AN EQUAL MUSIC
Living Museum of Urur-Olcott Kuppam
IN PORAMBOKE, WHICH means land outside the purview of assessed land records, Magsaysay awardee T.M. Krishna sings “it is not for you, nor for me, it is for the community, it is for the earth”. It sums up his choice of “unusual locations”, like the living museum that is the fishing hamlet of Urur-Olcott Kuppam, to start what he called conversations in 2014 in a bid to democratise Carnatic music. To take it to the man whose ear it had not fallen on thus far. To the people who could not afford his ticketed concerts. For them, he would sing, in the mornings.
“I see it as a metaphor for possibility,” says Krishna. “We remain isolated. How can we listen and talk?”
Krishna recounts an incident over the phone. “I first heard it at the festival (the vizha that Krishna conducts every year in the village). I was walking through the bylanes of the village asking people to come to the performance space when I heard it.” He is talking about the paraiattam, a form of drumming traditionally associated with funerals. But it is actually about caste, which extends to ritual, food, attire, even music. So the mridangam, thavil and parai are not mere musical instruments but representations of the caste hierarchy. All are made of animal hide—mridangam from goatskin, thavil from buffalo skin on one side and goatskin on the other and parai from cowhide. And in the prevalent social order, the mridangam, presumed to be a divine instrument, was the preserve of the upper castes, the thavil of the intermediate castes and parai of the Dalits. “The drumming,” says Krishna, “is loud and passionate and you have to dance to it. If a person does not dance or move his body to the beat of the parai, he is presumed to be dead, they say.”
He danced to it. When he heard it first, on the street, and later on the stage, at the end of the festival.