Sopanasangeetham is a musical art form performed with the accompaniment of Idaykka especially in the temples of Kerala. Sopanasangeetham is recited only when the inner sanctum sanctorum of the temple is closed for customary ceremonial offerings to gods and goddesses. Only the ‘Maaraar’ and ‘Pothuval’ community had the privilege of doing this. It is also sung with the accompaniment of another musical instrument named ‘chengila’. It is customary to sing this song, from the time the inner sanctum sanctorum closes to the time it opens, in praise of the respective god or goddesses, the temple is dedicated to. The lyrics is either in Malayalam or Sanskrit. The 24 songs in ‘Geethagovintham’, which is known to be India’s first light music composition.
In the past there existed four different castes in Kerala.- Brahmin, kshthriya, vaisya and soodhra. The ‘Maaraar’ and ‘Pothuvaal’ community belonged to the ‘Sudhras’, lowest in status compared to the other castes. They used to sing the Sopaanasangeetham from inside the temple. It was Njeralathu Raamapothuvaal who made the most important and notable contribution towards this genre of music. He rebelled against the beliefs, breaking Sopanasangeetham free from the shackles of customary rules and started performing anywhere he liked. This was done with the notion that he ardently believed that the ‘God is omnipresent’. And thus he instituted a version of the Sopaanasangeetham that he sang outside the temple as ‘Bhajanam’ or prayer and popularized it as the 'Janahitha Sopaanam' (the sopaanam according to the interest of the public) of the masses and the common man. Today, Njeralathu Harigovindan, the sixth son of Njeralath Raamappothuvaal is the only singer of Sopaanasangeetham who adopts this method in Kerala. His brother Njeralath Aanandha Sivaraaman is the only person in Kerala who produces an Idaykka in its real structural and complete form.
A musical instrument literally means a tool or piece of equipment which when played rhythmically produces musical tones. If this is agreeable, then Idaykka can and must be considered and classified as a musical instrument. The literal meaning of an instrument in Sanskrit is ‘Vaadayathe Anena’ or 'Vaadayithum Yogyam' – ‘which can be played’. Idaykka can be categorized under the instruments like Chenda, Mridangham, etc. But in Kerala instead of stating that Idaykka is to be beaten rhythmically like as we do on Chenda or Mridangham, it is said that Idaykka is to be played rhythmically.
As for the origin of the name of Idaykka (Edakka), it is believed that it came from the sound ‘Dakka’. It is well known to people who have an idea of Hinduism that this is the instrument, which in tied on the ‘Trishool’ of Lord Shiva. The use of onomatopoeia by keralites is also well known. Thus the ‘Dakka’ sound transformed in to words like ‘Edakka’ and ‘Idaykka’.
According to Pathanjali and Panini the importance of ‘Dakka’ lies in the fact that the various consonants and vowels of our language is derived from this ‘Dakka’
It is also believed that once when lord Shiva and Parvathi stopped their dance. The Dakka tied on to the Trishul of lord Shiva produced 14 different sounds. According to Pathanjali it is these sounds, which later became vowels and consonants of our language.
"Nrithaavasane Nataraaja Raajo
Nanaada Dakkaam Navapancha Vaaran
Udhdhartha Kaamo Sanakaadi Sidhdhaan
Ethath Vimarsho Shiva Soothra Jaalam"
This is what Panini has stated in this ‘sloka’ (stanza). The 14 differents sounds produced is as follows:
|Ayi Un||Riluk||E On||Ay Auch||Hayavarat|
With reference to this assumption it is assumed that the instrument ‘dakka’ or Idaykka has the ability to produce all the sounds in a language. Accordingly, it is assumed that Dakka or Idaykka like every other instrument can produce every musical tone.
It is quite interesting to note that the Idaykka is a developed from of the ‘Thudi’ an instrument used by the ancient tribesmen who lived in the forest and that of the ‘Pootham’ artisans and it is no wonder why Idaykka was given a pivotal position in the Trishul of lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is also interpreted to be the lord of the aboriginals. And thus it is quite clear that Idakkya has a profound relationship with gods.
In the ‘Musical gemss’ of lord Vishnu there is mention about 3 types of instruments Huduka, Dakka and Madhidkkya which are similar to each other in structure. It is assumed and some insights reveal that Idaykka is the developed from of Mandidakkya.
