Jan 2, 2009

Art - India;For the right beat


The makers of musical instruments at Peruvembu are busy. With the onset of the festival season, demand for new instruments and for repair of old ones have increased.

Musicians in Kerala prefer to buy percussion instruments from Peruvembu. Palghat Mani Iyer, one of the mridangam trinity, was among the great masters who identified the superb skills in craftsmen of the village. Prominent artistes of the younger generation also make a beeline for Peruvembu for the same reason, be it for procuring a tabla or a maddalam.

Among the great maddalam exponents who have procured the instruments from Peruvembu are Mattannur Ramachandran, Kunissery Chandran, Kallekkulangara Krishnavarier, Cherpulassery Sivan, Kottakkal Ravi and Panangattkara Prakasan.

Lure of the tabla

Film actor Mala Aravindan frequents Peruvembu, whenever he is in Palakkad ever since he bought a tabla from the village during the shoot of the film ‘Kanmadam,’ a few years ago.

“It was the exquisite skills of the craftsmen that lured me to Peruvembu,” says Mala who is known for his love for the tabla.

“Peruvembu in Palakkad and Pazhanana in Thrissur are known for their maddalams. Peruvembu continues to maintain that tradition,” says chenda maestro Kallur Ramankutty Marar. Barring a few, the craftsmen of Peruvembu are now specialising in making three percussion instruments - tabla, mridangam and maddalam.

“I do not know how to play the tabla, but I do not need the aid of pitch pipes to create the correct tone preferred by the tabla players,” says Rajan, who, along with his father Ramachandran, make tablas and mridangams which are exported.

“It is a god-given talent to lend pitch (Sruti) to instruments made of wood and leather,” he adds.

According to the craftsmen of the village, their manufacturing tradition is a legacy they have inherited. Eight of them are based in cities in Kerala and neighbouring States.

“Traditionally, it was the Kollans (Kadayan, Tholkollan Perumkollan et al) who were experts in making musical instruments in our State,” says Ramankutty Marar.

Right tone

“It is the manner in which the craftsmen in the village mixes tones by their technique of anointing the centre of the Valanthala (the part that is struck for creating high pitched sounds) with Mashi/ Kari (a combination of ferric oxide powder and rice flour in the case of the tabla and the mridangam and a mixture of ash of arecanut leaves and rice flour in the case of the maddalam) that makes the difference in the case of the tabla and the mridangam,” says Murukadas. It is women who prepare the mashi.

The cylindrical body, made of jackfruit, is known as Kutti which is now brought in from Badurutti near Chennai. Some are procured from the local lathe workshops.

“We have to do some finishing touches to the Kuttis thus brought,” says Raghavan, another craftsman of the village.

For percussion instruments like the tabla and the mridangam, hides of goat, cow and buffalo are used while only cow and buffalo hides are used for the maddalam. Buffalo skin is used as straps in all these instruments.