Wednesday, 28 June 2017


Rhythms of rituals - Dr M Lalitha and M Nandini
The makudam is the sole legacy of the Kaniyan community.
Tirunelveli was our destination for a concert, and the itinerary naturally included a visit to the Nellaiappar-Kanthimathi temple and the savouring of the famous dish of the region, iruttu kadai halwa.
We also learnt about an indigenous musical instrument called makudam that is played during Kanniyan Koothu, performed by the Kaniyan community. Only the men perform this folk form. Legend has it that in order to sing and dance for the deity Sudalai Madan, who was sent to earth, some performers were also brought down.
The Kanniyan Koothu takes place during the annual three-day celebration called Kodai, where the spirit of Sudalai is invoked.

The performance combines music, singing, dance and narration. The Kanniyan Koothu is also known as Makudatam. It has a lead singer, called Annavi, a secondary singer, two drummers and two dancers dressed as women.
The two drummers play the makudams, which is a one headed, small, circular drum. It is hung from the shoulder and played with both hands. Sometimes it is tied to the wrist of the performer.
The drum is of two kinds, the low-pitched mantha makudam and the high-pitched vucha makudam. The drummers play one each. These drums produce rhythmic patterns, unique to the instruments. The two drummers play, standing next to the lead singer.
The drums are made from the wood of the poovarasu or neem tree. The makudam is supposedly the sole legacy of this community.

The energy is gripping as the high-pitched singing is accompanied by the high-speed drumming.
The Koothu is traditionally performed only during temple functions and not at social events. During festivals, this performance lasts for about eight hours, beginning late night and going on till wee hours of the morning.
There is no formal training and those interested may join the performers and assist them, while familiarising themselves with the stories, the singing, drumming, dancing and narration. Kanniyan Koothu is a dying art form and needs patronage to protect it for posterity.

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