Vanishing Temple Arts (Temples of Kerala and Kanyaakumaari District)

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Item Code: IHJ097
Author: Deepti Omchery Bhalla
Publisher: Shubhi Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 8182900786
Pages: 136, (Illustrated Throughout In full B/W & Colors
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.3 inch X 8.8 inch
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Book Description
From the Jacket

Books dealing with ritualistic music devotional dance forms allied arts of Keral are rare. Not much research has gone deep into these areas which cut across the periphery and superficial layers and touch the real core. The reasons could be many the practitioners inability to verbalism the content and substances of their art and their inhibition to violate the rigid protective orthodox rules and norms intended to preserve their sanctity.

The concept of Sangeetam that is Geetam Vadyam and Nrityam or the Triad Arts existed before fifteenth century is still in vogue in the music of Kerala temples.

Changes in the administrative and organizational set up and nature of temples have no doubt affected to a great extent the tactual purity of the Triad Arts yet three are certain ancient temples which preserve these arts and the ritual practices in its original serene gory. The family of the author had the privilege of having long hereditary association with some of these tempest his gave her the opportunity to learn the artistic traditions not only orally preserved in the family form her musicologist mother Dr. Leela Omchery but also to imbibe them from the traditional exponents to the temples.

This book deals with the Sopaana music the traditional music of Kerala and seeks to throw light on various ritualistic music and musical instruments and ritualistic dance Thalinanka Nrityam the precursor of Mohiniattam many facts and information related the three areas which were rarely known have been identified through systematic research especially the information contained in the old palm leaf manuscripts collected form ancient families and temples. It is hoped that the want to go further in studying the temple arts of Kerala.

About the Author

Hailing form a family of musicians and littérateurs Dr. Deepti Omchery Bhalla is equally proficient in classical music and classical dance besides being and author and a researcher.

Presently a Prof. of Karnaatak Music at the faculty of music and fine arts university of Delhi Deepthi had her initial training from her mother and advanced learning from the distinguished Pallavi Vidwan Shri T.S Raghvan.

Her Ph. D Research pm Sopaana Music and Kerala led her to the unexplored areas of traditional music and dance of Kerala. Two audio CD’s and a Mohiniattam DVD of Deepti present the findings and the insights of her research studies. She has published several articles presented papers and lec-dems at national and international seminars. The seminar on Dying Traditional art forms held in Seol Korea in 1999 was one of the major international assemblies of scholars where she presented her led-dem. She was a resource person for Brihaddesi Sangeet Mahotsava a national seminar or rare art forms organized by central Sangeet Natak Akadmi in Chennai in 2002.

Dr. Bhalla is associated with U.G.C as subject expert with Sangeet Natak Akademi as an observer and resource person with Indira Gandhi national Center for performing arts as member of film preview committee with the Dept of culture ministry of HRD as member of Experts Panels and with various universalities in different capacities.

She ahs guided PhD scholars as well as recipients of scholarship and fellowship form department culture Govt. of India.

Dr. Deepti Bhalla has edited and co-authored several publications like music and Allied arts Gleanings in Indian music immortals of Indian music in English and abhinaya Sangeetam and Keralatille Laasya Rachnaka in Malayalam.

A discipline of late Kalamandalam Kalynai Kutty Amma. Deepti is a senior Mohiniattam exponent who ash enriched the art with her indepth knowledge and involvement with various allied art forms of Kerala. She has enhanced the Mohiniattam repertoire with rare musical forms and composition like Shabdachalli Nrithya Prabadham Dundubhi Natyal, Vaadil Thura Pattu Ardhanreeswara Malayalam Jyallwalu high accalm.

Currently imparting training in music and dance through her school Trikalaa Gurukulam to selected Indian and foreign disciples.


This is an indepth study of the Naatya based Sopaana Music Thali Nanka Naatyam paanis, Utsava Melams”, Ranga Melams and other Ensembls along with a maiden exposure of certain taala schemes of the ritualistic services of the temples of Kerala and the southern districts of Tamil Nadu temples.

