Thayambaka or tayambaka is a type of solo chenda performance that developed in the south Indian state of Kerala, in which the main player at the centre improvises rhythmically on the beats of half-a-dozen or a few more chenda and ilathalam players around.
A thayambaka performance on the chenda has thus its focus on the stick-and-palm rolls produced on the itantala (treble) of the chenda, while the rhythm is laid by his fellow instrumentalists on the valanthala (bass) chendas and ilatalam (cymbals).. Thayambaka, believed to have flourished during the feudal era, spans an average of 90 minutes. It begins at a slow pace before scaling on to a medium tempo and eventually culminating in high, frenzied speed. It has a skeletal pattern on which the performance progresses, but the main performer has the liberty to improvise and innovate to showcase his grip of rhythm, finesse of techniques and cerebral brilliance. In fact, thayambaka is one chenda concert that allows maximum individual freedom to the main player.
Thayambaka, like panchavadyam or most chenda melams, is primarily a temple art, but it is also performed outside shrines -- like on proscenium stages, open fields or pagentry grounds. As a ritual temple art, thayambaka is performed mostly at the annual festivals soon after the sunset ritual of deeparadhana inside the sanctum sanctorum, following which the deity is brought to the nadappura (open hall inside the temple precincts). In such cases too, artful exhibition of skills remain prominent, yet the performance is regarded as an offering to the presiding god/goddess. Like any art, thayambaka has its connoisseurs huddled around, listening to every beat of the player and judging them critically.
Over the past half a century or so, there have also been thayambaka performances with more than one main player. If they total two, it is called double thayambaka; and if they are three, it is called triple thayambaka. Rarely, there is also the pancha thayambaka, featuring five main chenda players in a row. One of the earliest to design and execute a double thayambaka was Prof.M N Nambudiripad of Moothiringode Mana near Pattambi. He was a percussionist, a photographer, an electronics engineer and a connoisseur of all art forms. According to Sri Kanhoor Krishnan Nambudiripad, Thrithala Kunhikrishna Poduval and Kodalil Gopi Poduval were the first to perform under the guidance of Prof Nambudiripad at Moothiringode Mana. The second performance was at Pulamanthole temple, near Pattambi. Thayambaka, like any major percussion art in India, is largely a male domain, though of late it has a handful of women practitioners as well. Also, thayambaka is occasionally performed on the mizhavu, an instrument that provides support to koodiyattam and koothu performances, besides idakka and less common instruments like villu. Certain patterns of rhythmic rolls in the thayambaka have influenced the taniyavartanam, the 20-minute-or-so instrumental concert on Carnatic music concerts, where mridangam plays the lead role.
Prominent Schools of Thayambaka
Thayambaka, which predominantly developed in central Kerala, has two major schools -- called Malamakkavu and Palakkad. The Malamakkavu school is known for its measured progression and grammatical purity, especially in the initial Pathikaalam stage. The Palakkad school revels in imagination and lays emphasis on an improvisation-filled Kooru besides a prolonged yet patterned irikida.
It is another matter that thayambaka manifests itself with subtle changes in patterns and overall aesthetics in all the places it has developed over the years -- from northern Travancore to the erstwhile provinces of Kochi and Kozhikode.