High and upbeat

KEEPING UP THE TRADITION: Thappattam is a versatile folk art form native to the region   | Photo Credit: S. James

On a Saturday morning, half-a-dozen young men get ready for a rehearsal under a banyan tree that also stands talls over the quaint Ayyanar Temple in Anaiyur. It's the festival season and they have a show coming up. “Till last week, we were all busy with programmes for Ganesh Chaturthi. During the Visarjan every year, we are hired by organisers,” says folk artiste B Thangapandian, who excels in Thappattam. The boys dress themselves in veshtis and wear colourful waistbands, bandanas and line up in a neat row armed with the 'Thappu'. In few seconds, the tranquil air rents with short resonant beats.

If Alanganallur Jallikattu is hailed as Madurai's folk sport, the Vadipatti Thappattam is equally famous as the region's folk performance art. Known as 'Thappu' or 'Kottu', it's a widely practised art form in Tamil Nadu, yet there's a speciality attributed to the performers around Vadipatti region. Some say it's because of the skilled performers of the village, while others believe that the place is associated with history behind Thappattam.

“Vadipatti is the place where the early practitioners of thappu vadhyam settled in, coming from Northern Andhra and Karnataka,” says Shylaja, dance historian. In her upcoming book on folk arts of the state, she has dedicated two pages to Thappattam. Hailing from a village near Nilakottai, she has collected anecdotes relating to Thappattam from elders in her family.

“I learnt that two Thappattam families were brought in from a town named Wadi in Northern Karnataka during the regime of King Tirumalai Nayak. Hence, the name 'Vadipatti'. However, there are at least three villages by the same name in the region,” says Shylaja. “It's also said that the royals patronised Thappattam artistes so much that the instrument was played in the Naubat Khana near the Palace.”

High and upbeat

Art Historian R Venkatraman, says that there were many folk arts introduced during the time of Tirumalai Nayak. “However, I believe, Thappattam is from Tamil Nadu.” While some say that Thappu is just another name for Parai, Shylaja says that both are different. “Thappu is much smaller and was originally used by tribals for shooing away wild animals. That's why the Thappu was traditionally performed along with Puli attam, in which men wearing a tiger mask dance to the beats,” she explains. “Whereas, Parai is a battle drum that dates back to Sangam Age.”

Retired archaeologist C Santhalingam quotes verses from the Purananuru, saying that Parai is the real name and Thappu was a medieval term used to refer to the same art form. “There are songs on what's called as 'Kinai Parai', a drum hung on tree tops that would be played to announce an ensuing battle. The instrument is called by various names like murasu, kudamula and panchamukha vadhyam,” he says.

The making of a Thappu is a long process, says Thangapandian. “It's made from buffalo skin that's stretched over a wooden frame. During performances, we tune the temper of the membrane to achieve clarity of beats. There are two sticks – one long and slender made of Kalmungil wood and another short and stubby made of Purasu wood that's used for the beats.”

Velu Asan, a trainer in Thappattam from Vadipatti says, “Performers from the surroundings of Vadipatti became famous after they played for M Karunanidhi's election campaign once in the 70's. From then on, 'Vadipatti Kottu' became a desired performance in political meetings, rallies and even protests,” he says. “This is one folk art that's versatile and the occasions we play it for are varied now. The arrival of Chendamelam from Kerala has eaten into our business but recently the awareness about native music is increasing and people are hiring us even for weddings.”

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 5:34:03 PM |

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