Thrikkur village is famous across the State for two reasons probably with a single dimension – the Rock Cave temple of Lord Siva and the irrefutable percussionist Thrikkur Rajan who lives unto to the culmination of a Devavaadyam (divine music) on his Maddalam, an instrument that symbolize the Siva-Sakthi cult. When Thrikkur Rajan strikes at the right and left ends of his beloved Maddalam, we see every being in the festival ground quiver in tune with those rhythmic notes as if in the eternal union of universal creation.
Rainy notes of a vocal ‘malahari’ guided us to the Maddalam exponent’s home, far from the bus stop near the Thrikkur Mahadeva temple. Sitting among the loads of mementos and accolades the legendary helmsman recollected his memoirs of a hard-core practice in his childhood which made the maestro of today.
“I started learning Maddalam at a tender age. Along with my brother Unnikrishnan we had our arangettam at Thrikkur Mahadeva temple. Our Guru was none other than our father.”
“We used to perform in most of the temple festivals with our father. Earlier, Maddalam was a mere ‘one- among- the- five’ in Panchavaadyam. Since the growth of Panchavaadyam to a 3-4 hour liturgical symphony harmonizing individual creativity, it has attracted many leading artists in other instruments. Thus Maddalam artists also got the ace in festivals.”, Rajan recollected the reformation of a sovereign Panchavaadyam.
“By the way, my brother got a better opportunity in government service and put his part upon my shoulders he left for Delhi.”, commented Rajan who has been donning the role of the helmsman of Paramekkavu sector in Thrissur Pooram for the last 17 years.
Meanwhile his daughter Suma, a music teacher came down after the class with a group of young students.
“Now, nobody is bothered of the values of learning an art form. Young generation learns it just for performing in youth festivals and thereby getting grades.” Remarked Suma and Rajan nodded in consent.
“Earlier Guru-Sishya relationship was divine and healthy. Now it has reduced to just a friendship with the ‘use and throw’ drift.”, he added.
A man of improvisation, Thrikkur Rajan used to render his own inputs during his performance. Aesthetic world has recognized his ‘mischief’ as enhancing the beauty of Panchavaadyam which reckons for its strict discipline and harmony.
“Never count it as a denial of our Guru who paved a way for us to this art. Whenever I input my own improvisation I understand the multiplying splendor the whole symphony acquires. It only rejoices my guru and of course the audience.”, observed Rajan of his inimitable style of performance.
In 2008, Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademy honored Thrikkur Rajan with a Fellowship. Along with the torrents of recognitions, he has been selected for the prestigious Poomulli Aaraam Thampuran Award, recently. A.S.N.Nambeesan, former Vice-Chairman of Kerala Kalamandalam addresses him as the ‘Rajahamsam of Panchavadyam’ regarding his commanding strokes and matchless fingering.
Scholars are of the opinion that a conscious effort alone would not result in a beautiful rendering in thimila and maddalam while exploring swara structure. It needs an exceptional flexibility for the artist’s palms. Like Pallavur Maniyan Marar in thimila, Thrikkur Rajan is blessed with this flexibility which creates gorgeous rhythmic notes out of his Maddalam.
Like that, Thrikkur Rajan’s noted feature is his amazing ability to sway over rhythms and tempo using palms on both the sides, often inter-changing the fingering. Health and stamina of the body has nothing to do here. It is an unusual capacity of the performer to bring in all his energy into the palms in order to produce such unique sound effects. He knows it subconsciously where to strike and how to harmonize both the sides.
Presence-of-mind to improvise the rendering and massive inputs out of imagination keep Thrikkur Rajan abreast of his contemporaries. Often he makes us spell-bound with his unconventional stance by bringing in novel experiments especially in pathikaalam (base),thripuda (3rd stage) and in thaniaavarthanam (repetitions) . His style may not be of a maverick, but what he has done contributes a lot to those who desire to improvise their rhythmic notes.
Not only at the festival grounds, but in the wide-spread ritualistic South-Indian percussion ensembles Thrikkur Rajan is a helmsman under whom the debutants can line up confidently.
Flexible in ensemble and improvisation, Thrikkur Rajan is but adamant in using his own instrument wherever he performs. “I insist an error-free rendering of the concert so at any cost I won’t compromise on the quality of the instrument to subside the quality of the exposition.”, states Rajan.
If asked about his diligence in this 60 plus he would reply with a smile, “It is nothing but the hardcore training I got at a tender age. My father, my guru was very strict and I never missed my sadhaka (daily practice) ever. Still it continues.”
“Now everything has got a sea-change.”, continued Rajan. “Earlier, Maddalam performance was a hereditary right for the Marar families in Kerala. Now who comes from this community to take over this as a right other than a job..? I think it is coming to the verge of extinction if it is counted on a lineage basis.”
“Makers of the instrument also rope into some other’s shoes. It was the right of the Kadaya community to make Maddalam. They were so skilled that just by striking the wood after it has been hollowed, they can tell which part is needed to produce good tonal quality.”, said an evocative Rajan.
Rhythm is a hereditary element in his family. His paternal uncle Kizhiyedathu Raman Marar was a Thimila exponent. In Chenda also he was equally at home.
Thrikkur Rajan learned the alphabets of Maddalam from his father. “My father had 62 students then”, says Rajan. But Rajan never tried the coat of a guru even though his villagers address him with reverence ‘Aasaan’(great teacher). If asked, he would say, “I don’t think I have that much potential to decant to the coming generation.”