A brief note on Kudukka Veena – A very rare temple musical instrument

It’s not the case of just Kerala or cultural India, we have lost many art forms in the course of time, due to less popularity or artists to carry forward that tradition. Due to the westernization of Indian culture, we have lost many folk and cultural elements in the first one century or so. Most of them were deeply linked to cultural India and its traditions, but slowly faded away. For the same reason, many of rare instruments are not familiar to present generation, and only a few people try to popularize such instruments in the present times. Through this column I shall introduce you to such a very rare musical instrument once played in temples – Rudraveena.

Rajesh Kammatt and Kavil Sundaran Marar are among those distinguished artists who have tried to keep those traditions live, by popularizing Kudukka Veena among youngsters.

Kavil Sundaran Marar performing Kadukka Veena

Kudukka Veena is at least three centuries old

Kudukka veena, an ancient musical instrument is not familiar to we people as it is not widely used in musical concerts or performing arts of present times. But Kudukka veena is more than 300 years old. Though it’s a temple musical instrument, it best suits for study purposes. The instrument which has disappeared due to neglectance is slowly earning glory in the recent times, following the sincere efforts made by a few artists. Thrikkamburam Kuttikrishna Marar played a prominent role in bringing back this musical instrument alive, and popularized it also. He was a descendant of the musical legend, Shadkala Govinda Marar.

Kudukka veena is the predecessor of Idakka  

Kudukka veena was made long before Idakka, a famous Kerala musical instrument associated with temples and festivals. During ancient days, students who study Idakka also had to play this musical instrument as a part of their studies. A Kaimutti made from some piece of wood was used by left hand while ‘Kotti’ (Kol) – a stick is used by right hand to study Idakka those days. After that, students used to continue their studies with Kudukka veena. As time passed by, students started learning from Idakka directly, leaving behind their practice in Kaimutti and Kudukka veena. Slowly Kudukka veena also lost its glory.

How is Kudukka Veena made?

It’s made using two coconut shells (Onnara Chiratta means 1 ½ coconut shell). For that, a full coconut shell is designed in the shape of a kadukka, and a half shell which does the job of a resonator. Then a single string (Jeevakol) is fixed to complete the designing process. A thin peacock stem is used to play this instrument, and occasionally using midrib of coconut leaf (eerkkil). This instrument evokes curiosity among spectators, and it plays beautifully also. It sounds unique, and is unique in appearance too. It also exhibits some traditional skills in designing and is painted also. So it can also include in ‘art and crafts’ tag.

Kudukka Veena is placed on the left shoulder while playing and the artist uses a cloth belt to fix it in position. This belt is called kacha in local terms. The tension of the single string can be adjusted to produce different notes.

Kudukka veena was popular in south Kerala

This instrument was very popular in some of the places of south Kerala such as Moovattupuzha, Ramamangalam etc, where it was used to accompany Sopana sangeetam during worships and rituals in temples. Sopana sangeetam was sung during Nivedyam (food offerings to god) of Kerala temples. In the recent times, artist Rakesh Kammath played a magnificent role in popularizing Kudukka veena in Thrissur, Palakkad etc. He made it possible by doing it as a project in the final semester of his Master’s studies. He did a project work on musical instruments of Kerala, and made know about this musical instrument to the outer world. Slowly this Veena became a part of Kammatt’s life.

Kammatt learnt to play this instrument from Kavil Sundaran Marar, who regularly performs the instrument in musical concerts. Since he learnt it 5 years ago, Kammatt also performs in live concerts. He is accompanied by his elder brother Vineesh Kammatt for his concerts. Both are prominent names in Idakka and Sopana Sangeetham, and perform live also. Kammatt is a Malayalam school teacher who works at Lakkadi.

Kudukka Veena in historic books and documents

There is mentioning of a musical instrument named ‘Kudukai Veena’ in the books written during Sangam period. Kudukka Veena may be a modification of this musical instrument, mentioned in the books written during 3rd century BC to 3rd century AD.

Now artists who play this instrument can be counted in finger tips. Kavil Sundaran Marar, Uramana Rajan Marar, Kottaram Sangeet Marar, Rakesh Kammath and Kottaram Sangeeth are a few. Vadakkedath Appu Marar, Kavil Unnikrishnan and Thazhathedath Govinda Marar are some of the famous artists of yesterdays who played this instrument. Vadakkedath Appu Marar was Krishnankutty Marar’s guru. It’s not easy to play this instrument. That may be the reason why only a few names are associated with this instrument.

Kuduka Veena was re-introduced to recitals in the 1990s, accompanied by violin and mridangam. Edakka is often played. A pickup is used by a few artists nowadays to amplify its sound. Though it’s no longer in use in temples, it’s played in cultural events, music concerts etc.

Read a few articles related to Kerala art, traditional music and dance forms followed since many decades and centuries. Here is the page link. Click on the images in the gallery to read
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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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