The wild beats of the Duff and Arabana have filled the walls of Alassam Veettil Tharavadu near the Kappad beach for the past 130 years. It can be said that these art forms reached its present popularity across the State, especially in north Kerala, with the efforts of this Yemeni-origin family, which has been running a Gurukulam here since 1885. The fourth guru of this lineage, Koya Kappad, who has been a constant presence at the art festivals for the past two decades, is back again this year with a large contingent of 120 competitors in Duffmuttu and Arabanamuttu.

“Duffmuttu traces its origin to the holy city of Medina. It is believed to have originated even before the birth of Prophet Muhammed. It was used as a way to welcome dignitaries. In India, it reached first in Lakshadweep through a Sufi.  Our family, which migrated from Yemen two centuries ago, popularised this art form in north Kerala when we settled down in Kappad. It was my forefather Syed Ahmed Musaliar who set up a Gurukulam to teach it formally. We have been teaching this free of cost since then,” Mr. Koya says.

Kappad style

The family has evolved a ‘Kappad style’ of Duffmuttu and Arabanamuttu, recognisable from its distinctive “baith” (recitation).  Teams trained by Koya have been sweeping the competitions for the past many years. “All of the family members attend the arts festivals. For us, it’s not merely a competition. These students are keeping alive a tradition,” he says.

Mr. Koya says that such art forms have a role to play in maintaining communal harmony. After the Marad communal riots, he teamed up with Kavalam Narayana Panikker in a concert at the riot-hit villages. “When we played together, the sounds of the duff and arabana blended in beautifully with the chenda and elathalam. There is unity between the music instruments associated with various religions; only the humans create divisions. Now we have many non-Muslim students learning what is popularly considered as Muslim art forms. All of them reach a trance-like state during performance, when all differences disappear,” he says.

Honour

The Kerala Folklore Akademi honoured Mr. Koya in 2013 for popularising Duffmuttu and Arabanamuttu.  He has set up training centres in Australia and Canada too.