Story and pix by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
|Heavy leather drums|
Parai is an ancient percussion instrument that was
played at temple festivals and funerals. In the bygone era, it was used as a
tool for making public announcements during special occasions. The artistes
from Kanakaraayankulam in Vavuniya North and
Mulliyawalai in Mullaithivu District have preserved this particular art form
for over seven generations with great care.
In the Vanni District, the parai drum enjoys a prominent position, especially rituals
performed within the Tamil community. This particular group of performers,
known as Parai Mela Kooththu has a distinct
style of playing the parai. The group members have experienced extreme hardship
during the war and due to displacement. Yet, their passion drives them to
thrive and preserve their art form.
The group has eight males, and all of them have lost
their belongings including their drums when they had to flee their homes in
2009, during the final phase of the war.
“It was heart
breaking to leave behind our heavy leather drums in Iruttumadu in the Mullaithivu
District. We did take our drums while leaving our homes, amidst bombing and
shelling. We travelled on foot, bicycles, motorbikes, lorries, landmasters and
tractors, still carrying the drums. One big drum weighs 20 kilograms, and
extremely heavy. We carried them throughout our journey wading through water,
and crossing stretches of burning sand, while heavy fighting was underway. When we reached Iruttumadu, Mullivaaikkaal in Mullaithivu
District, it was a burden we could to afford to carry. We decided to burn our
drums there, and burned our souls with it. It was nerve-wracking moment,
unforgettable, for the pain that caused all of us” 51 year-old Kaaththamuththu
Annalingam from Mulliyawalai in Mullaithivu District said emotionally.
“We went back
to Iruttumadu, Mullivaaikkaal where we burnt our drums after returning from the Menik farm for
the Internally Displaced Persons. We were in tears. The memory of our loss haunts
us everyday” said 39 year- old Sellakkandu Baskaran from Mulliyawalai, a
Vadivelu Jayakodi beagn playing the special drum as
a child. His father and both grandfathers were former Parai Mela drummers in Vanni, where Parai Mela Kooththu is now a
rapidly declining art form. It is a legacy that most of the drummers share, a
tradition passed down the generations.
“Beating the drum in different ways, helps me to overcome the loss and trauma I went
through during and after the war” says19 year-old
Mela Kooththu drummers stand facing each other, and
through their performance evoke contrasting emotions which are mirrored in
Hailing from the Vanni region, they perform mostly
at temple festivals, including at the popular Vattraappalai Kannagi Amman, and
as well as at Hindu funerals.
folk tradition of Vanni has a history spanning of more than 100 years. It datesback
to Vanni settlement period. These drummers play both at auspicious events such
as temple festivals, and inauspicious events such as funerals. The auspicious
one is known as “mana parai”(wedding drum), while the inauspicious one is
called “pina parai” (funeral drum)
Melam is played mostly at village temples in Vanni. The new generation drummers
dislike being referred to as parai mela drummers due to the stigma attached to
their particular caste. Besides, it is not well-paid job. Yet, this disappearing
folk tradition should be preserved” insists Kanapathipillai
Arunthaharan, Senior Lecturer of Department of Tamil, University of Jaffna.
|Drum dressed up in cotton and silk clothes|