Sound of a musical legacy

It is a laudable effort to preserve the sounds of Kerala's musical heritage that is in danger of being silenced in the cacophony of the music market. is a website dedicated to the music, artistry and lives of three brothers – K. Sankaranarayana Panicker, K. Gopalakrishna Panicker and K. Ramakrishna Panicker – virtuoso nagaswaram players and patrons of art who inspired and mentored a generation of artistes in Kerala.


Saying that he was one of the many artistes who were inspired by the brothers, eminent playwright and poet Kavalam Narayana Panicker reminisces: “In the forties, during my student days, I tried not to miss any of their nagaswaram concerts in and around Ambalapuzha, especially when they played at the famous Krishnaswamy temple in Ambalapuzha. Even in those days, it was rare to hear the nagaswaram played with such perfection. Music composer Dakshinamurthy is another person who was inspired by the brothers.”

While Sankaranarayana Panicker and K. Gopalakrishna Panicker elevated the nagaswaram to new heights, the youngest was a maverick and a natural. A dancer, musician and Kathakali artiste, he is also believed to be the first choreographer of Malayalam cinema. “He personified versatility; who we call a ‘sarvakalavallabhan,'” says thespian Nedumudi Venu. “I have heard him play the flute and the mridangam with equal felicity. No matter what he did, he excelled in that, be it as a dancer, Kathakali artiste or musician,” recalls Venu.

“The little girl dancing to the song ‘Aanathalayolam…' in ‘Jeevithanouka' is accompanied by a man playing an udduku. That was Ramunni [Ramakrishna Panicker]. He had choreographed the dance and also acted in that scene. Many years later, it was Ramunni who acted in Aravindan's ‘Kummatti,'” narrates Kavalam who is all enthusiasm when he talks about the brothers.

In the same vein, Venu says: “The brothers exposed a generation of youngsters to the aesthetics of the classical art forms.”

“Thottakkadu Veedu, their house, was a second home for artistes and rasikas…. They brought the best of musicians and Kathakali artistes to Ambalapuzha and revived it as a centre of excellence in culture. GNB, Semmangudi, Chembai, Alathur brothers, MDR… all of them performed in Alappuzha. Moreover, they gave the nagaswaram, till then considered an instrument with a strong Tamil Nadu connection, a Malayali cadence by mastering it and performing it all over Kerala,” explains Venu.

Kathakali school

The brothers had also run a Kathakali school called Chembakassery Nadana Kala Kendram and structured several Kathakali padams. “We had worked together on several plays and padams; unfortunately none of us had the foresight to preserve any of those ventures…” rues Kavalam.

According to Venu, the brothers, especially the two older ones, conceptualised and worked out the details of concerts comprising Kathakali padams only. “The padams that are sung during a play are meant to narrate the story but the padams for a concert have to be sung differently,” he explains.

Honoured with several prestigious awards during their lifetime, the brothers' legacy had all but faded into oblivion, when film director T.K. Rajeevkumar, with the help of V. Gopakumar, V. Balachandran and V. Venugopal, grandsons of Gopalakrishna Panicker, and thavil artiste Karuna Moorthy, decided to revive the cultural contributions of the brothers' by creating a website on their legacy by collecting their records, photographs and memorabilia.

“Ramakrishna Panicker, the youngest of the three brothers, was a Kunjunni Master-like figure for children in the vicinity. An excellent storyteller, he would invariably be surrounded by children. I was one of those children who were mesmerised by his stories,” says Rajeev, who also happens to be related to the Ambalapuzha Brothers.

He points out that the brothers were visionaries who also did their bit for the welfare of artistes by raising the issue of accompanying artistes in the legislature.

“Although all their children were naturally talented singers and aficionados of the fine arts, none of them became performing artistes. Gradually the brothers' work was confined to the memories of a generation who had known and interacted with the trio. This is an attempt to keep alive that link,” says Rajeev.

The website has eight mellifluous recordings of the nagaswaram concerts of the brothers playing (compositions of Tyagaraja, GNB and Thanjavoor Ponnayyapilla) in ragas Sudha Dhanyasi, Kanada and Neelambari. It also has tributes written by stalwarts such as Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Vaikkom Chandrasekharan Nair and Mavelikara Krishnankutty.

Kavalam feels the website is an excellent idea to keep alive the legacy of the brothers who had enriched Kerala's cultural legacy.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 4:50:45 pm |