Thursday, 24 August 2017

Kudukka Vina


Under the spotlight

Kudukka veena, originally played only in temples, has shifted to the concert stage

We had just finished performance at PN Sivaramakrishnan Sri Tirumeni Guruji’s 400-year-old Siva temple in Chippleri near Punjapadam, Palakkad. Then it was our turn to listen to an instrument, a rare on at that.

Made from two coconut shells and played with a stick, its sound and appearance were unique. The single-stringed Kudukka veena is an ancient instrument of Kerala.
Half a coconut shell, which is the resonator, is placed on the left shoulder and kept in position by a cloth belt called kacha. The shell is covered by fine leather at the centre of which is a small hole. At the lower end is the full shell (kudukka). A wooden rod, called the korada/perada, passes diametrically through the eye of the kudukka and a string is attached to it. This is tied onto the Korada which is inserted through the hole in the leather. Sometimes both shells are painted and decorated.

String matters

Regarding the strings, sometimes those of the Vina Tala Kambi or guitar are used. According to Thrikkampuram Sri Jayandevan Marar, son of the late Thrikkampuram Krishnankutty Marar, kudukka veena is more than 300 years old.
This instrument is played by strumming the string using the eerkkili, which is the thin rod from the coconut palm leaf. Sometimes the thin stem of a peacock feather is is also used.
The different notes are produced by adjusting the tension of the string. The tension is varied through pressure on the lower shell.
It is a difficult instrument to play, and requires practice. Notes cannot be sustained on it for long. One practises this instrument before learning to play the edakka. Like the ‘pulimutti’ for chenda and ‘sravanappalaka’ for maddalam, kudukka veena is basically a simulator of edakka.
Rakesh Kammath, who plays the kudukka veena, says, “This instrument used to accompany sopana singing during pujas in temples.” Sopana Sangeetham is sung, traditionally by men belonging to the Ambalavasi community, by the side of the holy steps (sopanam) leading to the sanctum sanctorum of a shrine. It is generally performed when the neivedyam is offered to the deity.

The last master

Apparently, the kudukka veena was later replaced by the edakka. Both the instruments can produce melody/swarams along with rhythm/talam.
The legendary Thrikkampuram Krishnankutty Marar was one of the last masters of this instrument, and some of his disciples play this instrument.
Jayandevan Marar said, “It was my father who brought this instrument back to the forefront.” His predecessors, who could play on this rare instrument were Vadakkedath Appu Marar (Krishnankutty Marar’s guru) and Thazhathedath Govinda Marar. By presenting kudukka veena recitals, accompanied by violin and mridangam, during the 1990s, he introduced this instrument to the concert stage. Sometimes the edakka is added as an accompaniment. Currently, some artistes use a pickup to amplify its sound.
Kudukka veena is no longer used in temples but is played at performances and social events. Some of its performers include Uramana Rajan Marar, Kavil Sundaram Marar, Rakesh Kammath, Kottaram Sangeet Marar and Kavil Unnikrishnan.
Writers honoured
Violinists M. Lalitha and M. Nandini were honoured recently with the Chennai Awards for 2017 by the Chennai 2000 Plus Trust in association with the Department of Museum and Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu. The award was presented in recognition of their services to the cause of Carnatic music.
The writers are well-known Carnatic musicians.

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