Padma Shri Peruvanam

Kuttan Marar


Temple Arts of Kerala, Panchari Melam, Pandi Melam, Chempata Melam, Panchavadhyam, Thayampaka and all that you ever needed to know about the rich rhythm tradition of Kerala!

Temple Arts of Kerala


The traditional percussion ensembles in the Temples of Kerala have enthralled millions over the years. The unique tradition of this Temple Arts emphasizing rhythm is now available as a comprehensive collection in an audio-visual format for the first time. With pardonable pride, we present the audio –visual cassettes projecting the pristine glory of the percussion ensembles associated with Kerala Temples.

This compilation on the temple arts of Kerala is our labour of love. This was undertaken as a social duty to give wider publicity to the esthetic rules that guide the performance and increase the awareness of audience who has an appreciation for these concerts. We also hope that this series will serve as a catalyst to those who are heirs to the performing tradition of the temple arts, and halt the current trend of less and less numbers among them taking up training in these arts.

This 5 volume series consisting of Thayampaka, Kelikottu, Kombupattu, Kuzhalpattu, Panchavaadyam, Panchaari Melam, and Paandi Melam, was recorded at a special command performance where the leading artistes of the tradition came together for the performance and represents the best example of the percussion ensembles.

This booklet has been prepared in order to make the technical and musical aspects of the ensemble clearer.

Kerala, home to the Rhythm Ensembles

Situated in the very Southwest of India, the culture of this tiny Indian State of Kerala is quite different from those of the Indian Subcontinent. For ages the mountain range Western Ghats was a natural barrier towards the Indian mainland, but open to influences across the Arabian Sea. This relative isolation from the rest of India and the openness towards the sea created an incredibly rich and diverse music, dance and drama styles that continue to flourish in Kerala. Kerala also has the distinction of being associated with three of the incarnation of Lord Vishnu – that of Sage Parasuraama, credited with the reclamation/creation of Kerala (from the sea), Sri Narasimha and Sri Vaamana (Note 1). Derived from the ancient Kerala tribes and influenced by various tenets of Hinduism the culture has always been associated with cults and rituals, which later became the tiny Hindu temples of Kerala. Until recently, all cultural activities were connected with Hindu rituals gathered around temples. Hinduism in Kerala can be seen as a generic term for the various ancient cults. Kerala is also unique in the integration of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities, all of which play an impressive role in Kerala.

Although the ordinary Kerala temple and its everyday ritual is a modest affair, during the festive seasons it grows lavishly, encompassing numerous art forms and attracting huge crowds. Comprising of performing, musical and drawing arts, brightened with elephant processions, and special rituals, these events form the main leisure time attraction of the population. The traditional temple percussion ensembles that are held outside the temple also attract a huge following from all religious denominations.

Note 1:

The links with Kerala has some chronological contradictions that are difficult to resolve. The incarnations of Sri Narasimha and Sri Vaamana precedes that of Sage Parasurama who is credited with the creation of Kerala. But then King Mahabali is very much associated with Kerala and it is Sri Vaamana who is responsible for the King’s abdication. Further, King Mahabali is the grandson of Prahlatha for whose protection Lord Vishnu took the incarnation as Sri Narasimha.

Rhythm Ensembles – a preamble.

The rhythm ensembles of the present age were first heard about 1,420 years ago during the Peruvanam-Aarattupuzha Pooram festivals. The Thrissur Pooram festival which is the current venue for an elaborate performance of this kind, is the priceless legacy of Sri Rama Varma Sakthan Tampuraan, ruler of the erstwhile Cochin State. It is believed that around 200 years ago, the ruler started the festival as an atonement for clearing the dense teak wood forest (considered to be Lord Shiva’s hair) that covered around 64 acres surrounding the imposing ancient temple of Sree Vadakkumnathan, Legend attributes the origin of the Vadakkumnathan Temple to Sage Parasuraama and says that this is the first temple He erected in Kerala after reclaiming the land from the Arabian Sea. The temple also is known as the Southern Kailasam (Note 2).

The Thrissur Pooram, although essentially a temple festival, has transcended all barriers of caste, creed and culture to find a place not only among the national festivals of India, but also in the world tourism map.

Among the rhythm ensembles, the Paandi Melam of Paramekkavu Temple performed during the Thrissur Pooram next to the Elanji Tree inside the courtyard of the Vadakkunnathan temple is considered to be the greatest. Among Panchavaadyam, that performed by the Thiruvambady Temple also during the same festival, called Madathil Varavu, commands the most prominence. It is almost impossible to find performances that surpass these two ensembles elsewhere. Likewise the Panchaari Melam performed at the eastern gate of the Peruvanam Temple cannot be exceeded.