Books dealing with the ritualistic music and allied arts of Kerala temples are rare. There may be many reasons for this the foremost being the fear of ominous consequences if sacred practices were exposed outside the temple sanctum. It was apprehended that putting the sacred oral tradition in writing would defile the divinity and sanctity of the art forms as it might distort the authentic expression of many typical sounds their volume cadence intonation signs accents etc.

The long association of my ancestral family which had roots in thiruvattaar gave me opportunities to get associated with the cultural tradition of the temples of central and south Kerala. The family enjoyed special privileges as the custodians of the temples at Thruvattar Suchindram paarassaala Triparappu, Trivandrum and other places authorized the royal family of Mahaaraaja Maarthandda varma and continued till 1975 as a result our family members were privileged to become familiar with and learn form close quarters the rituals arts and practices of the temples of the central and south Travancore my mother Dr. Leela omchery like some of her ancestors has been deeply involved and well versed in the temples arts. Further she was fortunate to have close associations with the artistes of the temples as her father happened to be the Maharaja nominee in the Central and South Travancore temple management and activities. She also had the benefit of inheriting the erudition and performing skills of her grand mother. Who was a representative of an unbroken k music and dance tradition called Thankacchi Parampara stated from the legendary musician and composer Kutty Kanju Thankacchi daughter and disciple of Iryaimman thampi. The deep scholarship of my mother over various schools of music in Kerala, specially the Sopaana Sangeetam which won for her many accolades including the central Sangeet Natak Akadmi award of the Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademy Kalaachaarya of the Maara Mahaa Sabha and Sangeetha Kulapathi of Kaladarppanam etc. the unbroken age old tradition and my mother’s continuing tutelage enabled me to get into the soul of music dance and allowed arts of the temples further I got exposed to various old temple documents and oral tradition for a number of years. As a researcher and professor in Delhi University and an exponent of Mohiniattam I had the opportunity of meeting and interacting with scholars and old Gurus like Govinda Poduval Sadaasiva Maaraar, Aimanam Krishan Kaimal Dr. Appukkuttan Nair, Kuricchi Kumaaran Asan, S.S Warrier Kadammanitta Vaasudevan Pillai Kaavaalam Naarayana Panickar Prof. Prabhaakara Varma Prof. O.M Anujan T. Venkata Dr. Venkata Subramanya Iyer P.N Krishna Sarma and a few erudite tantris form whom I could learn more about various aspects of Kerala arts. With the guidance of these scholars I could mender through the Mysteries and beauty of he ummortal Aagama Granthas like Amsumaan Kumaara Tantram Kriya Krama Jyothi Prasna Samhita Oddisa Tantram and unpublished Sangeeta Lakshanam Svara Taaladi Lakshanam Koothunool Panchmarabu etc. the knowledge and Samskaara I obtained from the above is reflected in this book.

The subject matter of the book is divided into six chapters with many subsections. The first chapter deals with the leading schools of music in Kerala the second with the Sopaana music along with various typical ritualistic songs, Raagas, Taalas, which were so far confined to the sanctum only.

I would like to mention here that certain pictures given in this book do not acknowledgement the original source as friends from whom I collected also did not have the information I shall be grateful if any reader enlightens me on this and shall publish in the next edition of this book.


Music of Kerala is as old as her people and their culture. When it emerged out of its hoary past to become a reality many branches of music became prominent viz- 1) the folk music which remained as the starch root providing nourishment to all its offshoots; 2) The Vaideeka or the sacred line of music which later on developed into Maarga Sangeetam and Sopaaa Sangeetam Dwelling in the Sanctum Sanctorium of the Aarya and Draavida Temples; 3 Laikeeka or the Secular line which gradually became the body and spirit of Desi Sangeetam to prosper under the patronage of kings and public paving way for the later Karnataka Music; 4) the Natya line which was nothing but the blissful imitation or combination of the three of not heri fusion to exist initially on the temple stages like Koothampalam, sacred groves called Kaavus and the Temporary village stages.

