Kalamandalam Manikandan, ably supported by a team of accompanists, came good during a mizhavinmel thayambaka in the capital city.

Thayambaka is unique among the large variety of musical ensembles or melams in Kerala. Mostly it is a solo performance on the chenda by an adept percussionist who, using fingers of the right hand and a stick held on the left, plays on the top face or itam thala (literally, the left head) of the drum, confining oneself within the standard beats that emanate from the drums and cymbals of several accompanying percussionists. The seemingly limitless freedom for improvisation enjoyed by the chief drummer in a thaayambaka makes it the touch stone of the artiste’s skill and innovativeness.

Stalwarts such as the late Pallavur Appu Marar, Alipparambu Sivarama Pothuval and Kottakkal Kuttan Marar used to keep rasikas spellbound for hours during temple festivals by their scintillating performance of thayambaka. Starting from well-known figures such as Mattannur Sankaran Kutty, Peruvanam Kuttan Marar and Kalamandalam Balaraman, there are, in the present day, dozens of dexterous performers who have acquired mastery over the instrument and art. They are closely followed by a number of up-and-coming youngsters also, including a few female artistes.

The term thayambaka is explainable as a combination of thaayam (technique) and vaka (type), thereby emphasising the fact that it showcases an array of different types of artistic technique on the part of the performer. Without any qualifying adjective it refers to a performance wherein the main instrument is the chenda. An offshoot of this art form came to be crystallised and popularised as mizhavinmel thayambaka under the leadership of the octogenarian maestro P.K. Narayanan Nambiar, son of the great guru Mani Madhava Chakyar. Subsequently thayambaka began to be performed with predominance given to several other instruments such as the edakka, thimila, maddalam and the bow (villu).

Recently, rasikas in Thiruvananthapuram enjoyed a commendable performance of mizhavinmel thayambaka led by Kalamandalam Manikandan, who has to his credit an impressive track record as an accompanist on the Koodiyattom stage.

Following the classical sequence of events in thayambaka, Manikandan began with a slow pace (pathikaalam), but soon passed on to adathakkooru, unfolding most of its intricacies. In idavattam, the intermediary stage, fast moves of his fingers created an astonishing series of mesmerising sound patterns. After moulding seemingly unending but exquisite modulations during the irikita stage, Manikandan led his performance to its grand finale, earning accolades from the audience. In him, connoisseurs could see the emergence of a promising successor to the veterans such as P.K. Narayanan Nambiar and Kalamandalam Eswaran Unni in the domain of mizhavinmel thayambaka.

Manikandan was ably assisted by a skilled team of accompanists: Kalamandalam Ratheesh Bhas and Kalamandalam Sajikumar on the mizhavu, Kalanilayam Rajan on the valamthala (bass) chenda, and Pookkodu Vivek and Anandapuram Sajeevan on ilathaalam (cymbals).

The performance was at the Mitraniketan City Centre under the aegis of Natyamandapa, as part of a two-day Koodiyattom festival.