Note 1:

Kailasam is considered to be the heavenly abode of Lord Siva.

aayatu sivalokam nah
kalaaviti vilokannat
chinthayaa sathbhiraamabhi
devapura mahotsava.


There is no documentary evidence as to the origins of this performance. Nevertheless, in all the important temples in Kerala, before the deity is taken out on procession at night, a Thayampaka followed by a Kombu Pattu and Kuzhal Pattu are common. So it can be safely assumed that ever since there has been the practice of taking tha lord on an elephant procession (Sheeveli) Thayampaka has been performed. While the Paandi/Panchaari Melams are prevalent mostly in central Kerala, Thayampaka can be heard throughout Kerala.

Traditionally Thayampaka is the first temple percussion art that aspiring students of the percussion arts must learn. Once one becomes proficient in the four natas (laghu) – Thisram, Chaturasram, Misram, and Gandham – all other aspects of percussion arts can be easily grasped.

The Malarkavu village in Malabar was the home for Poduvals, the famous exponents of Thayampaka. About 70 years ago, it was the Maddalam Vidwan Sri Venghateswar Iyer (“Vengichanswamy”) who, along with Thiruvillaamala Kontha Swamy, who shaped the playing in Atantha Koor at a tempo never before, thought of by others. It is this form of play in Atantha Koor that is now popular in the Palghat District of Kerala.

Thayampaka is conventionally played in front of the temple deity outside the inner courtyard of the temple, in front of a lighted bell metal oil lamp, before the deity is taken out at night on procession. Thayampaka is a solo performance on the treble side of the Chenda using a stick in one hand and the bare palm. Nevertheless others playing on the treble/bass side of the Chenda as well as those using the Edathaalams accompany the main artiste.

The Thayampaka starts with an introductory phase or prelude called the “Kotti Vaikkal” during which only the bass side of the drum is used. The bass side of the Chenda is considered to be divine: The Kottivaikkal is thus a ceremony where in it is believed that the sounds from the bass side of the Chenda, attract celestial beings who come down to listen to the performance that follows the conclusion of the Kottivaikkal. Further these celestial being, will only make their appearance where a lamp is lit. Thus Thayampaka is performed only in front of a lighted oil lamp.

Keli Kottu:

Traditionally Kelikottu is performed at sunset as a harbinger of more important events programmed for the night during a temple festival, especially the Kathakali dance drama. The instruments used for Kelikottu are Maddalam, Chenda, and Edathaalam. In Kelikottu, it is the Maddalam that has the place of prominence. The chenda artiste joining the maddalam artiste in Keli holds a stick in one hand while using the palm of the other hand, and occasionally with sticks in both hands.

Kombu Pattu:

The Kombu is a wind instrument which is played in three positions “Tristhanaas” or sruthis, Sa, Pa, Sa. During this performance, with the leader and equal number of Kombu artistes on either side, together the artiste first plays a preamble. Following this the leader plays s 14-beat pattern which is taken up by the others. With each subsequent cycle the tempo increases, finally moving on to an 8-beat cycle in the intermediate tempo.

Kuzhal Pattu:

The Kurum Kuzhal is the same instrument as the Sehenai of the Hindustsni Music. Normally a single Kuzhal artiste with a second artiste providing the drone (Sruthi) performs the Kuzhalpattu. In addition to the Kuzhal artistes, there is an Edathaalam artiste and two Chenda artistes, one playing on the treble side and the other on the bass side. The Kuzhal artiste first elaborates the raga of Naatta, Aarabhi, and Kamboji. At the end of the elaboration, the treble chenda artiste joins the performance. From then on Kuzhal Pattu takes on the form of a musical dialog between the chenda and the kuzhal. It is important that the beats on the chenda be very soft. In fact it is said that the chenda should be played through the kuzhal.

The Kurum Kuzhal artiste must be capable of playing with ease the range of Balahari, Dasaakshi and Malahari in the morning; Sree and Samveri in the afternoon; and Sangaraabaranam, Kaambhoji and Samveri in the evening. In addition artistes also specifically train to be able to produce the drone (Sruthi) during the Kuzhal Pattu performance.Producing the Sruthi is s special technique called “swaasam marichu”, wherein the artiste employs a technique of blowing in and out without breaking the air column passing through the Kurum Kuzhal. Needless to say, today the number of artistes capable of producing the Sruthi non-stop for the duration of the performance is indeed rare.

