The percussions of Edakka reverberated around the temple and fell in rhyme with the songster’s crooning. The player’sleft hand moved in exact pace to meet the beats played by his right hand. Yet, whence the Panchavadyam players entered to enrich the scene, the Marar stood in silence. Hour-glass shaped edakka, which was kept in the status of a percussion instrument which accompanies Sopanasangeetham was a Marar’s own trade until recently. It was Pallavur Appu Marar (1928-2002), a doyen of edakka, who made it accessible to common man whilst exploring its myriad possibilities as a musical instrument. About half a century later his step-son, Prakashan Pazhampalakkode is popularising this rare indigenous instrument among Malayalis to regain its lost ground by conducting classes among children and elders alike.
“I have been conducting classes for chenda and edakka for the past two years at Thiruvananthapuram. This year I am planning to teach chenda within 60 days starting from April 1. I will prepare them for an arangettam as soon as the classes are over. Nobody has tried this before. Edakka is much more difficult to learn so we start with chenda first so that the children could learn the nuances first and then enter into the lessons of edakka,” says Prakashan.
Prakashan who started learning edakka from the age of seven from his famous step-father has been following his footsteps ever since he could remember. Although Appu Marar had his own children, it was to Prakashan, whom he considered his own, he imparted his precious knowledge. His mother’s second marriage to Appu Marar, is something Prakashan considers a blessing.
“I have had the fortune to watch him play and hear his stories. Appu Marar was like a Sree Narayana Guru to Marar community. He has enlightened the community with his actions and made them come out of their rigid mentality. With his efforts, edakka got the status of a musical instrument, as he made it talk. Edakka has come out of the four walls of temples with the help of Marar,” says Prakashan.
Prakashan has about 15 children from the capital city enrolled for his course on edakka, chenda and Sopanasangeetham. Though Sopanasangeetham has no takers yet, he considers it a miracle that many are still interested in learning temple arts from him.
“Today these arts have lost their purity. Many considers Shingarimelam as original Panchavadya melam and considers it art. The government should take initiatives to preserve these native arts and musical instruments to save them from extinction,” says Prakashan.
Prakashan has journalists, PAs to ministers, fathers who used to accompany their children for classes and many others who come with the same enthusiasm and yearning as young children, as his disciples.
“Edakka, though it is considered as an instrument from Kerala, has its origins in Tamil Nadu. As most of its control is managed with left hand (edam kai), it has been named edakka. When Tamil Nadu and Kerala got separated as two different states edakka remained in Kerala,” says Prakashan.
Prakashan has donated Appu Marar’s musical instruments to the museum as they have historical relevance, except his edakka. Marar considered edakka his life; hence, Prakashan did not dare to part with it. Prakashan, who is a regular at different temple festivals all over Kerala says it is not easy to be an edakka player. “I have come face-to-face with aggressive elephants and have seen many of them kill people before me. There are many such instances where I had to run for my life during my musical career,” he says.
He had recently garnered attention by playing before Sree Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma to fulfill a long lost promise made by his great grandfather to the then king of Travancore.
Prakashan teaches first lessons of chenda on a piece of round wood. “There are many who would tell me that the tutors have asked them to buy a chenda, which costs around ` 3,000, from the very first class. That is not the right way to teach. First you should familiarise with the beat and then try it on a real instrument,” he says.
It was Prakashan who has written the first book on edakka in Malayalam. He is currently working on another book which will be discussing the history of Indian music and its relation with Greek arts. The first website on edakka is also one of Prakash’s contribution to music lovers.
Although he has no children to take his tradition forward, Prakashan finds bliss in teaching others’ children the little knowledge he had obtained from his mentor, the legendary Appu Marar. He can be contacted at 9061034543.