KOCHI: Sadanam Divakara Marar is a living encyclopedia of temple art forms, both ritualistic and artistic. Hundreds of his disciples, who attained expertise over myriad temple art forms under Marar's strict and systematic teaching, are planning to honour their guru. In a colourful function, proposed to be held on October 4, at Ernakulathappan Hall, Marar will be honoured with a veera srunkhala. Divakara Marar started his formal training under his uncles Narayana Marar and Kunjikrishna Marar. After learning the basics of the ritualistic percussion ensemble Marar learned more from Thazhathedathu Govinda Marar. Then he turned towards the Unnayiwarrier Smaraka Kalanilayam, Irinjalakuda, and learned the unique kathakali chenda from Alankarathu Appu Marar. Then he shifted to thayambaka and learned under the strict guidance of the chenda maestro, Chandra Mannadiar. Marar mastered the intricacies of thayambaka from Peroor Gandhi Seva Sadanam and came to be known as Sadanam Divakara Marar.
The clarity of nerkol (straight beat by holding the stick perpendicular to the face of the drum) is the specialty of Divakara Marar. “Holding the stick vertically above the face of chenda in a symmetrical position, is most important,” Marar says elaborating on the strenuous training he underwent under the strict vigil of masters like Chandra Mannadiar and Appu Marar.
“That is the secret of clarity of the beats which play a crucial role in making a melam or thayambaka more attractive,” Marar observes.
Even while Marar was busy with the staging of thayambaka, kathakali chenda and other forms of traditional percussion ensemble, he was very keen to train the younger generation. He started his teaching career at RLV College of Music and Fine Arts as a kathakali chenda teacher. Later he became the Principal of Vaikkom Kshethra Kalapeetom, an art school run by Travancore Devaswom Board. After his retirement the Devaswom Board made use of his matchless skill by appointing him visiting professor.
Even in his late seventies Divakara Marar is very active as a teacher at Ernakulam Siva Kshethra Vadhya Kalalayam and Kanayannoor Vadhya Kalalayam.
Marar has a special skill to hand over the rich tradition rooted in typical Kerala rhythm to the young generation.
After recognising his teaching skill, institutions and individuals always depend on him to train the young generation in languishing temple art forms.
Marar’s deep knowledge in temple art forms like sopana sangeetham, marappani, parisha vadhyam and thimimila paani was systematically documented with the financial aid of Ministry of Cultural Affairs. “Most of the traditional percussion ensembles like parisha vadhyam and kotti paadi seva (ancient form of sopana sangeetham) have been handed over from generation to generation as an inherited art form,” Marar says. However the theoretical part of these languishing art forms is quite intricate. With an aim to document these art forms for posterity Marar started a two-year research and the Central Government has awarded a fellowship for this vast and deep study of the traditional Kerala percussion ensemble.
“Sopana sampradaayam of singing is quite different from Carnatic vocal or even kathakali sangeetham,” Marar says. It was only at a later stage ashtapadhi was added to the singing style of sopanam, Marar observes. Kottipadi seva, the earlier form of pure sopana sangeetham was designed by our great ancestors to praise the presiding deities of different temples. These compositions were popularly known as thyaanis and were in conventional keraleeya ragas like poraneera, paadi, indalam and kanakurinji.
Legendary sopanam singer the late Njaralathu Rama Poduval used to sing a song praising Thirumandhamkunnu Bhagavathy in poraneera raga which is very popular as ghanasangham. “Different baanis (schools) are there for sopana sangeetham like that of Ramamangalam baani developed by the legendary singer Shadkaala Govinda Marar, Poduvaal baani popularised by the saintly singer, the late Njaralathu Rama Pothuval, and also the Guruvayoor baani of Janardhanan Nedungadi,” Marar says.
Marar has also documented the customs to be followed by a temple artist for performing marappani and thimilapaani, which are inevitable percussion ensembles in connection with holy temple rituals ulsava bali, sree bhoota bali and various kalashams.
As a teacher Marar can boast of hundreds of disciples spread all over Kerala who can perform sopana sangeetham, parisha vadhyam and other traditional temple art forms. And now it is the turn of these disciples to honour their master with nothing less than a veera srunkhala.