Thayambaka is a renowned orchestra of Kerala. It features a unique symphony of chendas beaten in a rousing rhythm. Just as Panchavadya ensemble, thayambaka in every sense is of Kerala’s music. Only ilathalam of panchavadya ensemble is used in thayambaka and many chendas are used. Different from chenda ensemble, in thayambaka only one hand has a stick, the other hand is used without any sticks.
When different instrumentalists produce different sounds and thereby create a rhythmic pattern, that experience is panchavadya ensemble. But thayambaka is totally different. Thayambaka is presented by a single individual. Based on certain rules, there is ample scope for ‘manodharma’ (improvisation) music in Thaymbaka. The duty of the chenda players and ilathala players is to provide tala to the thayambaka presenter. As there is enough scope for improvisation many experts have been attracted to Thayambaka. They took Thayambaka to every nook and corner of Kerala.
Thayambaka might have originated as a temple art form. For, it is older than Panchavadyam. Yet, it is only in the beginning of the 20th centuary that Thayambaka began to be experimented with. It was during the same period that Thayambaka began to evolve as an independent form of instrumental percussion music.
Artistes like Pallavoor Appu Marar, Thrithala Kuttikrishna Poduval, Aliparambil Sivarama Poduval, Pallavoor Kochukuttan Marar, Pookattiri Divakara Poduval, Sadanan Vasudevan, Kalloor Ramankutty Marar took thayambaka to great heights making it world famous. Those who succeeded them like Mattannoor Sankarankutty, Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, Kallekulagara Achuthankutty, Panamanna Sasi, Kalamandalam Krishnadas, Kalamandalam Balaraman and Thrithala brothers made creative contributions to thayambaka. Their style of playing and improvisation have made this art form inspiring and enchanting.
From single individual or solo performance, Thayambaka has moved to double thayambaka (with two players) and triple or penta Thayambaka performance. There was a time when Thayambaka would be performed with mizhavu. But mizhavu-thayambaka could not attain the status of Chenda Thayambaka.
Among the instruments of Kerala, Chenda holds a special place. The chenda’s right top is considered as devavadyam and the left top is asuravadyam. This difference is absent in the case of Thayambaka. Thayambaka is played on the left. The accompanying chenda artistes too play on the left top, the rest play on the right. Besides, the Thayambaka players, two idamthalakar, two valamthalakar, two ilathalakars. The bigger the venue and larger the time and mela, the number of accompanying artistes increases. Yet, the number of idanthalakar should not go beyond two.
Just before Thayambaka commences, there is what is known as ‘kottivaikkal’. This is also referred to as ‘Sandhyavela’. Four or five valathalakar and one or two idamthalakar make the announcement (vilambharam). The Sandhyavela is played in Adantha, Ekam talas. It lasts for ten minutes.
Kerala’s major instrumental music – panchavadyam, chenda ensemble, thayambaka – opens with a slow tempo and rises just as width of a tower that decreases as the height increases. The rhythmic pattern or time sequence moves from vilambam to drutha that is how it is conceived. But the Thayambaka, though in slow tempo, is an exception. With so many subtle nuances, its music is melodious. That’s why the audience enjoys listening to Thayambaka music.