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Panchavadyam(Malayalam: പഞ്ചവാദ്യം), literally meaning an orchestra of five instruments, is basically a temple art form that has evolved in Kerala. Of the five instruments, four — timila, maddalam, ilathalam and idakka — belong to the percussion category, while the fifth, kombu, is a wind instrument.
Much like any chenda melam, panchavadyam is characterised by a pyramid-like rhythmic structure with a constantly increasing tempo coupled with a proportional decrease in the number of beats in cycles. However, in contrast to a chenda melam, panchavadyam uses different instruments (though ilathalam and kompu are common to both), is not related very closely to any temple ritual and, most importantly, permits a lot of personal improvisation while filling up the rhythmic beats on the timila, maddalam and idakka.
Panchavadyam bases itself on the 7-beat thripuda (also spelt thripuda) thaalam (taal) but amusingly sticks to the pattern of the eight-beat chempata thaalam — at least until its last parts. Its pendulum beats in the first stage (pathikaalam) total 896, and halves itself with each stage, making it 448 in the second, 224 in the third, 112 in the fourth and 56 in the fifth. After this, panchavadyam has a relatively loose second half with as many stages, the pendulum beats of which would now scale down to 28, 14, 7, 3.5(three-and-a-half) and 1.
Whether panchavadyam is originally a feudal art is still a matter of debate among scholars, but its elaborate form in vogue today came into existence in the 1930s. It was primarily the brainchild of late maddalam artistes Venkichan Swami (Thiruvillwamala Venkateswara Iyer) and his disciple Madhava Warrier in association with late timila masters Annamanada Achutha Marar and Chengamanad Sekhara Kurup. Subsequently it was promoted the late idakka master Pattirath Sankara Marar. They dug space for a stronger foundation (the Pathikaalam), thus making pachavadyam a five-stage (kaalam) concert with an intelligent mixture of composed and improvised parts. Spanning about two hours, it has several phrases where each set of the instruments complement the others more like harmony in the Western orchestra than the concept of melody in India. Much like in Panchari and other kinds of chenda melam, panchavadyam, too, has its artistes lined up in two oval-shaped halves, facing each other. However, unlike any classical chenda melam, panchavadyam seemingly gains pace in the early stages itself, thereby tending to sound more casual and breezy right from its start, beginning after three lengthy, stylised blows on the conch (shankhu).
A panchavadyam is anchored and led by the timila artist at the centre of his band of instrumentalists, behind whom line up the ilathalam players. Opposite them stand the maddalam players in a row, and behind them are the kompu players. Idakka players, usually two, stand on both sides of the aisle separating the timila and maddalam line-up. A major panchavadyam will have 60 artistes.
Panchavadyam is still largely a temple art, but it has come out of its precincts to be seen performed during non-religious occasions like cultural pagentry and according welcome to VIPs.
There are several central and northern Kerala temples that have been traditionally playing host to major pachavadyam performances. Prominent festivals featuring them are Thrissur Pooram (its renowned Panchavadyam event is known as 'Madhathil Varavu'), Nadappura Panchavadyam at Wadakancheri Siva Temple participating to famous Uthralikkavu Vela at Wadakancheri, Kaladi Panchavadyam ulsavam, Machattu Thiruvanikkavu vela, Nenmara-Vallangi vela, Vayilliamkunnu Pooram, Pariyanampatta pooram, Chinakathoor pooram, Varavoor Palakkal Karthika vela, Tirumandhamkunnu pooram purappadu, Tripunithura Sree Poornathrayeesa Aarattu, Tripunithura Thamaramkulangara Makaravilakku, Thiruvona Mahotsavam at Sree Vamanamoorthy Temple Thrikkakara and Cherpulassery Ayyappan Kavu ulsavam, besides temples in places like Chottanikkara, Odakkali, Vaikom, Ambalapuzha, Perumbavur, Pazhur, Ramamangalam, ooramana, Nayathodu, Chengamanad, Elavoor, Chennamangalam, Triprayar/Arratupuzha, Irinjalakuda, Thiruvillwamala, Pallassena, Pallavoor and several renowned temples in Malabar like Kottakkal Viswambhara Temple and Kottakkal Pandamangalam Sreekrishna Temple, Mannarkkad Pallikurup Manadala Niramala and further up in Tulu Nadu. Chembuthara Kodungallur Bagavathi Temple on the first Tuesday of Malayalam month "Makaram".On every October 2nd Panchavadhyam is conducted on Annamanada Mahadeva Temple on behalf of late Annamanada Peethambara Marar, Achutha Marar and Parameshwara Marar popularly known as Annamanada Threyyam.
Some of the known institutions that give formal training in panchavadyam are Kerala Kalamandalam and Kshetra Kalapeetham in Vaikom. In addition to the above Sri. Thrikkampuram Krishnankutty Marar himself trained many people. All the panchavadyam performances in Kerala will have at least one of his disciples as a performer.
