Mattannur Sankaran Kutty Marar,exponent of the traditional Malayali percussion instrument Thayambaka,loves the creative freedom that the instrument allows its player
Fifty-seven-year-old Mattannur Sankaran Kutty Marar lets out a hearty laugh when asked if he is considering retirement soon. The Padma Shri awardee has been playing the Thayambaka,a traditional percussion instrument from Kerala,for the past 45 years. Born in the district of Kannur,Marar’s father was his first teacher. His initial training,beginning when he was eight,was in Kathakali Chanda,a rousing percussion instrument that accompanies Kathakali dancers. In spite of an official four-year training in this form of playing,a young Marar took to Thayambaka. Chanda is an accompaniment to the Kathakali dancers,but with Thayambaka,an artiste can be on his own and make his own sound, he says. Marar was in Pune on Tuesday evening for a performance at the Nigdi Shri Krishna Temple as part of its annual festival celebrations. He was accompanied by his sons,Srikanth and Sreeraj.
Marar has previously traveled around the USA,the UK,Italy,Canada,and more,and has performed solo as well as with musicians of many genres to varied audiences. But for the past decade,he has performed only with his sons. So what unfolded on Tuesday was a scintillating ‘Triple Thayambaka’ show. A Thayambaka performance by Marar could stretch to a couple of hours,even more,and the narrative requires a deft mix of technical precision and improvisation. There are six basic steps to Thayambaka playing. In between,an artiste gets to show his individuality. He can do so many improvisations, he says. The family connection shines through when the father-sons combination rehearses and performs. We live together,so we discuss a lot and that builds a good understanding, Marar says.
Chanda is a percussion instrument that is de rigueur in the temples of Kerala,its sound beckoning the arrival of every major festival or celebration. In its close to 500-year-old history in India,its form has undergone many changes. Like Chanda,Thayambaka is tied to a thick cloth which is slung across one shoulder. It rests at the waist level and is played with both sticks as well as bare hands. The idea of taal is universal, says Marar. It is the same everywhere. That is why anyone,any artiste,anywhere,can enjoy and rejoice in this music.
Marar is currently a resident of the town of Palakkad in Kerala,but has a packed travel schedule through the year. You can’t do this if your stamina is low, he laughs. I hardly stay at home. But the hands get good rest and some practice during the monsoon season,during which performance opportunities wane.