THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: There is a disarming innocence about Kuzhoor Narayana Marar, a child-like tenderness that makes this master percussionist an endearing personality. ‘You are known as the doyen of thimila’, the question snaps off in the middle. Kuzhoor retorts, ‘‘Am I?’’ His quip sends smiles around and leaves me dumb.
He is the first panchavadyam exponent to be awarded the Padmabhushan. The sheer prestige of this honour seems to bow before his naive persona. ‘‘I have never desired for honours. All I ever wanted was to to be able to play thimila till my last breath,’’ he says. His wrinkled face brightens with a glow as he traces his taps to a picturesque village in Thrissur. ‘‘My first guru was Subramania Swamy of Kuzhoor temple. It was before him I had first played thimila.’’
The Marar boy had already been blessed with a legacy- as the son of Kochu Pillai Kurup, himself a known panchavadyam artist. But his father taught him in bits and pieces and his poor soul longed for more. With the graceful stroke of Swamy on his forehead Kuzhoor Narayana Marar began his tutelage under two real maestros- Perumpully Kesava Marar and Rama Mangalam Rama Marar.
‘‘His taps glinted with a grace which spared him the chidings by his masters. On those days it was rare, especially because Perumpully Kesava Marar was always known as a stringent master,’’ says Soma Varma, a close friend of Kuzhoor.
Kuzhoor‘s calloused fingers have never felt the need for ‘chuttu’, a cloth cover tightly wound around the fingers by thimila artistes to negate the pain. ‘‘Real ‘thala’ and tempo emerge from the interaction between skin and skin, ie the human skin and the skin of thimila. The result is divine since it descends from heaven,’’ says Kuzhoor with a verve that hushes down the intermittent cough that seemed to distract him.
The resonance that emanated from his thimila used to be synonymous with the raptures that waded across the crowd who assembled for Thrissur Pooram. ‘‘Asan has had an inimitable style which is easily identifiable as well. His ‘tripuda’ [a stage when the tempo shoots to crescendo] is well- known. The panchavadyam lovers always waited impatiently for his ‘tripuda’,‘‘ says K N Nambeeshan, a maddalam player and a disciple of Kuzhoor.
There had been times when Kuzhoor’s taps sated his soul and his soul alone.‘‘I had seven children to take care of. Very often I would earn five or six annas, too little a sum for a big family. But I have never felt bad about it. Thimila was my destiny and I could not have thought ill about my destiny,’’ says Kuzhoor in a calm tone.
For someone who has preserved his legacy without taint, it is distressing to see the way young artists approach this art. ‘‘As a child I used to wake up as early as 3 O’clock in the morning. I learnt my lessons dripping wet after my morning dip in the ice cold water of Kuzhoor temple pond. I used to do my ‘sadhakam’ for hours. Even today my fingers keep moving and I could sense the ‘thala’ that comes out of those movements. I don’t know how many youngsters realise the value of what they do,’’ Kuzhoor sighs.
Kuzhoor Narayana Marar has had his destiny fulfilled. Having played thimila during Thrissur Pooram for 41 years and as the head of Paramekkavu for 12 years, this octogenarian soul still has a zeal that is incredible. ‘‘He is ailing. But if you give him a thimila, he would ascend to the ‘tripuda’ in no time.’’ These words of Nambeesan sum up his Guru.
Aswin J Kumar