“Chenda gives life to the mudras (signs) in a Kathakali performance,” explains Kalamandalam T. Krishnadasan in simple terms the role of a chenda artiste in Kathakali.
Even the most subtle emotion that a Kathakali actor expresses is given its alluring nature and perfection when it is accompanied by the rhythm traced on the chenda by a percussionist, a role Krishnadasan has mastered and perfected over the years.
He was awarded this year’s Rajasam Award instituted by Padma Bushan Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair. He spoke to The Hindu on the sidelines of a felicitation function organised by Margi in the city on Friday.
Hailing from Palakkad, Krishnadasan came from a family of illustrious percussionists. He had his first lessons from his grandfather and chenda artiste Krishna Mannadiar and his uncle Chandra Mannadiar and later joined Kerala Kalamandalam.
Krishnadasan recalls how he was initially taught the basics on a rock using a tamarind stick as ‘Chedakoll’ (stick used to beat the drum). The support from his teachers has been immense and he attributes his success to his gurus and the training he received at Margi.
“It was like a gurukul tradition, where classes starts at 4.30 a.m., which went on till late in the evening. Over the years, this has changed and now-a-days the classes are held for an hour or so, which get also reflected in the learning,” notes Krishnadas, who has trained film actor Jayaram.
Over the years, he mastered the art and became a well-known face, taking up performances in the State and abroad.
“The communication of a chenda artiste with a Kathakali actor is important. Each actor does the same role in different styles and under different state of mind. With just the chenda to accompany the narration, there needs to be a balance between chenda artiste and others for conveying the emotions,” explains the artiste, who is a favourite of many a Kathakali artiste.
“Unlike other instruments, learning chenda is difficult and needs good level of patience and perseverance,” he says.
Krishnadasan, who has been associating with Margi since 1985, now teaches chenda at the institute. He also conducts classes for free for dedicated students, for he has clear goals ahead: “sustain the art form through my students for the generations to come.”