Once this instrument which belonged to lord Vishnu, was stolen by the disciples (Bhoothaganam) of lord Shiva and used during the dance performance of lord Shiva. When lord Shiva knew about this, he ordered them to return it back to lord Vishnu. But when they approached him lord Vishnu turned down their apologies and cursed them by saying ‘if you keep this instrument on the ground, that place will be destroyed’. This is another version of the story regarding Idakkya that still find place among the traditional instrumentalists.
Goddess Baghavathi ‘the goddess of knowledge and learning ‘is considered as the goddess of Idaykka in the ‘musical gems’ of lord Vishnu. Mention has been made about Idakkya being used while reciting the customary songs named ‘charyagaanam’ for worshipping ‘goddess Bhagavathi’. Mention of this kind has been made in many other books.
Even Kunjan Nambiar, the famous Malayalam poet mentioned about Idakkya in his ‘Ghoshayathra’ (procession). Idaykka finds place in most of the literary works that has close links with Dravidian culture.
Idaykka is still used and popularized as an instrument of and for the gods and goddess. ‘Idaykka’ was not seen or used even in the court of king Swathitirunal ‘ the most coveted connoisseur and patron of music. It was not seen to be used by the musician and karnatic song maestro Thyagaraja, when classical musician ‘Shadkala Govindamarar’ visited him. This means that in the early days, use of Idaykka on a stage along with the accompaniment of other instruments was confined to the cultural and customary rites and rituals.
It is seen that Idaykka and its mellifluous sound is used in temple during ceremonial offering and during special festivals. The instrumentalists belonging to ‘Marar ‘ and ‘pothuval’ community has the privilege of using Idaykka during special customary festivals like, ‘Vilakkacharam’, Idaykka ‘ Pradhaskhinam’ in the temples of Kerala. Idaykka is famous for its use as an instrument to be played with a devotional song praising gods and goddesses, by the Idaykka artist himself when the inner sanctum sanctorum of the temple is closed for ceremonial offering. It is also used in accompaniment with an instrument named ‘Mizhavu’, which is the principle instrument for ‘Koodiyattam’ ‘ a traditional dance form of Kerala.
Apart from this it is used during the performance of traditional dance forms like ‘Mohiniyattam’ ‘Thiruvathirakali, ’Ottamthullal’ and in Kadhakali (only when the female rules are enacted). It is also used in a musical performance like Sopanasangheetham (performed when the inner sanctum sanctorum of the temple in closed for customary offerings). Devotional musical concerts, recital of Kadhakali songs and in modern musical composition like light music poetry recitation and also in instrumental musical concerts like Panjavaadhyam ,Idaykkathayambaka and Idakkakacherry (concert). It is quite interesting to note that the potential and the mellifluous sound of these instruments is made use of by the modern music composers.
Learning to play an Idaykka:
The main peculiarity in learning most of the traditional musical instruments of Kerala like the Chenda , Idaykka etc. is that, the beginners will not be taught the instrument using that particular instrument. Instead they will have to master the art of playing it by practicing on a similar shaped object made of wood or stone. It is the farsightedness of the great teachers of there musical instruments who have coined this idea. They may have wanted the students to master it with great difficulty until there is proper hand and mind co-ordination to attain rhythm.
For the beginners of ‘Idaykka’, they are usually given a block of wood called ‘Kayyatha’ or ‘a block of wood which suits the hand’ and a stick made from tamarind tree. They have to stand while practicing and are made to practice different rhythmic oral tunes like ‘Thakuku’, ‘Themkuku’, Thathakuku’. ‘Them Them kuku’ ‘Thakida’ ‘Thakida’, ‘Thathakida’, at different speeds. The rest of the tunes must be formulated with ones own imagination.
There are no schools in which ‘Idaykka’ is being taught except the school run by Njeralathu Hari Govindan. People who have mastered ‘Chenda’ will be able to play ‘Idaykka’ with a little bit of practice. In any case it is only through rigorous practice and devotion that one can master ‘the Idaykka’.
There are not many who had the privilege to learn to make authentic Idakkas. Ananda Sivaraman, the son of Late Njeralathu Rama Pothuval and the only person who have mastered the ‘Artisanship’ of making an Idaykka in Kerala, also shares this opinion. This article link leads to the inner details of Idaykka: Idaykka">http://www.chintha.com/node/622”>Idaykka - A detailed study
Idaykka is the only traditional musical instrument of Kerala, the component of which can be assembled and dissembled conveniently. An assembled Idaykka is usually hung on the wall. In some temples it is being outside the door of the inner sanctum sanctorum, which add to its beauty. It is now commonly used for ornamentation in the houses not only by Keralites but also by foreigners.
Njeralathu Hari Govindan