For all his flashy looks and naughty conduct off the stage, Cherplassery Krishnakumar came across as an austere and serious custodian of a quaint old stream of Kerala’s most advanced solo percussion concert. That was when he performed thayambaka.

The strokes were straight and the rolls restrained when the young exponent presented his 90-minute shows on the chenda. The measured taps prompted the buff to believe that the art has not lost all of its grand old Malamakkavu style. Suddenly, Krishnakumar has left them in the lurch; he died in the wee hours of Thursday last, aged 49.

The news was doubly shocking for purists, coming as it is at a time when thayambaka is going through a phase of what they suspect is over-experimentation. Amid the ‘near chaos’, Krishnakumar stood as a serene island, brimming with poise. After all, composure was a hallmark of his school which traces its roots to the early 20th century and flourished along the banks of the Bharatapuzha in Palakkad district.

By birth, Krishnakumar anyway shared the ethos of the river. As a nerve-centre of the cultural activities of erstwhile Valluvanad, Cherplassery is where he grew up — amid a flurry of ethnic drum concerts. Not surprisingly, his trysts with melam, thayambaka and panchavadyam date back to early childhood, more so as son of percussionist Aliparambu Krishna Poduval and a nephew of the more illustrious Sivarama Poduval. At the neighbourhood Ayyappa temple, Krishnakumar would assist his father at the rituals that needed audio accompaniment of the chenda, ilathalam and edakka.

Then, as a teenager doing graduation (in economics) at a reputed Ottapalam college, Krishnakumar was into idling away his evenings with class-mates. Or so thought his father. Poduval decided to stem it, and sent the boy upstate for systematic studies in thayambaka under renowned Mattannur Sankarankutty Marar.

“He was smart, intelligent and willing to learn,” recalls Mattannur about his days with Krishnakumar at Asthikalayam in Cherukunnu off Kannur. “A chirpy chap, ready to work hard.”

The boyishness never deserted him in the rest of his life, but Krishnakumar, who also received chenda training from masters like Kallur Ramankutty Marar and late Kalamandalam Achunny Poduval, adapted himself to the gravity of the situation when his father died in 1994. Poduval had thrived on a wide network of contracts for the melam-panchavadyam section at temple festivals, completely busy with their coordination during the festival period within Kerala and outside. “Krishnakumar not only took forward the legacy; he ensured the oldies in the team were retained even while giving space to the new generation,” notes Mattannur.

Adds Kanhangad Muraleedhara Marar, who used to partner with Krishnakumar: “Once the season starts, I would stay at his house for days together. We’d be performing in venues across central Kerala.”

In panchavadyam, where Krishnakumar had Kariyannur Narayanan Namboodiri as his timila teacher, the young artiste learned the edakka much before that — in the late 1980s. Young drummer Vellinezhi Anand notes how much of a helping hand Krishnakumar was for his elder brother Cherplassery Haridas, who would also lead percussion teams. “They were more of friends, even as Haridas knew his younger sibling was a better organiser.”

For many in the state besides cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Panaji where Krishnakumar led Malayali temple festivals, the upcoming season would sense a rhythm of melancholy.

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