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Heir to a proud musical legacy

V. Kaladharan

Mattannoor Sankaran Kutty draws on his experience, skill and training to innovate and experiment on the chenda.

RHYTHMIC: Mattannoor Sankaran Kutty's magic on the chenda.

Kerala has rich tradition of diverse percussion instruments and great percussionists. Of them, Thayambaka, a solo-recital on the chenda, is the pinnacle of individual artistry.

The last century saw the rise and fall of the greatest icons in Thayambaka. They were able to pass on their legacy to a new generation of drummers. Among those who carry forward this proud legacy is Mattannoor Sankaran Kutty, who is head and shoulders above all his contemporaries. A recipient of the award of the Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademy, he has now been conferred the Kerala Kalamandalam Award for his contributions to percussion music.


Sankarankutty inherited music and rhythm from his parents. The Marar family he belongs to has been the privileged percussionists of the Mattannoor Temple. He grew up in an atmosphere that was seeped in Sopanasangeetam and percussion rituals in the temples. Training on the chenda and the edakka begins early in Marar families. It is such a natural process that nobody wonders when a six or seven-year-old child plays the edakka near the sanctum-sanctorum during the daily poojas. Sankarankutty also went through this process before joining the Gandhisevasadanam, Peroor, for taking lessons in Kathakali chenda.

At the Sadanam School, Sankarankutty received rigorous training in Thayamaka and Kathakali chenda under the maestro Pallassana Chandramannadiar and Sadanam Vasu. From Mannadiar, he imbibed the quintessence of tradition and from Vasu, the thrill and vigour of experiments and innovations on the chenda. It is not widely known that Sankarankutty had the honour of practising the edakka under the patriarch, Pattarath Sankara Marar at the Thiruvambadi Temple, Thrissur. When completing the course of Kathakali chenda from the Sadanam with distinction in the early 1970's, he had proved himself enormously talented not only in Thayambaka and Kathakali chenda, but in all the temple music rituals, including sopanasangeetam and Paani.

Unlike some other classical performing arts of Kerala, there has been no dearth of ingenious performers in the sphere of percussion. In Thayambaka, the competition between peers is tough and often ruthless. Hailing from north Malabar, Sankarankutty did not have a favourable climate in central Kerala when he set out to seek his fortunes there. Sankarankutty persevered And he befriended the doyens Aalipparambil Sivarama Poduwal and Pallavoor Appu Marar by becoming their favourite companions in the popular Irattathayambaka recitals.


His astoundingly powerful left-hand strokes and the inimitably vibrant `urulukai' proclaimed an exceptional harmony of nature and nurture. Sankarankutty impressed the orthodox audience of Valluvanad with his skill over `Adanathakooru' in the slowest tempo. His Thayambaka recitals invariably shook the paradigm and syntax of the traditional performance format, once hailed as the towers of rhythm. His recitals are replete with the chollus of the mridangam, thavil and even tabla. He reconditioned the listeners' text in his favour. This understandably invited the wrath of conservative rasikas. Yet, Sankarankutty never faltered. Experimentations

Formal School education along with artistic training at the Sadanam made Sankarankutty sensitive to modern sensibilities in percussion music. His extensive travels in India and outside for presenting Thayambaka gave him opportunities to be conversant with the percussion music of the East and the West. Sankarankutty found his alter ego in the mridangam wizard Umayalpuram Sivaraman. Both are extremely fond of fusion music. Umayalpuram, who had had resourceful interactions earlier with the versatile genius Pallavoor Appu Marar and his brother Maniyan Marar, could easily recognise the inquisitiveness and creative energy of Sankarankutty. Their jugalbandis were instant attractions wherever it was staged.

Being the pramani of the Thiruvambadi Melam in the Thrissur Pooram, Sankarankutty could prove his leadership qualities in collective ensembles too. When he recomposed a segment of the Panchavadyam in Panchari talam instead of the traditional Thriputa, there was a big hue and cry from a section of the artistes and the listeners. Sankarankutty soon became highly controversial in art circles. He has been engaged in equating the sruthis (pitches) of the different percussions in the Panchari Melam. Several veteran percussionists have dismissed his novel ideas as utopian. But he boldly moves on.

With a scientific bend of mind and unparalleled diligence, Sankarankutty has boosted the aesthetic of Kerala's percussion ensembles.

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