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Among today's masters of panchavadyam are:
- Timila:Annamanada parameswara marar(Kalamandalam Parameshwaran), Kuzhoor Narayana Marar, Karavattedath Narayana Marar, Koroth Ramakrishna Marar, Pallassana Ponnukuttan Marar, Vaikkam Chandran Marar, Kongad Madhu, Chottanikkara Vijayan Marar, Pallavur Sreedhara Marar, Parakkattu Thankappan Marar, Kelath Kuttappan Marar, kuttanellur rajan Marar, Chottanikkara Nandappan, Ooramana Venu Marar, Ooramana Ajithanmarar, Mattoor venu marar, Ooramana Rajendra Marar, Kunissery Aniyan, Vaikom Chandran, Payyannur Balakrishna Marar, Kariyannur Narayanan Namboodiri, Chottanikkara Subash, Keezhillam Gopalakrishnan, Nallepilly Kuttan Marar, Nallepilly Aniyan Marar, Achuthananda Marar, Ottapalam hari, koduntharapilly manoj, kalamandalam vinayan, kalamandalam pradeep, udhayanapuram hari, vengoor hari, peruvaram jishnu, koratty suresh, peruvaram mohanamarar, mattoor vishnu, kalamandalam krishnadas, thriprayar mahesh, thriprayar rameshan, parakkade mahendran, parakkade maheswaran, iringol kannan, varanad kuttan,, Peruvanam Krishnakumar, Peringode Chandran, Kalamandalam Manoj (all )
- Maddalam: Thrikkur Rajan, Cherpulassery Sivan, Thichur Vasu Varrier, Edappal Appunni Nair, Kaplingat Vasudevan Namboothiri, Pulappatta Balakrishnan (Pulapatta Thangamani), Kunisseri Chandran, Chirakkala Sankara Marar, Sadanam Ramachandran, Kallekkulangara Krishna Varrier, Thrippalamunda Nataraja Varrier, Odakkali Sankaramani Marar, Chottanikkara Surendran, Kongad Sukumaran, Kallekulangara Babu, Eravath Appu Marar, kalamandalam kutty narayanan, kalamandalam prakashan, varavoor haridasan, Eloor Arun Deva Warrier, Peruvanam Haridas, Kottakkal Ravi, Kundalassery KrishnanKutty, Kundalassery Narayanankutty, Kundalassery Manu, Kallur Unnikrishnan, Kallur Santhosh, Kundalassery Ratheesh, Kundalassery Hari, peringode nandakumar, peringode unnikrishnan, peringode aravindan, akkikavu anathakrishnan, sadanam varadarajan, Thiruvalla Radhakrishnan,
- Idakka:Chennamangalam Unni, Thichoor Mohanan, Thiruvillwamala Hari, Jayan, Pallavur Sreekumar, Kakkayoor Appukuttan, Pallassana Sudhakaran, Thiruvalathoor Sivan, Ramamangalam Jayan, Payyannur Krishnamani, Payyavoor Narayana Marar, Pallimanna Rajeev, Kavil Ajayan, peringode subrahmanyan, Pallavoor Santhosh, Anand k r
- Ilathalam: Cheriyath Thanku Marar, Maniyamparambil Mani, Kothachira Sekharan Nair, Panjal Velukutti, Chengamanad Paramu Nair, Pallavur Raghava Pisharody, Asiad Sasi
- Kompu: Chengamanad Appu Nair, Machad Ramakrishnan Nair, Unni Nair, Machad Kanan, Kummath Ramankutty, Kongad Radhakrishnan, Thrippallur Sivan, pazhambalacode pradeep, Odakkali Murali, Varavoor Manikantan, Sethumadhavan, Keralassery Ramankutty, Machad Hari (chottanikkara devaswam), Odakkali Reni, Chottanikkara Aju, Chottanikkara Vinu, Muriamangalam Jinesh and Muthedathukavu Hari, pazhambalacode vijayn, pazhambalacode nadarajn
Prominent among the late panchavadyam masters are:
- Timila: 'Annamanada Achutha Marar, Kuzhoor Narayana Marar, Parameswara Marar, Peethambara Marar, Kuzhoor Kuttappa Marar, Pallavur Kunhukutta Marar, Pallavur Maniyan Marar,
Chengamad Sekhara Kurup, Porathuveettil Nanu Marar, Perumbilly Narayana Marar, Perumpilly Govindan Kutty Marar, Kesava Marar, Pallippat Narayana Marar, Pallippattu Achutha Marar, Chottanikkara Narayana Marar, Bahuleyan, Pazhur Damodara Marar, Makkoth Sankarankutty Marar, thiruvilwamala appuny poduval, kongad vijayan, kuzhoor chandra marar, thrikamburam krishnan kutty marar,
- Maddalam: Venkichan Swami, Vellattanhoor Raman Nambisan, Thrikkur Gopalankutty Marar, Chalakkudy Narayanan Nambisan, Kalamandalam Appukkutty Poduval, Kolamangathu Narayanan Nair, Punnathur Madhavan Nair, Kadavallur Sankunni Nair, Aravindakshan, Kavungal Maniyan Panikkar, Kachamkurichi Achuthan Nair, Pulamanthol Gopalakrishnan, Kalamandalam Sasi
- Idakka: Pallavur Appu Marar, Pattirath Sankara Marar, Pulapatta Narayana Marar, Sankara Marar, Velappaya Rama Marar.
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