From Prisoners to Percussionists

Vidhya Jinesh | Jul 01, 2014 | Vol 6, Issue 3
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Prakashan Pazhambalacode is a percussion artist who has taken up the mission to enliven the lives of prisoners of Kerala by giving them training in Chenda, the traditional percussion instrument of Kerala.

The upbeat rhythm of Kerala orchestra and music is intrinsically woven into the lives of the people that it possesses the magical powers to invigorate the mundane life of common man. The passion and commitment of the artists performing these art forms are also no less. Prakashan Pazhambalacode is a percussion artist who has taken up the mission to enliven the lives of prisoners of Kerala by giving them training in Chenda, the traditional percussion instrument of Kerala.

The 47 year old Prakashan, a native of Thathamangalam in Palakkad district, is a traditional percussionist settled in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city. Initially, the jail authorities neglected his interest to train the prisoners. The doors finally opened at Poojappura Central Prison, Thiruvananthapuram and he started off with the training. After two months of training in Chenda, the debut performance of eight prisoners was held on the eve of Onam Celebration in 2013 at the Ganapati temple, outside the prison. They performed the traditional Melam, an orchestration with the instruments Chenda, Kombu (trumpet), Elathalam (cymbals) and Valanthala Chenda (supporting Chenda) with the help of supporting artists from outside.

After the successful performance in Thiruvnanthapuram, he could extend this mission to other central prisons in Kerala- Thrissur and Kannur. At Thrissur, Viyyur Central Prison, he started training with 35 prisoners, of that 12 of them including the Welfare Officer of the Jail, Mr. Santhosh,  completed successfully. Eight of them trained in Chenda, two in Elathalam and two others in Valanthala Chenda. At Thrissur, other artists from the region including Santhosh Alamkode from Sopanam School of Panchavadyam, Pudukkode Unni Marar and  Sreekanth Ernakulam also supported Prakashan in his endeavour. The inaugural performance was held in May 2014 along with the artists from Sopanam School of Panchavadyam, Changaramkulam.

Prakashan could narrate many instances which demonstrated the enthusiasm and interest of the prisoners towards the training. One of the prisoners in Thiruvananthapuram requested the postponement of his much cherished release from the jail in order to participate in the debut performance.  Similar incident happened while he conducted training in Viyyur central prison, Thrissur also.

Traditionally, percussion training is not initiated on the actual Chenda, but on a wooden/granite piece. After the basic studies, Guru ceremoniously hands over the drum Chenda to them for further training. In turn the trainees give dakshina, offer something to Guru, seeking his blessings. Usually the percussion students would hand over money as dakshina. But Prakasan had a different experience at Viyyur jail. As the prisoners didn't have money, they offered to their Guru, the seeds of vegetables that they had grown at the jail compound.

One prisoner, who used to supervise barbers in the prison also attended the training and participated in the inaugural performance in Thiruvananthapuram. He died after some days because of cardiac arrest. All the Medias while reporting the death, mentioned him as a percussion artist. Now Prakasan feels that he was instrumental in giving him an elevated position in the society, though after his death.

In May 2014, Prakasan started training at Central Prison, Kannur. 18 prisoners are presently being trained in Chenda. Follow up trainings are going on at Poojappura and Viyyur prisons. Mr. Devadasan, the Jail Superintendent of Central Prison of Thrissur opined that regular practice of such art forms can improve mental health of the prisoners. Moreover, the vibrant sounds of percussion training create a soothing environment for the whole prison.

To contact:

Prakasan Pazhambalacode
House no 610. Prasanth Nagar,
Medical College P O., Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
Mob: +91- 9446133330.

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