The "idakka" (Malayalam: ഇടയ്ക്ക), also spelt edakka, is an hourglass-shaped drum from Kerala in south India. This handy percussion instrument is very similar to the pan-Indian damaru. While the damaru is played by rattling knotted cords against the resonators, the idakka is played with a stick. Like the damaru, the idakka's pitch may be bent by squeezing the lacing in the middle.

The idakka is slung over the left shoulder and the right side of the instrument is beaten with a stick. The left hand is used for tightening and loosening the tape wound round the middle. Varying the tension of the tape produces variations in tones. Simple melodies extending over one octave can be played in this instrument. The idakka is considered to be Devavadyam (a divine instrument) and is customarily played standalone during the puja at temples or as the accompaniment to the sopanam music just outside the sanctum sanctorum, customarily by the Ambalavasi community Marar or Poduval. More popuarly, it is one of the five instruments that constitute the panchavadhyam ensemble of Kerala.

Kathakali, the classical dance-drama from Kerala, also gives a slot to playing the idakka when a female character holds the stage (when the Chenda is not played). In Koodiyattam too, the Idakka gives good support to the mizhavu (pot drum). The idakka is an indispensable accompaniment for other dance forms, most notably Mohiniyattam and Krishnanattam. It has become an accepted member of several dance troupes outside Kerala. Idakka is also used to present the traditional concert called Thayambaka.

Idakka is regarded as a difficult instrument to master, given that the rolls are produced from a single stick (not two unlike in the case of the chenda) and that the practitioner should have a good sense of both rhythm and music. There are many institutions in Kerala where idakka is being taught, the most important among them being Kerala Kalamandalam and Kshetra Kalapeetham, Vaikkam.

Of the current lot of Idakka artists, the most famous include Thiruvilvamala Hari, Tripunithura Krishnadas, Chottanikara Subhash Marar, Tichur Mohanan, Chendamangalam Unni, Kakkayoor Appukuttan, Cherpulassery Krishnakumar Poduval, Payyavur Narayana Marar and Thiruvillwamala Jayan and Njeralath Harigovindan. The one name that is always synonymous with idakka and Sopana sangeetham in the second half of the 20th century has been the legendary Pallavur Appu Marar -- he, unlike many others, was an expert in using it both as a percussion and musical instrument.

Divinity of Edaykka

As an instrument that is associated with puja in temples, idakka music primarily creates a mood of devotion (bhakti) Textually, too it has the following factors that adds to its divinity.

1. The two faces of the idakka represents Sooryan (the Sun) and Chandran (the Moon).2. The (cylinder-shaped) central stem forms the shareeram (body).3. The wo strings at the edges form the jeevatma and the paramatma.4. The six holes through which the faces are knotted together symbolise the six shastras (sciences)5. The four Jeevakkols (punched in between the chords) stand for the four Vedas.6. The 64 podippu (hanging woollen blobs) refers the 65 kala (art forms).7. The tholkkachcha (one piece of cloth used to hang the instrument from the presenter's shoulder) refers to Sivanaagam (The holy snake of Lord Shiva).

The History of Idakka

A musical instrument literally means a tool or piece of equipment which when played rhythmically produces musical tones. If this is agreeable, then Idaykka can and must be considered and classified as a musical instrument. The literal meaning of an instrument in Sanskrit is ?Vaadayathe Anena? or 'Vaadayithum Yogyam' - ?which can be played?. Idakka can be categorised under the instruments like the chenda and the mridangam. But in Kerala instead of stating that Idaykka is to be beaten rhythmically like as we do on the Chenda or the mridangam, it is said that idakka is to be played rhythmically. As for the origin of the name of idakka (or edakka), it is believed that it came from the sound ?Dakka?. It is well known to people who have an idea of Hinduism that this is the instrument which in tied on the ?Trishool? of Lord Shiva. The use of onomatopoeia by Keralites is also well known. Thus the ?Dakka? sound transformed in to words like ?Edakka? and ?Idaykka?.

According to Patanjali and Panini, the importance of ?Dakka? lies in the fact that the various consonants and vowels of our language is derived from this ?Dakka?.

It is also believed that once when Lord Shiva and Parvathi stopped their dance, the Dakka tied on to the Trishul of Lord Shiva produced 14 different sounds. According to Patanjali, it is these sounds which later became vowels and consonants of our language.


Read in Sanskrit Language

"Nrithaavasane Nataraaja RaajoNanaada Dakkaam Navapancha VaaranUdhdhartha Kaamo Sanakaadi SidhdhaanEthath Vimarsho Shiva Soothra Jaalam"

This is what Panini has stated in this sloka(stanza). The 14 different sounds produced are as follows:

1.Ayi Un2.Riluk3.E On4.Ay Auch5. Hayavarat

6.Lann7.Njamangana Namm8.Jabhanj9.Ghadadhash10.Jabagadadhash


With reference to this assumption, it is assumed that the instrument idakka or edakka has the ability to produce all the sounds in a language. Accordingly, it is assumed that idakka like every other instruments can produce every musical tones.

