’ kaarams and ‘thom’ kaarams have met with few parallels in the history of Kerala’s percussion ensemble. He has imbibed the virtuosity of his celebrated predecessors including the Annamanada trio. While this is conspicuous in his playing of the ennams, Marar has admirably distanced himself from perfunctory repetitions. Conversant with the nuances of the Melam and the Thayambaka, Marar’s performance on the thimila is always a invigorating experience for avid listeners.
Art connoisseur K.P.C. Narayanan Bhattatiripad considers command over rhythm, tempo and the tonal intelligibility as hallmarks of the Kuzhoor style.
Leadership in Panchavadyam, for Narayana Marar, is never wedded to arrogance. His modesty stems from a profound understanding of our indigenous musical genres that have withstood the test of time. In an age of fierce commoditisation of traditional performing arts, Marar is a lonely icon. Indomitable is his inner courage that defies exhibitionism of all sorts. For the young generation artists, there is a lot to learn from this eminent architect of swaras. Achievement Kuzhoor Narayana Marar is the first percussionist of Kerala’s indigenous music tradition to be honored with the Padmabhooshan.