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!
The Panchavaadyam performance begins with the Conch blowing three times, producing the sound of OM. In the middle of the third blowing of the conch, the lead thimila artiste sets the time by playing “thi....thi....thi....tha” and immediately going on to “thom”, a full and loud beat produced with the open palm. This is followed by a short interlude where both the Thimila and Maddalam artistes plays to the ‘thakadhimi thakadhimi’ interval, with the Edakka artiste filling the time in between the ‘thakadhimi’ strokes. This continues for three chempatavattams. Immediately at the end of the third chempattavattam, the performance moves to the final phase of the kaalam nirathal for the next four chempata cycles. This setting of the time tempo establishes the framework for the rest of the performance.
Stage 1– (Onnamkalam)
In this particular performance, the performance starts from the 896 beat second stage so that the whole performance can be confined to a shorter time than the three hours the performance normally takes but for the sake of completeness the 1792-beat cycle is also described below.
During the 1792-beat first stage, one or two cycles are completed, with the thimila, maddalam and edakka playing solo in turn. After the completion of the solo performance, they enter the kalaasam or koottikottu (finish or action in unison). After this kalaasam is completed, a change is effected to the next step of 896-beat cycle.
Stage 2 – Stage (Randaamkaalam)
In this performance, at the end of the kaalam nirathal, the second stage of Panchavadyam begins with a time cycle of 896-beats. This starts with the solo playing by all the artistes handling the percussion instruments. The solo play goes on till one or two cycles, as decided by the leader, are completed and then enters the kalaasam part, the duration of which is one cycle. Then it passes on to the third stage.
Stage 3 – (Moonnamkaalam)
Stage 3 is called “eduthu kalaasam” (augmented finish). After sufficient number of kalaasams (determined by the total duration of the melam) are gone through stage 4 is taken up..
Stage 4 – (Naalamkaalam)
Stage 4 is called “atichu kalaasam” (Finish using strong beats), where the beats are more powerful. After sufficient numbers of kalaasams are completed, the melam passes on to the last and final stage of Phase 1.
Madhyakaalam (Middle tempo)
Here the time cycle is based on 112 beats. On entering the madhyakaalam, after a few kalaasams are gone through, it enters the theerukalaasam (kalaasam series) at the right tempo or kaalam. Here after every cycle of solo performance a kalaasam is reached. The number of kalaasam may be 5, 6, or 7 at the most, as decided by the leader. Only the leading thimila and maddalam artistes play solo during the theerukalaasam period. The theerukalaasam in the madhyakaalam and the similar one in the next stage are the most important parts in a Panchavaadyam performance.
At the end of the Theerukalaasam, the performance moves to stage 6 of etakaalam.
Etakaalam (Intermediate tempo)
Here the time cycle comes to the base of Panchavaadyam that of 56 beats. Here too the procedure is the same as described in Stage 5. After 5, 6 or 7 kalaams are gone through the sixth stage concludes. After this the laya pattern changes from chempata to thriputa (7-beat cycle.
Immediately succeeding the theerukalaasam of stage 6 is the thriputa, which has a 28-beat cycle. Here there is no solo performance and the complete performance is in koottikottu only in the middle (Madhyam) and rapid (Dhrutam) tempos.
Phase II –
This phase is called Sebdued Thriputa (Patinja Thriputa). Here a cycle has 14 beats. The play starts in slow tempo (Vilambakaalam) if detailed solo performance is desired, or from the middle tempo. After a few kalaasams are gone through, the final stage of this phase, theerukalaasam is taken up.
Phase III –
This phase has a time cycle of 7 beats. If the Thimila leader decides play a sequence similar to the earlier phase, he starts the tempo in slow mode otherwise in intermediate mode. After a few kalaasams are gone through, the final stage of this phase, theerukalaasam is taken up
This phase is called as Rapid (Murukiya) Thriputa, having a time cycle of just 3 ½ beats. It starts from the intermediate tempo and climbes up. After a few kalaasams are gone through, the aettychurikky kalaasam is taken up. After this the laya pattern is changed to Eka Thaalam. It is in this ekathaalam that the Panchavaadyam concludes.
After the conclusion of the Panchavaadyam a sequence of play called Thimila Etachil starts, where only the Thimila artistes along with the Cymbal artistes, playing a rhythm pattern based on Chempata Thalam takes part. This gives an opportunity for each Thimila artiste to show his individual accomplishments.