Visitors to the venue of the Karate tournament held at the Panchayat Hall at Vellayamabalam on Sunday were greeted by a delightful chendamelam. The performers were five girls in identical orange ‘pattupavada’ with their hair worn in two side braids. They, students of Government UP School, Ayilam, from part of the first all-girl chenda troupe of their school.
Their training began about four years ago at the school under their ‘asan’ (master) Valakkad Sasi. The classes are held after school hours twice a week and on weekends.
“We are being taught the various talams – tripuda, chembada, panchari – that are performed in temples,” said Panchami B P of class 10. “All of them are equally interesting to learn.”
Panchami and her friends have been performing professionally – at temple festivals and other programmes to which they are invited - for the past two years. The team is lend support by their ‘asan’, who splits the fee for performing among his students.
Sasi ‘asan’ began teaching at their school after their former headmaster G Madhu saw him perform at a temple festival.
“I wanted to inculcate a love of art among my students,” said Madhu. “So I approached Sasi who agreed to do it more for the love of art rather than remuneration. The first batch comprised only of boys and the next year an all-girl troupe was formed. I am happy that they have trained well and are capable of handling a performance on their own. “
Thanks to their initiative, other schools in Attingal soon followed suit, added Madhu. Now, Sasi teaches at other schools in the area – at Avanavanchery and a ‘granthalaya’ attached to it and also at the Govt Girls High School Attingal. In all, he teaches about a hundred students, including those attending tutions at his house.
Sasi says his love for the percussion instrument comes from his life-long association with it.
“All four of my maternal uncles were chenda artists,” he said.”I was 15 when I dropped out of school and started playing with them at temples, in Thiruvananthapuram and some places in Tamil Nadu.” Having no professional training himself, he was taught by his uncles and his younger cousin, Kalanilayam Sivanandan. “He is no more, so I want to keep the art he taught me alive through passing it on to more students,” said Sasi.