Denied in Thrissur; Peruvanam to get it at Arattupuzha Pooram

Though Peruvanam Kuttan Marar has been part of the oldest and biggest Arattupuzha Pooram for around five decades, this year will be his 25th as melapramni.
Peruvanam Kuttan Marar
Peruvanam Kuttan Marar

#Ajayan

Melam enthusiasts worldwide were plunged into melancholy when Peruvanam Kuttan Marar was denied the prestigious opportunity to lead the renowned Ilanjithara Melam for his 25th consecutive year at the eminent Thrissur Pooram in 2023. However, a different narrative was orchestrated, imbued with poetic justice, as Kuttan or Peruvanam (the name of his quaint village resonating with the rhythms of chendas) as he is popularly called, is all set to wield his baton once more for the melodic ensemble at the Arattupuzha Pooram, a tradition spanning 1442 years, on March 23, commemorating his silver jubilee as lead player at this illustrious event.

For Peruvanam, whose melodic journey alongside stalwarts dates back to the 1970s at Arattupazha, this moment is a culmination of joy as he approaches his Silver Jubilee leading the pancharimelam, a milestone he embraces with elation. "It is a Devasangamam, a confluence of the divine. Performing before such a vast audience, guided by divine grace, is a thrilling experience, a humble tribute to those who have recognized and honoured my art," he says, his words resonating with profound devotion.

On the day of Arattupuzha Pooram, there is no athazhapuja at the Kasi Viswanath temple in Varanasi; it closes after uchapuja. This tradition stems from the belief that the deity has to be present at the devasangamam down south at Arattupuzha.

Peruvanam Kuttan Marar
Peruvanam Kuttan Marar

History recounts that the iconic Thrissur Pooram originated from the Arattupuzha Pooram, courtesy of the ruler. Legend has it that due to inclement weather, several deities slated to participate in the age-old Arattupuzha Pooram were unable to arrive on time, leading to a decree banning these temples from future events. This decision incurred the ruler Shaktan Thampuran's displeasure, prompting him to launch the Thrissur Pooram in 1796, which included these sidelined temples. It is, therefore, a form of poetic justice for Peruvanam to achieve this remarkable 25-year milestone at the oldest and grandest of all poorams, symbolizing a fitting tribute to his legacy!

Son of the illustrious percussion maestro Peruvanam Appu Marar, Peruvanam, learnt the fundamentals from his father and went on to be the disciple of legendary Kumarapuram Appu Marar and later many others.

He fondly reminisces his maiden leadership in percussion back in 1982 at the Guruvayur Dasami Vilakku when he was just 29 years old. This event, till then graced by luminaries like his father, Chithali Raman Marar, Pallavur Appu Marar and their likes, saw these stalwarts share the lead. However, a pivotal shift occurred in 1982 when it was decided to entrust the leadership to a younger team. Peruvanam humbly attributes his selection to the grace of Guruvayoorappan, and since then, there has been no looking back for him.

It was in 1968 that Peruvanam commenced his performances at major poorams accompanying his father. Appu Marar had the distinct honour of conducting the percussion at different times for Cherpu, Urakam, Chattakudam and Peruvanam temples. Following his father's demise in 1988, Peruvanam assumed this responsibility, making them possibly the sole father-son duo to have led the melams for the key participants in the Arattupuzha-Peruvanam poorams.

Peruvanam currently leads the percussion at both the Cherpu and Arattupuzha temples. He explains that it is impractical to lead the percussion for multiple temples participating in the prestigious poorams, which hold immense significance in the festival calendar.

Peruvanam's initial experience leading at Guruvayur was eased by the knowledge gained from his mentors and his collaborations with renowned artistes. With unparalleled precision, dexterity and expertise, he has become synonymous with melams, serving as an ambassador for this art form, taking it places across the globe. He has led percussion performances in most of Kerala's renowned 

temples and plays the lead in over 250 melams annually. It comes as no surprise that his remarkable contributions earned him the prestigious Padma Shri.

From around 7 pm when the deity at Arattupuzha is brought out of the temple, pancharimelam for over three to three and a half hours leaves a massive crowd swaying and swinging to the beats of the chenda. Peruvanam describes it as a truly unique and distinctive experience. In contrast to the frenetic pace of Pandimelam, panchari unfolds melodiously, characterized by its slow-moving rhythm and leisurely tempo. Incidentally, Peruvanam also leads the pandimelam at Arattupuzha on the previous day during the Tharakkal Pooram.

This writer was witness to a minor altercation at the Edakkunni temple, renowned for its 10-nazhika (5-hour) pancharimelam, back in 1985. Peruvanam, then a youthful 32-year-old, had been invited to the melam and was to be in the front row. However, several established musicians initially refused to yield their places to the young prodigy. Onlookers too intervened to support the melam leader who insisted on the youth getting honourable treatment. Peruvanam was eventually granted his rightful position in the front row, prompting some of the more 'senior' musicians to step back with their chendas. From the following year, Peruvanam assumed leadership of the melam at the temple, a role he continued for around two decades.

Peruvanam keeps a watchful eye and ear during a melam, another of his hallmarks and he does not hesitate to correct a fellow artiste for even the slightest mistake. He acknowledges that melams are a collaborative effort, and there were times when the lead player could trust the performance of his fellow artistes. However, he admits that times have changed, and the lead player must now be extremely vigilant. Despite his strict demeanour, Peruvanam takes pride in ensuring that his fellow artistes receive proper recognition, including financial rewards.

He has a word of thanks to the media which indeed focused on him. With the arrival of the TV and now social media, there has been much interest in this art and people minutely follow performances, he says

Peruvanam Kuttan Marar
Peruvanam Kuttan Marar Jayan U

Sreevalsan Kuruppal, a retired school teacher and participant in several of Peruvanam's melams, recalls being invited by the maestro to join him in these performances at a young age. However, his involvement became limited after he started working as a teacher. Sreevalsan notes that while the percussion art has evolved in ways and at times even turning jarring, Peruvanam has remained steadfast in preserving its tradition and intrinsic quality. He praises Peruvanam's mastery of timing in both pandi and panchari melams, citing his consistent excellence over 24 years at Ilanjithara and Arattupuzha. While some may excel sporadically, Peruvanam's enduring excellence sets him apart.

Sreevalsan also highlights Peruvanam's inclusive approach, ensuring all artistes get opportunities to perform, and credits him for advocating for their recognition.

Santanu M, a bank manager, shares a poignant memory of his grandfather, who, at over 90 years old and unable to attend the Peruvanam Pooram in 2014 due to a fall, sat at home and remarked to his grandchild late in the evening. "Pisharikkal Bhagavathy must have reached Peruvanam by now and Arattupuzha Sastavu must have started from there… Chathakudam Sastavu melam will be led by Peruvanam Sateeshan and Urakam by Cherusseri Kuttan. For Arattupuzha Sastavu and Cherpu Bhagavati it is ‘our Kuttan’." Santanu believes that this story perfectly encapsulates the deep bond Peruvanam shares with melam enthusiasts. He is everybody’s Kuttan or Peruvanam.

Santanu emphasizes that alongside Peruvanam's exceptional artistic qualities, he is also most blessed and shows great respect to fellow artistes and melam lovers who gather at such events.

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