e-ISSN: 2625-378X
p-ISSN: 2701-2689


Kerala´s Ancient Mizhavu Drum: Transformations and Sustainability

K. Sajith Vijayan [കലാമണ്ഡലം സജിത്ത് വിജയൻ] and Karin Bindu

ASIAN-EUROPEAN MUSIC RESEARCH JOURNAL 8 (2021)     pp: 27-38     2021-12-09

Stichworte/keywords: Mizhavu, Kūṭiyāṭṭam, Percussion, Kerala, Nampyar, Kalamandalam

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Bindu, K., and Vijayan, K.S. (2021). Kerala´s Ancient Mizhavu Drum: Transformations and Sustainability. ASIAN-EUROPEAN MUSIC RESEARCH JOURNAL, 8 , 27-38. doi:10.30819/aemr.8-4
doi = {10.30819/aemr.8-4},
url = {},
year = 2021,
publisher = {Logos Verlag Berlin},
volume = {8},
pages = {27-38},
author = {K. Sajith Vijayan [കലാമണ്ഡലം സജിത്ത് വിജയൻ] and Karin Bindu},
title = {Kerala´s Ancient Mizhavu Drum: Transformations and Sustainability},

The Kerala state in India offers a huge assemblage of various percussion eccentricities. Each percussion instrument sustains and preserves its own attributes: some drums accompany visual arts, others create a vibrant world of percussion music, and a few maintain both attributes. Almost all instruments are related to ceremonial pursuance and worship customs. Mizhavu is a single-headed drum from Kerala that employs these kinds of ceremonial pursuance. The purpose of the instrument, which had also been used in temples in Tamil Nadu, is to accompany the Kūṭiyāṭṭam and Kuttu performances in the great temples (mahakshetras) for the pleasure of God’s souls and the invocation of their powers. Kūṭiyāṭṭam and Kuttu – Kerala’s Sanskrit drama performing art forms – have been recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage due to 2000 years of tradition. As ‘visual sacrifice’ staging scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, they combine dance with theatre performance, Sanskrit verses (slokas), and percussive music in a ritualistic context. The main supporting percussion instrument (mizhavu) serves as deva vādyam – an instrument for the deities. Its classification as a one-headed drum covered with skin (avanaddha vadya of the dardura type) goes back to the Natya Shastra of Bharatamuni – some 2000 years ago. Definitions as kettledrum (bhanda vadya) trace it back to Kautilya’s Arthasastra. The Buddhist Pali Tripitaka refers to pot drums (kumba toonak). Tamil epics mention a muzha or kuta muzha drum. Publications in recent decades nearly mention that drum. Production methods, forms, and material of the drum have changed over the ages. Attached to the artistic heritage of a certain Brahmin caste – the Nampyar – the drum has spent a long period in the environment of temple theatres. Since 1966, it has been taught to pupils of all castes at the Kerala Kalamandalam, Thrissur District. P.K.K. Nambiar worked as the first mizhavu teacher in the later added Kūṭiyāṭṭam department. He was followed by his pupil K. Eswaranunni, the first mizhavu guru from another caste, fighting for acceptance among members of Chakyar and Nampyar families. As a passionate master with numerous awards and performance experience all over the world, K. Eswaranunni has trained most of the contemporary mizhavu percussionists, who are still performing all over India as well as abroad. This paper gives an overview of the instrument and shows how the mizhavu is described by both gurus in their books written in Malayalam and by both authors including their personal relations to the drum.
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