A musical legacy

Dr. Manju Gopal, delivering lecture at a National Seminar held a MGR Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

Dr. Manju Gopal, delivering lecture at a National Seminar held a MGR Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

A festive air pervaded the Vaibhavam Hall within the MGR Janaki College campus, where colourful kolams along with brightly dressed students and faculty welcomed visitors. The occasion was the three-day national seminar on music, dance and theatre titled ‘Dimensions of Natya – A Holistic Approach,’ hosted recently by the institution’s Department of Natya.

Among other programmes was a lec-dem on the Music Culture of Kerala by Dr. Manju Gopal, Professor, Department of Music, Kalady University, Kerala. Some excerpts from her presentation:

Ruled by the Chera kings, bounded by the sea and protected by Western Ghats, Kerala’s secure position made the region fairly invulnerable to enemy invasion. A distinct music culture emerged, much of which is extant today. Sopana sangitham, allied with temple ceremony, was one of the earliest forms. The ragas therein resembled those of the ancient panns of Thevaram, testifying to the close Tamil-Malayalam links of yore. Also, Jayadeva’s ashtapadi sung with edakka accompaniment formed part of the Sopanam repertoire.

Records state that when the famed Sopana sangitham exponent Shatkala Govinda Marar met Tyagaraja, the former sang ‘Chandana Charchita.’ Moved by his rendition, the saint-composer asked his disciples to sing the Sri ragam pancharatna, ‘Endaro Mahanubhavulu.’ The creation of Krishnanattam by Zamorin ruler Manavedan Raja and Ramanattam by Kottarakkara Thampuram, led to the inception of Kathakali, which was based on these art forms, in the 17 century AD.

Kathakali music displays strong influences of both Sopana and Karnataka sangitam. The padams in the attakathas (story plays) are in Manipravalam and set in Carnatic ragas as well as in scales used in Sopanam music such as Padi, Ghantaram and Kaamodari. They possess high melodic and lyrical value. They are sung by two vocalists, the lead singer, Ponnani, and the supporting singer, Singidi. The accompanying instruments are chenda, maddalam, edakka, chengila (gong) and ilathalam (cymbals).

Kottayam Thampuran and Irayimman Thampi rank among the great attakatha composers. Noted Kathakali vocalists include Kalamandalam Haridas and Sankaran Embranthiri. The koothu pattu of Koodiyattam, Nangyar Koothu and Prabandha Koothu traditions, rooted in temple ritual, are accompanied by mizhavu percussion. Koodiyattam originated about 2,000 years ago and centres round the Sanskrit dramas of Kulasekhara Varma, Bhasa and Harsha. Among the ancient folk arts, music is an important component of Pulluvanpattu, Sarpapattu, Bhadrakalipattu, Ayyappanpattu and Tiruvathiraipattu. Thullalpattu features in Ottanthullal performances. An interesting variant is Kalamezhuthupattu that incorporates music, dance and painting.

Musical instruments include the nanduni, tappu, kurumkuzhal and kuzhitalam. Kerala’s famed chenda melam is of two types – panchari mela, played during temple processions, and thayambaka, performed by a seven-member ensemble.

It was during the reign of Maharaja Swati Tirunal that the spotlight was on Karnataka sangitam. In the pre-Swati period, the compositions of Aswathi Tirunal and Bhasha Gita Govinda of Ramapurath Warrier are regarded as pure music.

Swati Tirunal’s creative genius and scholarship in multiple languages yielded a prodigious body of compositional works. Noted composers and musicians during and post- Swati era included Irayimman Thampi, Kuttikunju Thankachi, Parameswara Bhagavatar, Neelakanta Sivan, T. Lakshmana Pillai, K.C. Keshava Pillai, Mahakavi Kuttamath Bhagavatar and Ennapadam Venkataramana Bhagavatar.

First printed in 1916 during the reign of Moolam Tirunal, a collection of Swati compositions was again published in 1943 and 1947, tuned by Muthaiah Bhagavatar and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Semmangudi was appointed as principal of the Swati Tirunal College of Music and was succeeded in office by G.N. Balasubramaniam. Several sabhas were established, propagating Carnatic music through kutcheris.

The emergence of Akashvani that broadcast folk, light, semi classical and classical music programmes made these genres accessible to the common man.

Highlighted by her melodious rendition of select compositions, Dr. Manju’s lecture was a meticulously compiled one that held many points of interest.

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Printable version | May 17, 2022 10:11:44 am |