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Kerala –Music Traditions


Kerala has enriched the  cultural heritage of India in the field of music, vocal and instrumental, both in its art form and in its folk form. Music , like dancing , had its orgin in the primitive dances and plays developed by the ancient people in propitation of the deities of the hills and forests.The development of such art forms as Kuthu, Kudiyattam, Ashtapadi Attam, Krishnanattam, Ramanattam, Kathakali etc gave impetus to music , for all these performances singing had the pride of place.



An indigenous classical music called “ Sopanasangitam” was developed in the temples of Kerala in the wake of the increasing popularity of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda or Ashtapadi.In the singing of the Ashtapadi and musical compositions of Dikshitar, Swati Tirunal and others to the  accompainment of the drum called Edakka the “ Sopanasangitam” in its traditional form is seen at its best. Marars and Kurups who were hereditary experts in Sopana sangitam  are now rare and only in a few places like Guruvayur, Vaikom, Ambalapuzha, Trichur, Tripunithara, Chottanikara, Tripayar etc. The Kathakali padas composed by a galaxy of scholars like Irayimman Tampi and the Thullal songs of Kunjan Nambiar also contributed considerably to the growth of the musical culture of Kerala.



The credit for having  given to Kerala an important place in the field of Karnatic music goes to Swati Tirunal, the ruler of Travancore. His reign has been called the “Augustan Age of Kerala Music”.Himself a musician and composer of high calibre , Swati was a generous patron of music and musicians. His court was adorned by some of the most gifted musicians of the age.Swati Tirunal composed a number of Karnatic and Hindustani songs in popular ragas and tunes.


In the field of folk music and light music too Kerala has an enviable record . The Vadakkan Pattukal, the Thekkan Pattukal, the Kalyana Pattukal and the Mapila Pattukal have enriched folk music . Further , there are numerous songs composed to be sung in connection with the performance of such arts as Kaikottikali, Kummi, Kolattam, Ayyappan Pattu etc. and the celebration of such festivals as Onam, Tiruvatira, Pooram etc. All these are substancial contributions to Kerala’s wealth in folk music. The boat songs or “ Vanchipattukal” sung in connection with the boat regatta also come under this group. The songs composed for the Malayalam cinema and the Malayalam theatre come under the category of songs called light music. These have become immensly popular in Kerala in recent times.


A number of musical instruments are used in Kerala namely percussion, wind and stringed instruments. Mridangam, Dolak, Udukku, Chenda, Timila, Edakka, Takil and a few other represent the percussion type . Instruments like Nadaswaram, Kombu, Kuzhal, Mukhaveena etc. are wind instruments. The chief stringed instruments are Veena, Tamburu, Sarangi, Swarabi and Violin.




Some typical temple arts in which instrumental music plays an important part have evolved in Kerala. Chenda Melam has become indispensable for all temple festivals. Tayambaka is also a typical temple  vadya of Kerala. Panchavadyam is another unique  temple art in which the sounds emanating  from five principal musical instruments – Maddalam, Edakka, Timila, Kombu and Elathalam- and two auxiliaries  (Sankhu and Kuzhal) in variying pitches are synchronised to the immense delight and excitement of the audience.