KOCHI: Bhima, who assumes his most aggressive self, is overcome with anger. In a fit of irrepressible fury, he tears apart the chest of Dussasana, pulling out the entrails and drinking his blood. As the artist on stage hits a histrionic crescendo, so does the percussionist, building up to a frantic rhythm. For a connoisseur of kathakali, the accompaniment is as integral of the act, ‘something that breaths life into the abhinaya’ as Kalamandalam Krishnadas, a practitioner of kathakali chenda puts it.
Krishnadas, a recipient of this year’s Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi Award, was initiated into the world of temple percussions at a much younger age, making his debut in thayambaka as a seven-year-old. “When I turned 13 I joined Kalamandalam and since then I have been practising kathakali chenda.” He says his art form is too challenging as it’s heavily customised, a rhythmic rendition totally in sync with the artist performing. “Each artist has his own style and idiosyncrasies, so it requires a lot of observation. Based on their improvised form of expression (manodharma), three artists can portray Nalan in three different fashions,” he says.
Moreover, the artist needs to be well-versed in puranic stories and sub stories and know the padams well. “You have enormous freedom in melam, thayambaka and keli, but not kathakali percussion. If you want to accompany a particular artist, you should know all his nuances. For that you have to watch repeated performances of each veshams. Usually kathakali artists insist on having good chenda players, otherwise the impact will be lost,” he says. As an artist he believes in the longevity of classical art forms and says temple arts will never lose their importance. “Earlier there were kathakali seasons, but now we perform around the year. When we perform abroad, the audience watch the entire session with great patience and focus,” he says.
Currently an instructor at Margi, quiz him on the attitude of new-gen students and he says,“They are all dedicated kids. Most of them thoroughly enjoy playing even if it’s for school or college level competitions. It’s often parents who create problems.” He recently had a proud moment when his daughter Rahita created a record, bagging the first prize for thayambaka in state level. “It has been a forte of boys for the last 56 years. There is no separate competitions for boys and girls and it was the first time a girl was declared winner.”
He adds that a lot of young talents are coming up in the field, but very few graduate to kathakali chenda from thayambaka. “For that you cannot have private training sessions and should attend a kalari. At Margi, I am encouraging more and more students to take up kathakali chenda,” he winds up.