The Kurum Kuzhal plays an important role in the Chenda Melams. In the melams, the cenda artiste standing in the middle of the front line drummers is the leader of the ensemble. Standing opposite to him is the leader of Kurum Kuzhal Artistes. He has an equally responsible role in ensuring the quality of the performance. It is the responsibility of the Kuzhal artiste to count the number of rhythm cycle, and give indications to the front line drummers that kalaasam cycle is imminent etc. In the Paandi Melam, the Kuzhal is blown in the raga pattern of Bhairavi and in Panchaari, Sangaraabaranam.


Perhaps the best known of the repertoire of the temple percussion ensembles of Kerala is the Panchavaadyam. The five instruments originally used in this ensemble were Thimila, Edakka, Thoppi Maddalam (miniature Maddalam), Kurum Kuzhal and Chengila. Panchavaadyam got a new life when Vengichanswamy changed the way the Maddalam is worn by the artiste. He moved the Maddalam that was hung from the shoulder to the hip while playing, thereby permitting simultaneous play on both the treble and bass sides of the instrument. At present the five instruments are Thimila, Maddalam, Edakka, Kombu and Edathaalam. The conch is also used to begin the performance, as well as to mark the end of certain phases during the performance.

During a temple performance a typical Panchavadyam ensemble consists of eleven Thimilas, five Maddalams, two Edakkas, eleven Kombus, and eleven Edathaalams. The performance itself takes place in four phases, called Kaalam (literally Time) – Pathikaalam, Madhyakaalam, Etakaalam, and Triputakaalam and typically lasts three hours. Pathikaal is the most important phase of Panchavaadyam since it is during this phase that the leader of the orchestra sets the time scale, the lengthy of the performance, the tempo of the performance etc.

In the early days the performance began from the middle tempo in Pathikaalam (112- beat rhythm cycle). It was Vengichanswamy, along with Thimila Vidhwan Annamanada Achutha Marar, that lowered the time tempo and started the performance from the slow tempo in a 498-beat cycle. Folloeing this Thimila Vidhwans Peethambara Marar and Parameswara Marar further lowered the time tempo and gave shape to the Panchavaadyam as it is now performed, starting with the 1,792-beat cycle. Peethambara Marar further changed the nata to Thisra Nata during the Middle and Intermediate Tempos in pathikaal.

The performers stand in a group with the thimila and maddalam artistes standing face to face, leaving a space of, say a meter and a half in the middle. The time keeping cymbals (Edathaalams) stand behind the thimila players, while the trumpeters ( Kombu) stand behind the maddalam artistes. An Edakka artiste stands each on either side in between the thimila and maddalam artistes, facing each other, and the conch behind the cymbals.

The Panchavaadyam performance has four phases. The first phase is called Pathikaalam, with a 56-beat cycle (a beat is called asksharakaalam and a cycle is known as thaalavattam), comprising of seven Chempatavattams (Chempata is the laya pattern, having an 8-beat cycle), i.e. 56 beat cycle. This pathikaalam is divided into six groups, taking the kaalam (time tempo) back to 112, 224, 448, 896 and 1792-beat cycles respectively.

Panchavaadyam has a prelude, the conch being blown three times, producing the sound of “OM”. At the middle of the third blowing of the conch, the thimila leaders starts tapping four times on his thimila with his fingers thus ‘thi-thi-thi-tha’ and immediately followed by ‘thom’, a full and loud beat with the open palm.

After the four taps and a beat, all the artistes start playing “thakadhimi – thakadhimi”, and continues till the third chematavattam is completed, with the Edakka artiste generally filling the time between each thakadhimi with rhythm patterns. From the 4th chempattavattam to the 7th chempattavattam, is the Kaalamnirathal (setting of the time tempo), during which only the thimila leader and the next senior most thimila artiste participate. Thus one thaalavattam is completed. It is this process that has been described as a prelude or introduction.

The panchavaadyam then enters the original stride, starting with a 1792-beat cycle. To the sonorous accompaniment of the Kombu marking the beginning of the thaalavattam, a Thimila starts this cycle, and marks the beginning of the first rhythm cycle (thaalavattam). The next senior most Thimila artiste following the first two who performed during the kaalam nirathal phase usually performs this. The beginning of the first thaalavattam is a highly pleasing audio-visual affair, which is highlighted by a style of playing in a manner which has the effect of focusing the attention of the audience to the Thimila artiste who is starting this phase of the performance.

Each Thimila artiste takes turn to play the rhythm pattern to make up the full cycle. At the end of this cycle all the Thimila artistes play in unison along with the Kombu artistes, after which starts solo play by Maddalam artistes. The sequence of play is similar to that by the Thimila artistes, i.e. a number of solo play by each maddalam artiste taking turn and ending with all of them playing together.

