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The sultan of Arabana Muttu

G.S. PAUL

Kerala Folklore Akademi's first award for Arabana Muttu has been given to Becker Edakkazhiyur.


Not much was known about the origin and development of the art form until Becker published a monograph titled `Oru Suvarna Kala' a decade ago.



AN USTAD: Becker Edakkazhiyur.

Kerala Folklore Akademi's award to Becker Edakkazhiyur for Arabana Muttu comes as a crowning glory to the exponent who has been pursuing this for more than 50 years as a performer, guru and innovator. This is the first award that has been instituted by the Academy for Arabana Muttu.

"I consider this as a recognition of the art form by the right authority," said Becker regarding the award.

Arabana Muttu is a group performance that is staged by men during the festivities of the Muslim community. The songs are rendered by the performers as they keep rhythm by tapping the Arabana (tambourine). The songs are mainly Baiths (euologies).

Monograph

Not much was known about the origin and development of the art until Becker published a monograph titled `Oru Suvarna Kala' a decade ago. The State Education Department purchased 500 copies of the book as it was the first authoritative publication on the art form. His second work `Arabana Muttu Chittakal; Paattukalum' published two years ago was acclaimed as an exhaustive treatment of the art from.

Trained by the ustad of his times, Pathiyari Ahammu Musliar, and his son, Kunjamu, from the age of 10, Becker has performed on hundreds of stages. His joy knew no bounds when his team was invited by Kozhikode station of All India Radio in 1957.

The performance at Mananchira Maidan, Kozhikode, in connection with the annual day celebrations of Muslim Educational Society is still fresh in his memory. Another performance he cherishes was at the koothampalam of Kerala Kalamandalam as part of its Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1990.

"It gave us a great deal of exposure," Becker recalled.

Becker's innovation in changing the posture of the performers made this art form more entertaining. He made them stand and play the tambourine instead of squatting on their knees. This provided more elbow room for them to sway to the rhythm and gave the audience a clear view of the performance. It was experimented for the first time in Doha and was received well. He also implemented a suggestion by the renowned filmmaker Ramu Karyatt to reduce the duration and introduce more songs.

Becker also succeeded in systematising the performance totally by introducing the right terminology. Nomenclatures like `Ashta dwani,' for the eight modes of tapping and their rhythms, have been found to be very effective in teaching. As for the songs, Becker argued that any song that fits into the rhythm pattern was acceptable for Arabana Muttu. Even sensuous themes and song in any language were welcome.

The sultan of Arabana Muttu felt that the art was being distorted owing to ignorance of the nuances of the art form.

For instance, he said that the ritualistic performance of `Arabana Reefa Ee Raathib Muttu' has been mistaken for `Arabana Kali Muttu,' which is purely for entertainment. While the former is almost extinct, the latter, known for its aesthetic appeal, is the one presented nowadays. Becker is also the recipient of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi in 2003.

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