Chenda Artisans of Lakkidi

Mar 01, 2015 | Vol 7- Issue 2
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Surviving Traditions of River Nila-3There are many folk communities, traditional artists and artisans who have been living on the shores of  River Nila (Bharathapuzha) since centuries. As part of the series of articles, this issue features a traditional artisan’s family from Lakkidi in Palakkad district (Kerala, India) who makes the drums of Kerala - Chenda, Thimila, Edakka, Thudi etc.

The drums of Kerala (India), Chenda, Maddhalam, Thimila, Edakka etc are the traditional percussion instruments of Kerala and they always had an important role in the musical tradition as well as in the social fabric of Kerala. These form an essential medium in classical as well as folk tradition.  The making of these drums do have an equally important role in the cultural scenario of Kerala.

Mununniparambil Velayudhan of Perumkollan family and a resident of Lakkidi, on the bank of River Nila in Palakkad district is an artisan and his family is still involved in making these fine musical instruments - Chenda, Thimila and Edakka in traditional manner.

The Kerala Drum-Chenda

Chenda is the central instrument among the different drums of Kerala. It is made from the trunk of the jackfruit (jack) tree and will be cylindrical in shape with a height of 2ft. Both the ends are covered with the hide of Oxen (oxhide). The diameter of the instrument can vary from 9 inch to 12 inch approximately. One end of the drum, called Edanthala is mainly used in performances and this end is fortified by an extra layer. The other end of the drum - the Valanthala has more layers of hide and produces a stable low intensity sound. This side is played while performing some tantric rituals mainly inside the temple.

The instrument Thimila is shaped like an hourglass and the circumference of both the ends are smaller in comparison to Chenda.

Velayudhan's father and grandfather were artisans who made these drums. His son Prakash, who lives with him, is also following the same tradition.  They collect the hide from the slaughterhouses of Thrissur. Apart from the making of the hollow cylinder, most of the work is done manually.

According to Velayudhan, while making the different faces of drums, it is essential to know the quality of the skin as different portions of the hide creates different sounds. The two faces of Chenda (Chenda Vattam) are made using the trunk of Palmyra tree, in circular wooden frames and the hide is fixed on it by a special lock with small pieces of bamboo, 3- 4 inch length called Pillakolu. The layers, made using processed hide, are pasted by a natural gum, an extract from a tree locally called Panachi, which is grown in their compound. Once the two faces of the Chenda are ready, it is then fixed to the cylinder using cotton or plastic rope. This can be done by the specialists. Now days, a mechanical system is applied to get the maximum tempered effect for the Chenda with less effort and in limited time. But the assembling of Thimila and Edakka is easy and can be done whenever required.

About the challenges in this work he said,  “The skin has to be properly dried in sunlight for 3-4 days. So monsoon season is a difficult period for us. Also, the lack of good quality hide affects our work.”

Apart from Chenda, Thimila and Edakka, they also make drums like Para, Thudi etc which are used in folk performances.  He has received orders for making Chenda and other instruments from various parts of Kerala and even from other parts of India.

Velayudhan said, “With the increasing number of temple festivals and the popularity of Singari melam, the recently emerged orchestration in Chenda gives great demand for this drum.  Now most of the artists like to have a good quality Chenda or other instruments, because of that we make instruments in its traditional manner without diluting the process and quality.  For a busy artist it is necessary to replace the Chenda Vattam three or four times a year and so the connection between an artist and the artisan is life-long.

Location/Access: Vadakkumangalam in Killikkurissi Mangalam, about one kilometre from Lakkidi on Ottappalam-Palakkad Road.(Kerala, India)

 

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