The root and the grammar were the same in all these schools and they were all governed by the basic principles called Tauryatrikam which denoted the harmonious blending of the Traid forms of art Viz Geetam vaadyam and Nrityaam. There were borrowing and lending among them and quite often one used to eclipse the other in prosperity and popularity yet they had separate existence and identify in terms of forms and techniques songs and singers instruments and instrumentalists aims and expressions and functions and field of activities.

In dealing with the history of the music of Kerala whether sacred secular or the traditional theatrical what strikes one most is its sparkling verities each of which had an exhilarating charm and melody of its won. While their songs had an unadorned beauty and simplicity their music was marked by a natural freshness and sweetness. In their expression hovering mood music dance and rhythm they maintained a supreme balance.

The early music of Kerala finds an eloquent expression in the contents of the chapter called Arangettru-Kkaadai of Chilappadhikaaram one of he five great epics of the ancient Draavida literature by Ilangoa Kerala king for which an exhaustive commentary has been supplied by adiyyarkku nallar one of its leading commentators. This music had its heyday during the dominance of Jainism and Buddhism in south India which propagated the message of love compassion equality and sacrifice through he medium of music and dance.

As centuries moved on, these who religious systems were over powered by the revival of Hinduism, which swept over like a storm and uprooted them. Though Hinduism established its supremacy over them the music and other arts of the time were not very much affected by the change of religious.

Revived as a powerful spiritual force during the early fifths century Hinduism later on became a peaceful and pious discipline from the seventh century onwards. In its transformation the dedicated services of Naaynaars the religious bards of Shiavaism and composers of the Thevaaram etc. and Alwaars the religious bards of Vaishnavism and the composers of Thiruvaaimozhi had a significant role. They preached their respective faiths thought touching spiritual songs under the tender care and kind patronage of the Chola Chera and Paandya kings who were famous not only as patrons and masters of Arts but also as followers of the above tow cults. King Ravi Varma Kulaskhara the ruler of Kerala during the 8th century A.D himself a great devotee of Vishnu and hailed as Kall Sarva Bhauma is staid to be the builder of many temples in Kerala following solid and scientific scheme of construction the king planned and developed various ceremonies and festivals of the temples and strengthened the different institutions of the temple artistes and their whole time participation in the daily rituals and on festive occasions. The credit of building the Koothampalams under the strong architectural principles also goes to the great king. He even wrote a few Sanskrit plays like Tapati Svayamvaram to she stages at these temple theatres by traditional artistes called chaakkiyyas and Nangiyaars. There was also exchange of temple musicians actresses and dancers of Kerala and Tamil Nadu during his period.

Due to all these form the 8th century onwards music in Kerala especially of to religious line got a new form and charm which were largely in the ideas which were largely I the lone of the ideas and expressions of Thevaaram Tiruvaachakam etc, of the Shavites and Tiruvaaymozhi etc, of the Vaishnavaties which were collected later under one volume called Naalaayira Prabandham or the Draavida Veda Saagaram by Naadamuni a famous Vishnu Bhakta Kavi Gaayaka in the words of late R.V poduval the composers of these hymns have showed an admirable instinct for form grace color sweetness and spiritual emotions and they have left for posterity gems of spontaneous songs mellifluous and well balanced in diction having a delicate beauty of sound and a mounting and piercing melody which goes straight into the hearts of man.

The aforesaid music continued to flourish in the state for a few succeeding centuries without much change except that it swelled in size at all levels.

