Students of Kalamandalam Sankara Warrier got together to fete their teacher who has always strived to bring the maddalam to the fore.

Kalamandalam Sankara Warrier is the author of `Maddalamenna Mangalavadyam.'

Kalamandalam Sankara Warrier has always walked alone. While many around him were content to remain faces in a crowd, Sankara Warrier ploughed a lonely furrow that was scarred and different. It left an indelible imprint on his life, his art.

A new dimension

The maddalam, especially in Kathakali, has always been overpowered by the chenda. Sankara Warrier gave this instrument a new dimension, striving to bring it to the fore. In pursuing this goal, he has, very often, rubbed people the wrong way. His determination was often dubbed as arrogance. His plain speak often misconstrued as an affront. He was bypassed for recognitions and awards. But Sankara Warrier ploughed on.Today, if the maddalam has found its rightful place and those who play this instrument a newfound dignity, it is largely because of Sankara Warrier. He, through years of rigorous training, has evoked the speaking quality of this high precision instrument. He developed a style that was subtly emotive and he proved that many interpretations were possible through this instrument. All that he learned and more find mention in his book `Maddalamenna Mangalavadyam.' This is the only comprehensive guide to the playing and understanding of this instrument. This master percussionist is also a disciplined teacher. In a career spanning four decades, Sankara Warrier has trained a legion of disciples. They got together at the Kalikota Palace, Thripunithura, to honour Sankara Warrier by presenting him with a `veerashrinkala.'"I put forward only two conditions when I was told of this event. One, it should be held at Thripunithura and that the honours should be done, if possible, by the head of the royal family of erstwhile Cochin," said Sankara Warrier.And he had reasons for this. Thripunithura and the members of the royal family were mainly responsible for the progress of this artiste. "I had a terrible childhood. It was one of hunger and poverty. Whenever I think of my native village of Thillankeri (Kannur district), these memories haunt me. I had to abandon my studies midway, take up various jobs and wander from place to place. It was Thripunithura that gave me a new life. I reached here with just a shirt and a dhothi. It was some of the young members of the family who gave me a new set of clothes. They gave me a place to stay; when my leg swelled, and oozed they took care of me. It was at the Poornathrayeesa Temple that I first played on a hide-wrapped percussion instrument. My marriage was held here; again all arrangements were made by my friends and well-wishers in this town. I owe a lot to this place."

Festive look

Thripunithura wore a festive look as artistes, scholars, and passionate fans of classical arts flocked to the venue right from morning itself. The day kicked off with a `maddalakeli' in which 12 youngsters, all of them disciples of Sankara Warrier, fused in rhythm. Ashtapadi by Payyannur Krishnamani Marar and a seminar on the `Relevance of the Maddalam among Kerala's Musical Instruments,' were held in the morning. The evening began with a panchavadyam by Chottanikkara Vijayan Marar and his group. Sankara Warrier and his wife, along with other luminaries, were led to the venue in a ceremonial procession. The Kalikota Palace was packed to capacity. The Veerashrinkala award function began with Sankara Warrier offering obeisance to his gurus, Kalamandalam Narayanan Nambisan and Cherppulasserry Shivan. Kathakali maestro Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, who inaugurated the function, dwelt on the unique qualities of Sankara Warrier. He felt that the gifted percussionist deserved this honour for his understanding of the Kathakali stage, his timely responses to mudras and intelligent innovations. Ramavarma Kochaniyan Thampuran adorned Sankara Warrier with the Veerashrinkala.A superb `melapadam,' a virtual rhythmic rhapsody, featuring Mattannur Sankarankutty, Mattannur Sreeraj (chenda), Cherppulasserry Shivan, Kotakkal Ravi (maddalam), Kottakkal Madhu and Kalamandalam Vinod (vocal) sent the audience into raptures.There was more for those who stayed back. Four Kathakali plays - `Ushachitralekha,' `Kalyanasougandikam,' `Balivadham' and `Pattabhishekam' - in which doyens like Kalamandalam Gopi, Kottakkal Sivaraman, Kalamandalam Rajasekaharan, and other eminent artistes took part, were staged. Gopi's Bheema in the Shouryagunam episode in `Kalyanasougandikam,' a rare one by the thespian, and Sankara Warrier's maddalam for `Ushachitralekha' were stand out performances.The strains of the Kathakali padams, the pulsating beats of the chenda and the maddalam, wafted through the silent night, into the early hours of dawn. In between all this Sankara Warrier was meeting people, smiling and chatting with that typical north Malabar twang.