Where Kathakali music reigns

Palanad Divakaran and Deepa Palanad, kathakali music performers Photo: Thulasi Kakkat  

Listening to Deepa Palanad's rendition of Kathakali music, it is hard to imagine that such a rich and resonant voice emanates from so petite a frame. Deepa Palanad's lineage in Kathakali music can be traced to her father Palanad Divakaran's guru, the legendary Unnikrishna Kurup.

Deepa Palanad is that rarity, a woman Kathakali musician. She sings for the stage (Kathakali) and Kathakali music concerts. Deepa trained under her father (besides others) and is a worthy disciple for any guru and every father.

While Deepa pauses to think if any padam has been tough to render, Divakaran replies, “Nothing. She can handle almost any song. She works extremely hard.” Deepa smiles shyly. She won the first prize for Kathakali music at school youth festivals in 1995 and 1997 when she was in Class 8 and Class 10 respectively. She also learnt Kathakali for a year and is learning Carnatic music.

Late entry

Divakaran came to Kathakali music rather late in life. He was doing the second year of his graduation when he first ‘encountered' Kathakali music, when he heard Unnikrishna Kurup sing. “It was not even related to Kathakali, it was kalampaattu,” reminisces Divakaran. “But I was hooked.” He had learnt Carnatic music earlier, so he wasn't a complete novice to this genre. He was a ‘part time' student. Many weekends were spent learning Kathakali music under Kurup ashaan.

He counts Kathakali musicians such as Venmani Haridas, Kalamandalam Hyder Ali among his seniors.

Practical considerations made him take up a job. He got a Government job through the Public Service Commission (PSC), as a high school teacher and retired as an Assistant Education Officer (AEO). “Those days, having a job was important,” he says. Sometimes it was a balancing act, but he refused to give up music. “I did lose some ‘stages' (opportunities) because of my job,” he smiles. Deepa listens very intently as her father talks.

The shared passion for Kathakali music is evident. Deepa combines that passion with a strong commitment to learn more and get better. She has memories of hearing her father's guru and his style finds resonance in her renditions, Divakaran says.

It is only natural that a father would want his child/children to follow in his footsteps. His son, Sudeep can sing, which he does (he is pursuing a degree in sound engineering) but this is not his cup of tea, according to his father Divakaran. “Deepa on the other hand has always shown interest in it. Deepa's mother, Sudha is a Kathakali aficionado, so that helped. She has been very supportive of me also,” he adds. Deepa's husband K.T. Pradeep is also an ardent fan of Kathakali and works as a school teacher. He is her constant support.

Her brother Sudeep used to accompany Deepa when he was younger. “In fact, for my arangettam at Guruvayoor he was the second singer. But now he is very choosy about what he sings,” says Deepa.

For her arangettam in 1999, Deepa rendered padams from ‘Kuchelavrittam' which her father sang for his arangettam in 1979.

Deepa sings sans gimmicks, in keeping with the spirit in which Kathakali music was envisaged – the actor being supreme and the singer secondary: A debatable point for fans of Kathakali music. Before any kutcheri, Deepa makes it a point to listen to Kurup ashaan's old records. “Listening to him reassures me and infuses confidence in me,” she says. She has brought out two albums, ‘Thushara Vilochana' and ‘Premji Padunnu'.

Few women

The forced exclusivity of the female Kathakali musician becomes counter productive. Deepa, therefore, cannot find a woman to sing with her. Singing an attakatha involves two singers, a ponnaani (lead) and shingidi (second singer). As a result she sometimes sings with male singers sans qualms. “It's easy for me, I sing at my pitch but it is tougher for men. They have to adjust their pitch. It is slightly better now, as a few girls are taking up Kathakali music.”

And how does the audience react to a woman singing to a man's vesham? “There haven't been any adverse comments or criticism so far,” Deepa says.

Deepa works as a Mathematics teacher at the Aided Upper Primary School, Porur. She sometimes works as casual announcer with Manjeri FM and is a ‘B high' graded artiste (as also her father) with All India Radio, Kozhikode.

Humility and talent make a rare combination. When commitment and passion balance the equation, then we get a Deepa Palanad and her father, Divakaran.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2021 10:00:25 AM |

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