It was from the 14th century onwards that the music of Kerala experienced an added charm and appeal through the introduction of Geeta Govindam the yogaatmaka musical opera of the great poet Jayadeva into the land through the Vaishnava saints it was immediately accepted by the singers at the temple as a collection of prayer songs and a unique style of singing and at the theatre as a dance drama the overwhelming popularity of Geeta Govindam both as modal for the Religious singing at the sanctum and as a dance drama at the traditional theatre called Koothampalam in many respects transmitted the musical melodies extant in the state a new form of music modeled after the Padas of Jayadeva Ashtapadi decked in melody and moving moods emerged as a result a few translations of the Sanskrit Geya Drisya Kaavya and a few imitations like Sivaashtapadi etc also came into vogue later on the principles pattern and presentation became the guiding force for the origin and development of Ashtapadiyaatam and Krishnanaatam an exquisite dance drama of the king Maanaveda in the opinion of Poduvaal Geeta Govindam caused mellifluous modification on the sentiment of the music and drumming and in the elaboration of dressing out of the changes of the subject sentiment and method arose the distinctive Krishnanaatam which reached its fullest development in the 14th century.

Krishnanaattam paved the way for Raamanaattam and the general structure of Kathakali was more like Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi than anything else Veera Kerala Varma Raaja of Kottaarakkara the originator of Kathakali was a great musician and composer as is evidenced from his Kathakali plays his melodies remarks poduvall are fresh vivid spontaneous restraint and full of charm and imaginative feeling. He penetrates into the pictorial aspects of the songs and seizes the poetic conception with in. the music of Veera Kerala Varma Raaja has on the whole a strangeness added to beauty modeled after the Geeta Govindam of Jayadeva no wonder from there onwards Kerala music which was hitherto dominated by the Thevaaram and other religious musical traditions of the southern states had to adjust itself to accommodate the Naatya line of music sprung form Geeta Govindam.

Another royal musician and composer of high merit who also was in many respects responsible for developing the musical culture of the state was the great Kaartika Tirunaal the royal composer of a few Karrtika Titunaal the royal composer of a few classical KRITIS in its strict sense and also the composer of many outstanding PADAMS contained in is Kathakali texts like subhadraa svayamvaram baka vahdam gandharva etc, He was a musician and Vainika of high repute and his compositions marked for their musical depth and sublimity of ideas had in many easy raised the music standards of the states and created a new interest in the public towards music Baalaraamabharatam a monumental Sanskrit Treatise on music dance and dramatic techniques of Kerala stands as a supreme testimonial for his mastery over the subject Kaartika Thirunaal’s time was noted for a brilliant array of musicians composers and other laminates of performing arts and literature like Unnayi Vaarier who adorned the court of the king and whose compositions exhibit a wide range and variety of structural innovation and possess an imperishable richness of musical color and audacity.

Equally versatile was his immediate successor raja Asvati Thirunaal (1756-1788) whom some critics judge as a better musician and composer than this predecessor while judging the music and language of his Kathakali texts like Ambarresha Charitma Pootana Moksham Paundraka Vadham etc. a highly scholarly and imaginative Naatakam called Rugmini Svayamvaram and a Geya prabadham side bus idea of the above line of music the reign of Asvati Thirunaal witnessed the growth of a distinct branch of music which created a new form and spirit by discarding the Naatya Element form the triad concept of Sangeeta and by Developing along the norms of the classical Katcheri Paddhati as propounded by saint composer and his contemporaries Muthuswaami Dikshitar and Shyam Shastry whose musical dictions and schemes and their supreme compositions popularly called KRITS over took the whole of south India like a captivating musical storm to which Kerala also was not exception.


