Music like dancing, had its origin in the primitive dances and plays, developed by the ancient people in propitiation of the deities of the hills and forests. The development of such art forms as Kuthu Kudiyattam, Astapadi Attan, Krishnanattam, Ramanattam, Kathakali etc., gave a fillup to music in later days. An indigenous classical music called the Sopanasangita developed itself in the temples of Kerala, in the wake of the increasing popularity of Jayadeva's Gita Govinda or Ashtapadi. The Kathakali padas composed by scholars like Irayimman Thampi and the Tullal songs of Kunjan Nambiar also enriched the musical culture of Kerala.
The reign of Swati Tirunal, the ruler of Travancore, is called "the Augustan Age of Kerala Music". A great patron of music, he attracted to his court some of the gifted musicians of the age. In collaboration with his Guru Meruswami who was well-versed in Hindustani and Karnatic music, Swati Tirunal composed a number of songs in popular ragas in a variety of languages. Four musicians from Tanjore by name Vativelu, Ponnayya, Chinnayya and Sivanandan, otherwise known as the "Tanjore Quartet", lived in his court. To Vativelu goes the credit for the introduction of violin in Karnatic music. The Tanjore brothers were also highly gifted in Bharata Natyam and under their influence Swati Tirunal composed Varnas, Swarajits, Padas and Tillanas for staging this dance form. Subbukkutty Ayya, a master of Veena, was also leading light in Swati's court.
In addition to the musicians mentioned above who came to Swati's court from outside Kerala, several gifted local musicians also enjoyed his patronage, the most celebrated among them being Shadkala Govinda Marar. Marar was a rare musical prodigy. He devised a Tamburu with seven strings instead of the usual four. He also achieved the unique distinction of being able to sing pallavis into six degrees of time and this won for him the title Shadkala. At Swati Tirunal's instance, Marar went on a futile mission to Tiruvayyur to fetch Tyagaraja to the royal court. Tyagaraja was so much impressed by an inspired musical performance of Govinda Marar at the place that he composed and sang on the spot that famous Telugu song "Entaro mahanubhavalu, Anstariki Vandanamu" (There are ever so many great men in this world and I bow to all of them). Two other Kerala musicians who adorned Swati's court were Paramesware Bhagavatar of Palakkad and Maliyakkal Krishna Marar. Irayimman Tampi, a close associate of Swati Tirunal, was also a musician and composer of high calibre who lived in the royal court and collaborated with the Maharaja in his efforts to promote the cause of cultural development.
The tradition of Kerala in the field of music has continued unsullied in modern times. To the galaxy of modern Kerala musicians belong such stalwarts as Vina Kalyanakrishna Bhagavatar, Kathakalashepam Anantarama Bhagavatar, Palghat Mani and Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar who have substantially enriched Karnatic music by their valuable contributions.
Kerala has developed its own typical temple arts in which instrumental music plays an important part. Chenda Melam which is played with such instruments as Chenda, Kombu, Kuzhal etc., is a feature of all temple utsavams. Tayambaka which involves the elaborate display of talas on a classical piece of drum (Chenda) is also typical of Kerala. It is performed in several sessions, each session having its climaxes and anticlimaxes. Panchavadyam is another unique art in which the sounds emanating from five musical instruments, (Maddalam, Idakka, Timila, Kombu and Elathalam) and two auxiliaries, Sankku (Conch) and Kuzhal, in varying pitches are synchronized. As in Tayambakam so too in Panchavadyam, each session lasts for hours. Nagaswaramelam, otherwise called Pandimelam, is another set of Vadyams played in connection with temple pujas and on such auspicious occasions as marriages.
||Peepi , Sankhu
||Tamboru , Veena
Sopana Sangeetham is a very ancient form of temple music in Kerala. The word Sopana means a flight of steps leading up to the sanctum sanctorum of a temple. Devotional recitals rendered on these steps came to be known as Sopana sangeetham. Besides, the musical notes (ragas) too have an ascending (aarohana) and descending (avarohana) nature. Even though over fifty types of musical instruments can accompany Sopana sangeetham, Edakka is most commonly used.
Kathakali music belongs to the Sopana category of music which is typical of Kerala and is characteristically slow, strictly adhering to the tala (rhythm) giving full scope for abhinaya (acting). The bhagavathar or the singer plays a key role in the staging of the art form. The Bhagavathar plays a key role in a Kathakali performance. He is not just the singer, but also the manager of the entire show. Among the noted Kathakali singers of yester years are Appukuttan Bhagavathar, Thiruvilwamala (1851-1930), Ettiravi Namboothiri (1809 - 1908), Kannappa Kurup (1845 - 1921), Kunjiraman Nambisan (1871 - 1916), Kunju Podhuval (1879 - 1940) and Krishnankutty Bhagavathar. Kathakali, especially its verses and music are an enormous contribution to Malayalam literature and music. Aattakkatha, the literature part of Kathakali, forms a separate division in Malayalam literature. There are around 500 Aattakkathas and a few among them are Nalacharitham aattakkatha, Keechakavadhom aattakkatha, Dhuryodhanavadhom aattakkatha etc. Compared to others Kathakali music is more involved and complex clarifying the meanings of mudras or hand gestures, describing the context and expressing the depth of emotions enacted by the artiste.
With Kelikottu, an orchestration, the performance begins percussion music - Suddha maddalam marks the ritualistic beginning of a Kathakali performance. Two back up artistes hold up a curtain and remove it to signify the start and finish of each scene. Vocal musicians or bhagavathars standing at the corner of the stage sing, the lead singer called Ponnani bhagavathar keeps time with a resounding gong called the Chengila. He is assisted by Shankidi who plays a pair of Ilathalam (small cymbals).
Christian Songs, KJ Yesudas, Jayachandran, MG Sreekumar, Unni Menon, Ramesh Narayan, Unnikrishnan, G Venugopal, Music India, Music Collector, Chalachitra Gaanangal, Chithra Geetham, Devaragam, Sayujyam, MalHits, Malayalam Songs, Radio JoyAlukkas, MovieRaga are the links to various music sites.