At the end of this solo play, the performance moves to the sequence called playing in unison (koottikkottu or kalaasam) by the thimila artistes. Like a wave gathering momentum as it rushes to the shore, the thimila artistes start in unison from the slow tempo and increase the tempo cycle by cycle. During this phase there is a waxing and waning of tempo during each cycle, with each succeeding cycle starting at a tempo faster than at which the previous cycle started. These aettichurakkal (ascending and descending) styles of play add to the fervour of the participants as well as the audience.

Similarly there is solo play followed by kalaasams in each of the succeeding stages of 896, 448, and 224-beat cycles. During solo play the artiste on each percussion instrument generally plays the same rhythm pattern as played by the preceding artiste. This repetitions of the rhythm pattern by the different instruments- Thimila, Edakka, and Maddalam – adds to the beauty of the performance. The number of kalaasams to be repeated depends on the total duration of the performance, which is decided by the leader of the troupe. These first four stages are played in slow tempo (vilambakaalam). The 112-beat fifth stage is the first of the middle tempo (madhya kaalam).

It is during the madhyakaalam that the series of kalaasam called theerukalaasam is performed. Here only the leading thimila and maddalam artistes play solo. The next stage is the 56-beat cycle called etakaalam. Here the tempo of play is six times faster than the tempo that was set up during the Kaalam Nirathal phase at the beginning. At the right tempo the Theerukalaasam of Etakaalam is taken up. The kalaasams are taken up similar to madhyakaalam. At the end of five or six such kalaasams the Panchavaadyam moves onto its final stage of Pathikaal called Triputakaalam.

This is followed by the next three phases comprising of 14, 7 and 3 ½ beat cycles. In phase II (14-beat cycle), if detailed solo performance is desired, it starts in the vilambakaalam. This is a very pleasing phase of Panchavaadyam. During the earlier stage of Triputa where the performance is in Kootikottu, The sound level reaches a very high level. At the end of that stage, with the change in phase, the performance suddenly switches to a slow tempo where just the lead Thimila, Maddalam and Edakka artistes perform solo, sometimes also followed by the Kombu. The effect of the sudden stoppage of the high sound level/high tempo koottikottu of the thriputa stage to the slow tempo of phase II to be directly experienced. Here the musical knowledge of the lead Thimila , Maddalam and Edakka artistes are amply demonstrated in a series of solo play. The Thimila artiste starts off this stage by playing a rhythm pattern of his own choice. The Maddalam artiste followed by the Edakka artiste takes up the same pattern. This is then followed by the Thimila artiste starting of a new rhythm pattern etc. At the end of every rhythm pattern, The time cycle is reduced while keeping the tempo same and ends is a finale of a single beat cycle where in all three Thimila, Maddalam and Edakka artistes play the pattern based on a single note. Occasionally the leading Kombu artiste also gets a chance to join in this solo play, as decided by the ensemble.

In each of these phases after a few kalaasams are gone through, theerukalaasam is performed. In the final phase (3 ½ beat cycle) the thimila artistes plays first in unison, followed by the maddalam artistes in unison. Depending on the time at which the performance has to end, that many kalaasams are played. Once sufficient number of kalaasams is played, at the right tempo the performance moves to what is called aetty churukky (climax followed by anti-climax) kalaasam. Here one gets the impression of the tempo ascending and then descending. At the end of this sequence the performance moves to Ekathaalam (single beat) and the performance ends in this mode.

Panchaari Melam:

Panchaari Melam is considered to be the most important of all Chenda Melams. The other melams are Paandi, Chempata, Dhruvam, Atantha, Anchatantha and Jramba. Panchaari and Paandi are the two ensembles commonly played everywhere. All the features of performing on the Chenda are included in Panchaari melam. While the other melams have been set over four time tempos, the Panchaari Melam has been set over five time tempos. By convention, Panchaari Melam is performed inside the temple. However there are exceptions. The most famous of the Panchaari Melam of Oorakath Ammathiruvati takes place outside the eastern gate of the Peruvanam temple.

