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Master of the maddalam

K.K. GOPALAKRISHNAN

Kalamandalam Appukutty Poduval, a doyen who passed away recently, had played a crucial role in elevating the role of the maddalam on Kathakali stages.


The maddalam is the only ‘adyavasanam’ in Kathakali.


Photo: H. Vibhu

Rhythm of Kathakali: Kalamandalam Appukutty Poduval.

The demise of maddalam artiste Kalamandalam Appukutty Poduval has deprived the world of Kathakali of a maestro par excellence. He was a towering artiste and a true gentleman, both on stage and in his personal life.

One has to be a true connoisseur of rhythms and percussion to appreciate the tonal aesthetics of the maddalam. But Poduval was able to reach out and captivate even laypersons.

Crucial role

When asked about this ability of his, the maestro had replied: “That is the essence of team spirit and it is all due to the blessing of my guru.”

Poduval played a crucial role in elevating the status of the maddalam and making it on a par with other musical accompaniments of Kathakali.

“In Kathakali every one talks a lot about ‘adyavasanam’ (lead role) as far as actors are concerned. In fact, the maddalam is the only ‘adyavasanam’ (from the very beginning to the very end) in Kathakali,” he used to remark. This highlighted the fact that it is only the maddalam that is continuously played on stage after a play begins with the customary lighting of the lamp.

Unlike the maddalam, the chenda is not played for female characters. Connoisseurs of Kathakali become nostalgic when they talk about the triumphant ‘kutty’ trio on Kathakali stages – Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair in a major role, Kalamandalam Krishnankutty Poduval on the chenda and Kalamandalam Appukutty Poduval on the maddalam.

The emergence of this team in the Sixties evolved into a stylised and highly individualistic school of creativity within the traditional structure of the kalluvazhi tradition in Kathakali. They created a grammar of their own while performing. The Poduval duo brought a new aesthetics to the ‘Melappadam’ segment of a traditional performance.

Poduval was groomed by none other than the legendary Thiruvilwanmala Venkichan Swami, who hailed from his village. It was a maddalam keli performance with five maddalams under the leadership of Venkichan Swami, which was performed at Thiruvilwanmala Temple, that bewitched the then 12-year-old Poduval to take up this instrument. He made his debut in the same temple, along with Venkichan Swami.

Gentle mentor


And for nearly five decades he strode like a colossus in his chosen field; redefining the role of the maddalam on Kathakali stages. He blended classicism and emotive renditions of librettos to innovate and create a new style. He served as head of the faculty of maddalam at Kerala Kalamandalam for a long time and retired in 1986.

Unlike many other maestros or divas, Appukutty Poduval, even at the peak of his brilliant career, never protested even if a junior artiste was assigned to accompany him on the chenda. Instead, he did all he could to encourage and motivate them, even going to the extent of covering their flaws with the help of his magical strokes on the maddalam.

“What I am going to earn by publicly insulting a blossoming performer? Instead, I am more contented in seeing them coming up gradually. One should not forget the basic fact that all of us were once toddlers,” he used to remark.

Poduval was the recipient of the State and Central Sangeet Natak Akademi awards and the Kalamandalam fellowship, among other innumerable honours. He had acted in three films, including ‘Vanaprastham,’ and in a television serial.

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