It is quite interesting to note that the Idaykka is a developed from the "thudi", an instrument used by the ancient tribesmen who lived in the forest and that of the "Pootham" artisans. Hence, it is no wonder that idakka was given a pivotal position in the Trishul of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is also interpreted to be the lord of the aboriginals. And thus it is quite clear that Idakkya has a profound relationship with the gods.

In the musical gems of Lord Vishnu there is a mention about 3 types of instruments - Huduka, Dakka and Madhidkkya, which are similar to each other in structure. It is assumed and some insights reveal that the Idaykka is developed from Mandidakkya.

Once this instrument, which belonged to Lord Vishnu, was stolen by the disciples (Bhootaganam) of Lord Shiva and was used during the dance performance of Lord Shiva. When Lord Shiva came to know abouth this theft, he ordered to return it back to Lord Vishnu. But when the Bhootaganas approached Lord Vishnu, he turned down their apologies and cursed them by saying "if you keep this instrument on the ground, that place will be destroyed". This is another version of the story regarding idakka that still find place among the traditional instrumentalists.

Goddess Baghavati "the goddess of knowledge and learning" "is considered as the goddess of Idaykka in the musical gems of Lord Vishnu. A mention has been made about Idakkya being used while reciting the customary songs named "charyagaanam" for worshipping goddess Bhagavathi. Mention of this kind has been made in many other books.

Even Kunchan Nambiar, the legendary Malayalam poet, has mentioned about idakka in his "Ghoshayathra" (procession). Idakka finds place in most of the literary works that has close links with the Dravidian culture.

Even though this may be the case Idaykka is still used and popularised as an instrument of and for the gods and goddess. Idakka was not seen or used, even in the court of Travancore king Swati Tirunal, a connoisseur and patron of music. It was not seen to be used by revered Carnatic music composer Saint Thyagaraja, when he was visited by classical musician, Shadkala Govinda Marar. This clearly shows that the Idakka before being used on a stage along with the accompaniment of other instruments, was confined strictly to the cultural and customary rites and rituals.

Different parts of Idaykka

* Kuttyi, the core of the tree yielding superior jackfruit or its roots, black wood, catechu, the Indian laburnum, red sandal wood etc.. are the trees used for making the kuttyi of Idaykka .The trees that does not sleep at night and have grown on the banks of a constantly following river are the most preferred. The Kuttyi is a comparatively wide hollow stick with a length of 8-8 1/2 inches and a diameter of 4-4 ? inches. After making the wood hollow, the end or face of the Kuttyi will be ? inch wide. Even though both the ends of the Kuttyi are of the same width, the center part of the stick will be comparatively thin. Exactly at the center of the stick, there is hole, which is known as the air hole. This hole, which is two millimeter in diameter, is known as the navel of the Kuttyi. It is believed that, when the end part or the face of Kuttyi made in this manner is brought close to the ear, we can hear the ?Om? reverberations. It is through the navel of the kuttyi that the air produced because of the pressure while the idayakka is played passes out. Two reeds of Palmyra are tied on to the small nails on both the end and sides of the ?Kuttyi?. It is these reeds that produce the vibration when Idaykka is played. In order to get a grip on the stick, a cloth or ?edakacha? is wound around the Kuttyi.

* Valayangal (Rings), two rings each of 1-inch thickness are made from the plank of wood of a mango tree or a jackfruit tree and which is similar to the rings used by children to play. Each ring will have a diameter of about 8-8 ? inches. Six holes are made in these rings for tying the strings. Once the holes are made the skin should be stuck on the rings in such a manner that it covers and reaches out of the circumference of the rings. This skin, which is known as ?ulloori? or ?chavvu?, is made from the outer wall of the cow?s intestine. This thin layer of skin in cleaned and purified by members of a community named ?chakliar? This skin is stuck on to the rings with a paste made from a special kind of boiled rice mixed with ash obtained by burning dried cow dung. It is the boiled rice that we get from the temple after the ceremonial offering to gods and goddess which is used for the purpose. Even though ?Idaykka? has two sides or face, only one face is used to play. The face that we use to play is known as the ?kottuvattam? (front side) and the other in the ?mootuvattam? (backside). In order to understand the face that is used to play, a ?poduppu? or a colorful woolen ball is tied on to the end.

* Jeevakkolukal, it is the four perfectly rounded sticks, which are 7 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Several types of wood of lightweight are used for making this ?Jeevakkolukal?

