Friday Review

Classic notes

Pallavoor C Krishnankutty, Kurumkuzhal and nagaswaram expert. Photo:K. K. Mustafah

Pallavoor C Krishnankutty, Kurumkuzhal and nagaswaram expert. Photo:K. K. Mustafah   | Photo Credit: K.K. Mustafah

Pallavoor Krishnankutty is that rare musician who does not merely pay lip service to his art. He has dedicated his life to music.

In the indigenous music history of Kerala, it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to come across an artiste like Pallavoor Krishnankutty who can play with élan three different musical instruments – nagaswaram, kurumkuzhal and flute. In his modest house at Kallekulangara village of Palakkad district, the 68-year-old artiste is almost always busy practising on the kurumkuzhal/flute or teaching his umpteen students.

Krishnankutty hails from a privileged family of musicians. Born to Rukmini Amma of Thrippaloor and Sankara Panickar of Pudukkod in Palakkad district, Krishnankutty inherited his taste in music from his parents. Since his father had the traditional right to play the kurumkuzhal in the temple attached to his village, Krishnankutty could begin his training in the ‘srutikkuzhal’ at the age of five. For three months he relentlessly practised on it, which could be the reason for the purity of pitch retained throughout his playing of the three wind instruments. Krishnankutty thenceforth learnt to play the saptaswaram, varisakal, alankaram, geetham and varnam on the kurumkuzhal from his father. Simultaneously, he received rigorous tutelage in nagaswaram and Carnatic vocal under Pallavoor Sankara Bhagawathar. He later became a disciple of Pazhayannoor K.G. Krishnankutty to take ahead his training on the nagaswaram. And for advanced lessons on the nagaswaram, he approached the renowned Nalleppully Brothers.

Krishnankutty, along with his brother, did the ‘adiyanthiram’ (hereditary right to play music as ritual in a temple) till the age of 30. Afterwards he moved on to public spaces, performing many kurumkuzhal and nagaswaram recitals. It was a huge challenge for this gifted musician to be competitive in both the instruments as each calls for distinctive fingering techniques. Yet he could establish himself as an ace kurumkuzhal-cum-nagaswaram player within a couple of years.

Krishnankutty’s nagaswaram concert is an aural treat for buffs of Carnatic classical music. He is familiar conversant with the kritis/kirtanas of the Trinity and the subsequent vaggeyakaras such as Swati Tirunal, Annamacharya and Pattanam Subramanya Pillai. Swati’s ‘Maamavasada’ in Kanada and ‘Devi jagajjanani’ in Sankarabharanam are two of his favorite kirtanams. In raga delineations preceding the kirtanas, Krishnankutty handles the notes and phrases with enviable clarity and precision. He directly traverses the jeevaswaras of each ragas – melakartha or janya. He never keeps the listeners guessing about a raga by humming around it. Tyagaraja’s ‘Nagumo’ is a composition that his audiences have requested Krishnankutty to play both on the nagaswaram and the kurumkuzhal.

Krishnankutty’s Kuzhalpattu is a concert akin to that of his nagaswaram recital. Starting with the presentation of Natta and proceeding to Kamboji, Sankarabharanam and Bhairavi, he transports the audience to a state of ecstasy. In the swara segment set to raga Anandabhiravi, the tala shifts to thishra nata. The finale is in ragamalika set to Eka tala . The credit for systematising Kuzhalpattu broadly along the lines of Carnatic classical music goes to Krishnankutty. Yet the format he evolved sustains a regional identity. Of the three types of kuzhals, Thimiri is the smallest and Baasi, the longest. For playing kirtanas, the Edabari is used. Incidentally, kuzhal is chiselled from the Aacha tree. Since kurumkuzhal does not have low dhaiwatam and panchamam, playing the same has constraints as opposed to the nagaswara, which has full access to the base of each swara.

Although not a professional flautist, the mellifluous notes that flow from his flute are soothing to listen to. A man of few words, Krishnankutty is not the savvy musician who knows how to sell his artistry and win fame and fortune. A quarter century ago, maestro Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagawathar listened to a kurumkuzhal concert of Krishnankutty and advised him in an appreciative tone. “Well done. Stick to your baani”.

And that is what Krishnankutty has done. He does not believe in ‘fusion’ and ‘jugalbandi’. He enjoys playing in the traditional format of raga and swara renditions. Recipient of several awards in recognition of his contributions to music, the latest honour that came his way is from the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 9:46:44 PM |

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