Preface – Just couldn’t help completing this post today and that too just days after reading an article in the “The Hindu” about the “melams” that have started in and around temples in Kerala heralding the devotional season and as a precursor to the “Poorams” which will commence shortly afterwards.
So, let me rewind back to the nights of the Aratupuzha Pooram, 2017. Two poorams one for the presiding deity (Shaasthavu) featuring about 150 musicians (these include the drummers, the men on cymbals and the wind instruments) and the other the following day with about 250 musicians.
No, I just didn’t emerge from a “Metallica” concert or for that matter a concert of any of my favourite rock bands or from a festival of concerts of such bands because NOTHING even comes close to the pure Adrenalin infused (no booze, no drugs) headbanging experience, the drumming (melam), the Aratupuzha Pooram offers. Take it from a guy, who has been listening to rock music for over three decades.
First, let me ask you something. Do you like drums, the sound of drums, or better still, how much do you like drums?
Probably you have one or more favourite drummers and you watch their solos (which very rarely do not last over 10 minutes) over and over again. Eventually you do get tired of them too. Watching them live is a better experience but even that is a brief affair.
So what’s special about the drumming at the Aratupuzha Pooram?
- Unlike the solos of your favourite drummer (not denigrating them or their performances), the drumming at the Aratupuzha Pooram lasts anywhere between two and a half hours to three and a half hours.
- The group of musicians never practice or rehearse “as a group”. They just come together and play to perfection without skipping a single beat! Tabla virtuoso and percussionist Zakir Hussain, called it the world’s greatest orchestra. One German tourist at the venue told me the Brazilian Samba is similar in that that the the performers can join or leave as and when they desire. On day 1 there are about 150 musicians and on day 2 about 250 in all. Some of the drummers themselves are old veterans including Achuthan Maraar who is 65 or maybe even older. Most of the performances I have been to are lead by the veteran Padmasri Kuttan Maraar. Most of the time Achuthan Maraar is seen standing next to Kuttan Maraar. Maraars are drummers by profession who perform for Temple and other religious and auspicious functions.
- No microphones or amplifiers used. What you hear and see is what you get! Amplifiers can drain you but even the three plus hours of this frenzied drumming will not tire you. Toddlers,youngsters and senior citizens (maybe in their 80’s or even 90’s, Oh yes, Aratupuzha has people even older than a 100 years) can be seen enjoying the show. By the way the YouTube upload of the concert is a poor replica of the sound you experience live. Actually there is hardly any comparison! It’s like the difference between watching the Grand Canyon on a postcard and actually being there.
- One may find the drumming patterns repetitive but the way the musicians change the pace and bring the drumming to a climax and then bring it back to the beginning pace (they do this several times) concluding with a giant climax is something to be seen and heard to believe!
Here’s one YouTube link I found online. Like I mentioned earlier, it hardly comes close to the real thing.
And unlike several rock drummers (again not denigrating them) there is no use of any kind of drugs or alcohol as it is completely taboo in a holy and religious festival as the Pooram. The three hour long performance has no breaks and the only respite is warm water with dried ginger in it that are served by volunteers while the performance is still on. The stamina of these musicians is mind blowing particularly the guys on the cymbals.
The other spectacle are the caparisoned elephants and the colourful umbrellas and the fireworks (literally sonic booms that shatter glass windoes, my British acquaintance though there was a minor earthquake) at the end but my eyes and ears were on the musicians, drummers in particular. The “Devasanghamam” on the early morning (after the second day of drumming) is a sight to behold. You can count at least 60+ plus ornately decorated elephants on that day. A lot of drumming takes place on that day too but unlike the drumming on the nights.
I was told by one friend there (who helps out at the pooram) that the drumming does good to one’s brain. After-all when the Gods provide entertainment, can it be beaten?
The Aratupuzha Pooram 2018 isn’t very far. The function is around March/April. Other “poorams” and festivals invite the same musicians and if I can recall, the performances take place at Peruvanam, Thripunithura and Thrissur.
Like to check out the festivals of Kerala. The Kerala tourism board is developing an app for the same. Meanwhile you can access all the info online at http://www.demo.prixelmedia.com/festival/fest/
Not to be missed, put it on your itinerary for 2018.