My first memory of Pallavur, my maternal village dates back to the late 60s when we moved in from Valparai, in the Anamallais. Those were times when the naxalite movement was gathering steam and a few landlords received letters of threat. As a child, it amused me to hear adults talk in hushed tones about those letters written in ‘blood’. Pallavur, a tiny village southeast of Palakkad, was then a non-descript hamlet with dusty, pot-holed roads. Though located at an almost mid-point on the Kollengode – Alathur road, there were hardly any buses plying down the road. Life was quiet, the place serene. Truly time stood still.
Occasional hustles and bustles lent quaint allure to this charming rustic life. These were when the traditional festivals were celebrated with caparisoned elephants, pomp and splendour at the Tripallavurappan temple – the Aarattu in March – April & the Seventh Day Navaratri festival. These are held to propitiate Lord Shiva, the presiding deity. Mentioned in history as one of the 108 Shiva temples of Kerala, it is believed that Khara (of Ramayana fame) installed the idol by his teeth. Hence, the name Pallavur. No toddy or liquor shops are seen within two kilometres of this temple. Something uniquely divine indeed.
The precincts of this temple saw the Pallavur Trio of Appu Marar, Manian Marar & Kunjukutta Marar begin their journey of acclaim, catapulting Pallavur into limelight with their temple tala ensembles of Chendamelam, Thayambaka & Panchavadyam. These are highly developed forms of art with Panchavadyam leading the rest by virtue of synchronization of different instruments in different pitches into a thrilling crescendo of percussion music. It is only in Kerala that we find such a wide array of percussion instruments in use.
The Kanniyar Kali was another great draw. Coinciding with the holiday season in May it invited the migrants to get back home for the festivities. This thorough rustic folk art form is performed only in certain pockets, to the east of Palakkad district. With its fast moving steps, lively music, lyrics laced with humour & satire and accompanying drum beats, it was wholesome entertainment for people before the advent of the electronic media.
The seventies & eighties found Pallavur taking a giant stride in the path of progress. The CBSE School run by Chinmaya Mission made its presence felt in the educational scenario, easing the travails of many students who had to travel 8-10 kilometres struggling against inadequate transport facilities. The visits of Swami Chinmayanda, his impressive entourage and his brilliant lectures left lasting impressions in the minds of people.
The shortest route from Palakkad to the lush Nelliampathy hills via Pallavur opened in the nineties. This expanded Pallavur’s horizons further. With asphalted roads, came more transport facilities. The Pallavur Trio standing head and shoulders above the others, were keenly sought after for festivals. Awards and accolades came in search of them. And every time their names were printed in the vernacular and English media, Pallavur lapped it all up with immense pride.
We waited eagerly for our local festivals to hear and relish the magic of the fingers of our favourite Trio. Appu Marar, the eldest, was a genius of his own kind. While performing Panchavadyam, he managed with ease, the Thimila or Edakka. At the Elanji Thara Melam, during the Thrissur Pooram festival, he revelled at the Chenda. Well-versed in Karnatic music, he displayed fine musical sense and rhythm. Crowds went into rapture while hearing him play the 1960s evergreen Malayalam hit ‘Thechi Mandaram Tulasi’ in Edakka. Keenly interested in Sopana Sangeetham, he played the Edakka mellifluously as accompaniment. A perfect guru to his younger brothers, he watched with joy and pride their immense success.
Manian Marar was also quite adept at many of the temple percussion instruments like his elder brother, but made a mark with his expertise in the Thimila. Kunju Kutta Marar, who had a wonderful sense of humour, on the other hand was unsurpassed at the Chenda. Chenda is considered to be an ‘asura vadyam’ but the Pallavur brothers, gracefully infused music into it.
Today, Pallavur is teeming with life. Every three minutes, a bus plies up or down the road. The verdant paddy fields, once a sight to behold, are a rarity. Houses have sprung up, blotting the landscape. Agricultural produce has dwindled and coconut produce halved. Cable television has entered homes but pay channels are yet to make inroads. Agraharams, around the temple are without the Brahmin populace; many have gone in search of greener pastures.
And the Trio, on whose glory Pallavur basked, is there no more. Death snatched all the three within a span of 18 months, the last being Appu Marar, who passed away on 9th December, 2002. By then, this Mela Acharya had regaled his audiences for 47 Thrissur Poorams and 60 Nemmara Velas. Their void can never be filled up. But Pallavur will continue to savour the glory of these stalwarts – for they have lent our village’s name for the style they created – the Pallavur style – and left it for posterity. Pallavur and the lovers of these temple arts are sure of it to stand the test of time.
(This piece was written in December 2002 when a sense of loss overpowered me – as a tribute to the Pallavur Brothers, on Appu Marar’s death.)