Thimila, Madhalam, Idakka, Kombu, Ilathalam


Thayambaka, Melam, Keli

Sopana Sangeetham

Idakka, Vocal



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            Panchavadyam, as the name suggests, literally meaning an orchestra of five instruments, is basically a temple art form that has evolved in Kerala. Out of these five instruments Thimila, Madhalam, Idakka are percussion category, while the fouth one Kombu is a wind instrument. Ilathalam is a metallic disc like instrument which provides/controls the 'Thalam' or the beat in particular intervals.

            Panchavadyam is characterised by a pyramid-like rhythmic structure - with constantly increasing tempo coupled with a proportional decrease in the number of beats in cycles. Panchavadyam is not related very closely to any temple ritual and most importantlypermits a lot of personal improvisaion while filling up the rhythmic beats on the thimila, madhalam and idakka.

            Panchavadyam bases itself on the 14 beat adanta (also spelt atanta) 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 total `,792, and halves itself with each stage, making it 896 in the second, 448 in the third, 224 in the fourth and 112 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 56, 28, 14, 7 and three-and-a-half.

            A Panchavadyam is anchored and led by the thimila artist at the centre of his band of instrumentalists, behind whom line up the ilathalam players. Opposite to them stand the madhalam players in a row, and behind them are the kompu players. Idakka players, usually totalling two, stand on both sides of the aisle separating the timila an dmadhalam line-up. A major panchavadyam will have artists totalling around 60.




Thimila or paani, is an hour-glass shaped percussion instrument used in Kerala. It is made of polished jackwood, and the drumheads made of calfskin (preferebly taken from 1-2 years old calf) are held together by leather braces which are also twined round the waist of the drum. This mechanism helps in adjusting the tension and controlling the sound mainly two: 'tha' and 'thom'. It is also used in sree-bali, sree-bhootha-bali and related temple rites.



The madhalam is a drum made out of the wood of the jackfruit tree. It has two sides for playing, made out of leather, and has different kind of sound s on each side. The madhalam is a heavy instrument which is hung around the waist of the person playing, and the player stands all the while to perform.

Madhalam is considered as a Deva Vadyam as it resembles Lord Shiva and Lord Parvathi by its sound. It is believed that, Madhalam by its structure, really resembles the "Shiva Sakthi" swaroopa, in which the right hand side of the Madhalam resembles SHiva and the left hand side resembles Parvathi.



The Idakka also spelet edaykka is an hourglass shaped drum from Kerala. This handy percussion instrument is very similar to the pan-Indian damaru. While the damaru is played by rattling knotted cords against the resonators, the idakka is played with a stick. Like the damaru, the idakka's pitch may be bent by squeezing the lacing in the middle.

The idakka is slung over the left shoulder and the right side of the instrument is beaten with a stick. The left hand is used for tightening and loosening the tape would round the middle. Varying the tension of the tape produces variations in tones. Simple melodies extending over one octave can be played in this instrument. The idakka is considered to be Devavadyam (a divine instrument) and is cusotomarily played standalone during the puja at temples or as the accompaniment to the Sopanam music just outside the sanctum sanctorum. This instrument also used in the classical dance and also in Kathakali, when a female character holds the stage (when the Chenda is not played). In Koodiyattam too, the idakka gives good support to the mizhavu.



Kombu is a wind instrument (kind of trumpet) usually played along with Panchavadyam, Pandimelam, Panchari melam etc. This musical instrument is usually seen in Kerala state. The insruments is like a long horn (Kombu in Malayalam language).



Elathalam or Ilathalam is a metallic musical instrument which resembles a miniature pair of cymbals. This insturment is completely made out of bronze and has two pieces in it.

Elathalam is played by keeping one part of the cymbal in left hand banging the other cymbal to the one in left hand. Even though this instrument is small by size, it does have more thickness than the common cymbal, and thus gives a distinct chime. Elathalam is used in other percussion ensembles like Chenda melam and Thayambaka besides by second singer on a Kathakali stage besides providing the beat in Kuzhal Pattu and Kombu Pattu.


            Thayambaka, believed to have flourished during the feudal era spans an average of 90 minutes. It begins at a slow pace before scaling on toa medium tempo and eventually culminating in high, frenzied speed. It has a skeletal pattern on which the performance progresses, but the main performer has the liberty to improvise and innovate to showcase his grip of rhythm, finesse of techniques and cerebral brilliance. In fact, thayambaka is one chenda concert that allows maximum individual freedom to the main player.

Thayambaka, like panchavadyam or most chenda melams, is primarily a temple art, but it is also performed outside shrineslike on proscenium stages, open fields or pagentry grouns. As a ritual temple art, thayambaka is performed mostly at the annual festivals soon after the sunset ritual of deeparadhana inside the sanctum sanctorum, following which the deity is brought to the nadappura (open hall inside the temple precincts). In such cases too, artful exhibition of skills remain prominent, yet the performance is regarded as an offering to the presiding god/goddess.



It is a round pillar shape instrument made out of jackwood, drilled and made hollow inside to make it like a drum, about 2 feet height and 1 feet dia this part is know as 'kutti'. Both sides are covered with cow skin covered in the strong rings made out of palm tree, these rings are tied with plastic ropes. In this connecting ropes small rings are put to adjust the tension and controlling the sound. Thayambaka played with stick and palm on the itantala (treble) of the cheanda, while the rhythm is laid by his fellow instrumentalists on the valanthala (bass) chendas.

Apart from Thayambaka Chenda also played in Melam, Keli and Kathakali etc.

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