Chapter One
The Leading Schools of music In Kerala 13
Introduction 14
Part I Folk Music 20
Part II Karnaatak Classical Music 21
Part III Music of The Sangeeta Naatakas 21
Part IV Light Music 22
Part V Music of Harikatha Kaalakshepam 22
Part VI Malayalam Cinema 22
Part VII Leading Vaaggeyakaaras 23
Part VIII Some of the Treatise on music and allied arts by unknown and
known authors of Kerala
Chapter Two
Sopaana Music of Kerala 26
Part I Karnaatak Classical and Sopaana Music 27
Part II Distinction between Sopaana and the Karnaatak Classical Music 27
Part III Songs of Sopaana 31
Part VI Raagas of Sopaana 31
Table I Distribution of Raagam Geetam, Taalam and Nritham for monthly
services as indicated by the Aagama Grantha Amsumaan
Table II Raagas Presented for Nitya Bolidaana for Navasandhi
Table III Raagas of Navasandhi as per another Saivaagama followed at certain leadning Siva temples in the Kanyaakumari dist. Tamil Nadu
Indicating the Deities pans Raagas Taalas
Vaadyas Dances etc
Table IV Raagas in the ritual Bali Daana performed during
Table V Raagas of Geeta Govindam 35
Table VI Raagas of Koothu and Koodiyaattam 36
Table VII Classification of Sopaana Ragas as per sentiments recorded
in Churuls
Table VIII List of Raagas Employed in the Kottippadi Seva of the leading
temples of Kerala
Table IX Raagas of Thullal 40
Table X Raagas of Kathakali 40
Table XI Raagas of Thyaanis 41
Analysis of the Taalas of Sopaana 43
Table I Prastaara Symbols 45
Table II Names and description of Bhaaratee Taalas 46
Table III The old Taalas of Taala Samudram in comparison with seven
Soolaadi Taalas of the modern times
Table IV Another list of old Taalas of Taala Samudram in comparison with seven
Soolaadi Taalas of the modern times
Table V List of Khanda Taalas 51
Taalas described in the Taala Vaadya Vidhyaanam 53
Taalas of the Aarya kshetras 56
Secular Taalas in Rituals 59
Sevaangam Taalas of Kottippaadi Seva 59
Taalas of Thullal 61
Some Additional details of the Taalas of the Kerala stage 61
1. Kundanaacchi 61
2. Lakshmi Taala 61
3. Kaarika Taala 62
4. Kumbha Taala 62
5. Marma Taala 62
6. Kummi Taala 62
Chapter Three
The Musical Instruments of Kerala 63
Classification of musical instruments of Kerala 67
I Avanaddham (Membrophonic) drums 67
II. Ghanam (Idiophonic) metallic 67
III. Sushiram (Aerophonic) wind 67
IV. Taalam (Chordophonic), Stringed 67
V. Katta or Maram (Castanets) Wooden 67
Miscellaneous 67
Brief description of some of the leading instruments 69
I. Taalam (Stringed) 69
II. Sushiram (wind) 76
III. Katta or Maram (Castanets) 81
IV. Ghanam (Metals) Idiophones 82
V. Avandham (Deums) percussion 84
VI. Some rare and unknown instruments 93
VII. Short notes on the leading ensembles of the temples95
Edaikkaa Pradakshinam Ritualistic (Kriyaangam)96
Vilakkaachaaram Ritualistic (Kriyaangam)96
Taayambaka Kriyaangam and Sevaangam (festive)96
Chenda Melam Festive (Sevaangam)96
Kuzalpattu Festive (Sevaangam)97
Pancha Vaadyan (Kriyaangam and Sevaangam)97
Panchari Sevaangam (Festive)98
Paandi Melam (Sevaangam)99
Some Rare Melams 99
Dhruvam Shatkaari vanam Kalpan Layan, Champa Anchadantha
Adantha Keli
Chapter Four
The Thalinankas ( The ancient female temple dancers)
of Kerala
Thali and Nankas 103
Utthamothana or Devaangana 105
Madhyamaa The Sevaangi 109
Adhamaa the Daas yaangi 111
Chapter Five
Solo Female dances and compositions of Kerala 113
Source and Authenticity of the collection 116
Areas of temples where dances were presented 116
Procedure 117
Dance compositions of the Sanctum 117
Sthree Nrithyams of the Ranga Mandapam and their Rachanas 124
Uparropaka Janya Rachanas 126
Chapter Six
Sthree Nrithyams and their Rachanas
Pre-Svaathi Period 130
Svaathi Period 133
Post-Svaathi Period 134
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