Panchavadyam is a Temple art form that evolved in Kerala and literally means ‘Five instruments’. Four of these instruments belong to the percussion category of Musical instruments, namely – Timila, Maddalam, Ilathalam and Idakka. The Fifth instrument – ‘Kombu’ is a wind instrument. Our colleague Jacob recently visited a music school in Kerala that has preserved this ancient tradition and imparts the musical skills to any youngster who has a passion for music.
Timila is a percussion type of musical instrument from Kerala and can be easily identified due to its hour-glass shape. The drums are made with polished Jackwood and the percussion heads are made with calf skin. The skin is held together by leather strings which also go around the center of the drum. The action of tightening or loosening the central string tunes the Timila.
The Maddalam in Panchavadyam looks similar to Mridangam, a well known Indian percussion instrument. The drum of Maddalam is made out of wood obtained from Jackfruit tree. The two sides used for percussion are made with leather and gives two different sounds. The Maddalam is an important instrument in Panchavadyam. The artist needs to stand throughout the performance and hangs the instrument around the waist due to the weight.
The Ilathalam is a metallic instrument made completely out of Bronze that resembles Cymbals. Due to the thickness of the instrument and technique used by the artist, the Ilathalam produces a distinct and resonating sound during a Panchavadyam orchestra.
The Idakka is another hour glass shaped drum (but smaller than Timila) used in Panchavadyam that is very similar to the ‘Damaru’ used across India. The artist uses a stick to paly the Idakka and gets different pitches by squeezing the strings in the middle of the instrument.
The Kombu resembles a long C-shaped curved horn made out of bronze. The Kombu gives a sense of grandeur and royalty to the Panchavadyam session. Being a wind instrument, the artist plays the Kombu in intermediate sessions with breaks in between.
The Panchavadyam Performance
The artists form Major and Minor groups based on the instruments and stand in four rows. Two rows on the right and two rows on the left, with the inner rows facing each other consisting of Maddalam players on one side and Timila players on the other. The outer rows consist of Kombu players on one side (behind the Maddalam players) and Ilathalam players on the other (behind the Timila players). The players performing on the Idakka, stand perpendicular on one of the ends of the four rows.
Have a look at our programs in Kerala that explore the traditions and folk arts in this region. Have you witnessed a Panchavadyam orchestra before? Do share your comments and ideas below !