Sadanam Vasudevan’s unmatched magic on the chenda has made him the maestro of melams.
Of the multiple genres of indigenous percussion ensembles associated with the tradition of percussion in temples in Kerala, Thayambaka, the solo recital on the chenda, is probably the most sophisticated in terms of individual artistry and uninhibited explorations. Umpteen Thayambaka players have contributed to the pre-eminent position the chenda now occupies in the cultural milieu of Kerala.
Among them, Sadanam Vasudevan is undoubtedly a towering presence not only in the incredibly competitive world of Thayambaka but in melam and Kathakali kottu (percussion) as well.
Born and brought up in Angadippuram village of Malappuram district, Vasudevan inherited his taste for music from his mother, Karimbanakkal Meenakshi Amma, herself an expert in Kaikottikkali, while his overwhelming passion for the chenda was passed on to him by his father, Chenakara Gopalan Nair, a well-known Thayambaka artiste.
He grew up listening to the beats of maestros participating in the 11-day Pooram festival at the Thirumandhankunnu temple. So it was quite natural for Vasudevan to have his arangettam (formal debut) at the age of four. Attached to the school of Thayambaka spearheaded by Porur Sankunni Marar, Vasudevan played adantha kooru for his debut performance.
Vasudevan was enthused by melappadam with Pallassana Chandra Mannadiyar on the chenda and Palur Achutan Nair on the maddalam, which preceded a grand Kathakali show at the temple courtyard. The performance had a mesmerising impact on Vasudevan who decided to join Gandhisevasadanam, Peroor, for systematic training on the chenda.
The Sadanam School where Mannadiyar unknotted the lessons Vasudevan had learnt from his father proved to be a revelation for him. His unquenchable thirst for learning and exploring made Vasudevan immerse himself in the highly evolved art of playing Thayambaka and Kathakali Melam grounded on a scientific structure. The result was spectacular.
Soon after completion of his course at the Sadanam, Vasudevan grew into an outstanding accompanist for Kathakali and an imaginative Thayambaka player, effortlessly navigating the contours of Pathikaalam, Chemba, Panchari and Adanta koorus. He used to perform a Thayambaka recital incorporating all these koorus stretching to two and a half hours, a trait he imbibed from veteran temple percussionist Karimpuzha Gopi Poduwal. He is adept at playing a special Panchari kooru too in the keli.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Vasudevan has always been receptive to the mutually vying Schools of Thayambaka – the Malamakkavu and the Palakkadan. He has emotionally embraced the tower of rhythm erected by the former and the melodic undertones of the latter. The audience cannot help noticing the unending process of give and take between his twin roles as a soloist and as an accompanist. Each and every phrase and note he weaves on the chenda in the ennams or manodharamams is fresh. Yet there is an intrinsic consistency in the stylistics of his performance of Thayambaka and for Kathakali.
Vasudevan attributes the consistency to his training in Kathakali melam and his admiration for Kalamandalam Krishnankutty Poduwal, the monarch of the melam tradition in Kathakali. Vasudevan has a deep interest in nurturing unusually gifted youngsters. Incidentally Mattannoor Sankarankutty Marar, the mega-star of Thayambaka today, is Vasudevan’s disciple.
Recipient of innumerable awards and honours, the latest feather in his cap is the State Government’s Pallavoor Appu Marar Puraskaram.