KOCHI: There are only a few like him. This man is a proponent of edakka, the percussion instrument so peculiar to Kerala for which the training is generally limited to the Marar community. He has been exploring and propagating its melodic possibilities. On a recent visit to Japan, the Irinjalakkuda-native P Nandakumar served just that.
The edakka is one of the instruments providing accompaniment to all the major art forms of the state. Interestingly, it is the only percussion instrument on which one can play musical notes. Now, this is where Nandakumar shoulders a huge responsibility. “The musical range in the instrument are two octaves. What I do is to explore the possibilities on the musical side of edakka. When one focuses on the percussion aspect, the right hand is in control of the instrument. However, the left hand controls the musical range,” says Nandakumar.
For this, he learnt classical music under the tutelage of his father Krishnan Kutty Marar, who is a musician. “He is adept in the techniques and theory of classical music. Because we belong to a musical family, my father was aware of the technical scope of edakka,” says Nandakumar. Experimenting classical music with edakka and practising non-stop, he successfully performed keerthanas at kacheris in front of different audiences, which got him the acclaim he worked so hard for.
Finding the need to explore in the area more, Nandakumar got the central government’s senior fellowship for two years.
Having born into a Marar community, he literally grew up with music around him. “My family played edakka in the temple for centuries. Seeing I was interested in the tempo speed and the rhythm, my father sent me to learn mridangam,” says Nandakumar.
His tryst with mridangam began at the age of 13, under G Chandrashekharan Nair, a now-retired All India Radio Thrissur (AIR) artist. For advanced training, he enrolled under Palakkad T R Rajamani, a renowned mridangam player.
“Edakka was always a part of me. I had been taught the rituals and techniques in edakka since I was a kid. With the training in mridangam, I was able to incorporate the ‘chollu’ I learnt in mridangam to edakka,” says Nandakumar.
Seeing his natural talent in edakka, Rajamani further guided him in the instrument via the ‘chollu’ in mridangam. This led him to audition for AIR in 2007. “I was the first ‘A’ grade artist in edakka,” says Nandakumar. To learn more in the field, he got a central government scholarship in 2008.
Currently, Nandakumar runs Tudi, an institute focusing on research and promotion in edakka. “My students are mostly foreigners and non-Malayalis. For those who can’t be physically present in his classes, I organise Skype sessions as well,” he says. He is also a panel artist for the Indian Council for Cultural relation and has visited many countries in lieu of the council.
For this man who has spent a lifetime exploring the possibilities of the instrument, he has a dream. To bring all art forms related to edakka to one stage. “That would be a sight to behold,” Nandakumar says.