Even though the instrumental ingredients for all Chenda Melams are the same, these melams differ widely in the nature of their performances. The front line drummers in paandi melam use a stick in each hand, in Panchaari they use only in one hand, and the palm of the other hand is used. In Paandi one rhythm mode merges imperceptibly with the next and ends in a grand finale, where as in Panchaari each rhythm cycle ends in a finale, and in a grand finale at the end of the fifth phase. The artiste using the treble end of the drum form the front line and a double to triple or more of its number stand behind playing the bass end of the drum. The time tempo is kept by beating on the bass side of the Chenda with one stick. Mingling with them are the artistes handling the cymbals (“Edathaalam”). An equal number of pipers (“Kuzhal”) face the front line drummers. Behind the pipers stand an equal number of trumpeters (“Kombu”). The ensemble is led and regulated by the artistes standing in the middle of the front rows on either side.

It is the laya pattern of Roopakam that is called Panchaari here. The Panchaari Thalam which has a beat cycle of 6 beats reckoned by a beat on each of the first five notes and a silent beat performed by holding aloft the stick during that time. This type of reckoning is seen during the fifth and final phase of the performance. The reckoning is different for the other phases. It is a peculiarity of Panchaari Melam that the first three phases are played in the laya pattern of Chempata (8-beat cycle), and the thaalam is reckoned in the manner of the Chempata Thalam. The beats in the first three phases of this melam are 96, 48, and 24 respectively. While the 96-beat cycle has 12 chempata cycles, the number of roopaka cycle is 16. Similarly in the 48-beat cycle there are 6 chempata cycles or 8 roopaka cycles,and in the 24-beat third phase, 3 chempata cycles or 4 roopaka cycles. The fourth phase with 12-beat cycle is in no way connected with chempata and has 2 roopaka cycles. The fifth phase with the 6-beat cycle is Panchaari.

During Phase I (96-beat cycle), the first Chempata cycle the time is reckoned with 7-closed beats and one silent beat. In the second and third cycles time is reckoned with closed beats with the intermediate beats silent. During the 4th cycle, the time keeping beats are reckoned with half of them closed beats and half, open beats. During the 5th cycle the beats are continuous closed ones, the 6th cycle is again half the beats closed and half open. 7th through 10th Chempata cycles are in the same manner. Kalaasams are taken up in the 11th and 12th cycles. This completes Phase I.

A noticeable difference of the notes in Stage 3 in the phase is that every 12th beat in each chempata cycle is a hard beat. This strong note is used to ensure that all the treble drummers keep to the same time tempo. If any one were to be slightly off time, this hard beat with the stick will help to isolate it, enabling the lead drummer to identify the culprit and correct him. It also helps all the other front line drummers to determine whether their beats are synchronous with the lead drummer’s beats.

During Phase II (48-beat cycle), time is reckoned as follows. After the first three time keeping strokes, the next four strokes are made with an interval of one beat in between. The same for the 2nd cycle. 3rd ,4th and 5th cycles are reckoned with 7 beats and then a dummy. Kalaasam is performed in the 6th cycle.

During Phase III (24-beat cycle), the first cycle is reckoned with continuous beats, the 2nd with every other beat skipped, and Kalaasam in the 3rd.

During Phase IV (12-beat cycle), the first three beats are together, then next two are with one beat skipped and the last three together. In Phase V (6-beat cycle), time is reckoned as per Panchaari with five open beats and then a dummy.

It is these varying ways of time keeping that adds to the overall exuberance to the performance, and is an integral part of the performance.

Paandi Melam:

PPaandi Melam has the following origins. The Goddess Kurumba Devi, accompanied by 108 Durgas, was brought from Paandi Kingdom to Kodilimgapuri (modern Kodungalur), to the accompaniment of a nadapaandi melam. While at the Kerala border, those accompanying the procession felt that the procession needs to be more elaborate. The Paandi Melam was formulated at that time for this purpose. Paandi Melam is considered to be very pleasing to the Goddess. The base of Paandi Melam is the Tripura Thaalam.

By convention, Paandi Melam is performed outside the temple. However there are exceptions. The unmatched Paandi Melam of Paramekkavu Temple in the afternoon of the Thrissur Pooram day is played under the Elanji tree within the Vadakkunnathan Temple. Paandi Melam is very different from Panchaari Melam, even though it has all the same instrumental ingredients. The front line treble drummers in this ensemble use a stick in both hands. In Panchaari each phase ends in a kalaasam and then the next phase starts again, where as in Paandi each phase builds up on the tempo of the previous phase and ends in a finale.

As mentioned above, Paandi melam is performed to please the Goddess and to receive her blessings. In the beginning of the Melam is the Olampal, where the treble chendas produce two distinct notes of “gri” and “dhim”. This sound is very similar to the sound produced by the male lion, which is the primary vehicle of the Goddess.

© 2018 Padma Shri Peruvanam Kuttan Marar. All Rights Reserved.

Site floated by Storybox.