* Poduppukal, it is a bunch of colorful woolen balls tied on to the 4 perfectly rounded sticks named "Jeevakkolukal". One bunch will consist of 16 different colorful woolen balls, which is tied on to a ?Jeevakkol? using cotton thread that is ? inch thick. ?Poduppu? means ?decoration?. each ?jeevakkol? consists of 16 different colorful woolen balls and altogether there will be 64 woolen balls on the 4 "jeevakkolukal" (16 woolen balls x 4 Jeevakkolukal) usually the woolen threads for making the woolen balls are brought from places like Kashmir, Banglore and Assam where it is commonly available. But in ancient times, according to Lakshmikutty Amma w/o late Njeralathu Rama Pothuval, these balls were created from the clothes discarded by the tailors.

* Tholkacha (Sholder band), "Thol" means shoulder and Kacha means cloth. The peculiarity of some of the traditional musical instruments of Kerala is that the instrumentalists have to stand while playing it. And so these instruments have to be carried by the instrumentalists. To make it easier for them to carry the instrument, they have a shoulder band which will be tied on to both sides of the instrument. This shoulder band is usually made of cloth.

* Idaykka kol (stick used for playing the idakka), the stick used for playing an idakka is almost 4 times smaller than the one used for playing a Chenda. It is made from the branches of trees like red madder or a tree locally known as "Chapangam". The shape of the stick is similar to that of an elephants tusk. The one end which we hold is broader and the other end will be curved and slightly pointed. Sometimes the stick is also made from the broken or damaged stick used for playing "Chenda".

What the different part of Idakka denote

1) The reeds of palmyra at the end or face of "Kuttyi"

The two reeds at the face of the ?Kuttyi? denote the universal soul and the individual soul. It is commonly assumed and believed that the relationship between Radha and Lord Krishna is like the same relationship that exists between the individual soul and universal soul-Jeevaathma and Paramaathma. It is also believed that the reverberation of ?OM? is the result or the culmination of there two souls.

2) The six holes in the valayam (ring)

The two rings are held on to the "Kuttyi" placed in the center by cotton strings. It is compulsory that there should be only 6 holes at equal distance on each ring. These six holes represents the six ancient Indian scientific principles- saakyam, Yogam, Vaiveshikam, Nyaayam, Poorvameemamsa and Utharameemamsa (Vedanta).

3) Jeevakkolukal

Once the strings are tied on to both the rings, the four "Jeevakkolukal" in inserted in between these strings. These 4 "Jeevakkolukkal" represents the 4 Vedas- Saamam, Rig, Yajur and Atharava.

4) Poduppukal (the woolen balls for decoration)

The 64 colorful woolen balls or "Poduppukal" represents the 64 different traditional art forms. The 64 woolen balls may not be of different colors but may have different colors in one ball itself.

5) Knotting the thread before placing the Jeeva kkol

The two rings are tied onto each other with the Kuttyi in the centre with a string, which is thinner than a pencil. Once the Kuttyi is placed in the exact position the strings are tightened. A knot is made at the place from where the string in tightened. This knot, which is used to tighten or loosen the strings, is known as the ?Pavithrakettu? or the ?Holy knot?. This knot has the same shape of the rings that is made before performing the last traditional rites to a person after death, using a grass named ?Darbha?. Once the strings are tightened, the strings that is hanging loosely is fastened five times as made into a knot. This denotes the ?Shivapanjakshari Manthra? or the ?Five mantras or holy recitals praising Lord Shiva ?. It is also believed to be the five words ?Na Ma Shi Vaa Ya? thereby leading this to an acumination of ?Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva.

Peculiarity of Idakka

Idakka is the only traditional Kerala musical instrument which permits easy and convenient assembling and dissembling of its components. An assembled idakka is usually hung on the wall. In some temples it is being outside the door of the inner sanctum sanctorum, which add to its beauty. It is now commonly used for ornamentation in the houses not only by Keralites but also by foreigners. Ananda Sivaraman, the son of Late Njeralathu Rama Pothuval and the only person who have mastered the artisanship of making an Idaykka in Kerala, also shares this opinion.

Learning to play the Idakka

The main peculiarity in learning most of the traditional musical instruments of Kerala like the chenda and idakka is that the beginners will not be taught the instrument using that particular instrument. Instead they will have to master the art of playing it by practising on a similar shaped object made of wood or stone. It is the farsightedness of the great teachers of there musical instruments who have coined this idea. They may have wanted the students to master it with great difficulty until there is proper hand and mind co-ordination to attain rhythm.

The beginners of idakka are usually given a block of wood called "Kayyatha" or a block of wood which suits the hand and a stick made from tamarind tree. They have to stand while practising and are made to practice different rhythmic oral tunes like "Thakuku", "Themkuku", "Thathakuku", "Them Them kuku", "Thakida Thakida", "Thathakida" at different speeds. The rest of the tunes must be formulated with ones own imagination.

People who have mastered the chenda will be able to play Idaykka with a little bit of practice. In any case, it is only through rigorous practice and devotion that one can master the idakka.

=See also=
* Damaru
* Pandi Melam
* Panchari melam
* Thayambaka
* Panchavadyam

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