The Edakka- The Divine Percussion Instrument

The Edakka- the unavoidable percussion instrument played at all Kerala temples and one among the popular five of the God’s Own State’s very own Panchavadyam- a harmonious ensemble of five musical instruments, almost looks like a big hour-glass and is indeed a little beauty. The percussion instrument produces very distinct ethereal beats that resonates a certain indefinable divine feel in the air. The Edakka is a close clone of the north-Indian Damaru- a small wooden two-sided drum, except that the Damaru is much smaller and is played by rattling the knotted balls tied to its body. The Edakka on the other hand is fairly bigger than the Damaru and is played using a stick.

The Edakka Out To With Two Strings Tied Across It's Face
The Jeevakol
The Two Round Heads Of The Edakka- The Sun Face And The Moon Face

The Edakka means something that is mid-way and like every other musical instrument there is, the meaning and the origin have a distinctive connection. The delightful yet heavenly musical instrument is said to have originated from the Damaru that is hung on Lord Shiva’s Trident. And since the divine musical drum is always on the Trident and never down, the Edakka too is never kept on the ground but hung on the wall. According to Chovaloor Sudhakaran- a veteran Edakka player and a maker of the instrument, the quality of the sound is greatly affected even if the backside of the instrument touches the wall while playing the instrument. “It is the quality of the sound that matters the most in an Edakka. And because of this,it is not an easy instrument to learn. There are so many little facts to understand and learn in order to get that perfect divine sound from the instrument. The sound quality is again hugely affected, if you unknowingly press on the backside of the instrument. The same goes for the making of the instrument too” explains Sudhakaran, who also takes Edakka classes for children and adults.

The Podippu Made Of Blanket Wool
The Round Head Of The Edakka

“You need to know about the different parts of the Edakka and its importance before learning about its making. The Edakkaas we all know is said to have evolved from the small wooden drum tied on the neck of the Trident of Lord Shiva. And because of this reason it’s considered a very divine instrument and every part of it is closely associated to Hindu scriptures, our body and arts in general” says Sudhakaran.

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According to Sudhakaran, every part of the instrument is unique. The Edakka, consists of the following parts…

The two round heads on the drum are called the Sun and the Moon respectively. The drum is played using a stick that is beat on the Sun face in a particular rhythm while holding the lacing tied in the middle of the wooden body in a certain manner to get the perfect pitch.

The wooden body or the Edakka Kutti that is shaped like an hour glass is called the Shareeram, or the body. 

The six holes on the two faces or the round heads depict the six facets of science or the six Sastras. The two faces are connected together with chords through these holes.

The four oblong wooden bars inserted between the chords that connect the two faces are called the Jeevakolsor Deepakols and they represent the four Vedas of the Hindu religion.

The sixteen balls on each Jeevakol with eight balls tied to each end of the rod are called the Podippu. There are totally 64 Podippu altogether for the four Jeevakols and they signify the 64 art forms

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The making of the instrument takes about two days to a week, depending on the number of hours spent in making it. Chovaloor Sudhakaran, who also made the smallest Edakka in the world, explains to Team Saalabhanjika, about the making of the instrument...

The Tholkacha

“We use the wood of the jackfruit tree or the marigold tree to make the wooden structure of the Edakka called the Kutti. We scrap the wood from the inside of the drum until we get the right sound. For the two round faces, we use the outer skin on the intestine of animals like cows, which is called Othalli or Ulluri in Malayalam. The normal animal skin is not used as it is much thicker than the outer intestinal skin and that again affects the quality of sound. We cut out the round faces on wood first to get the definite shape and later we use these wooden structures to shape the animal skin. The round heads are then stuck on either side of the wooden body or Kutti of the Edakka using gum. Before we stick the round heads we tie two string chords made of plastic on either side of the two round faces of the Kutti. We do this to enhance the sound quality.” The process of making the Edakka is definitely very tough because of the amount of precision involved in every step. For Sudhakaran, Edakka making is a source of livelihood too. According to him every Edakka maker is very honest to his job and wants to give their customers the best sounding drum there is.

“Edakka making is a wholesome process and precision is required in every step” says Sudhakaran. He continues to explain more on the making of the Edakka. “The 4 Jeevakol are again made of wood. Each Jeevakol is 6 or 8 inches in length and about 1.5 inches in breath. We tie 16 balls on each Jeevakol that is, 8 each on the two necks of the Jeevakol. These balls are made of wool. These woolen balls add to the cuteness of the instrument. The thickness of the Edakka stick- the stick that is used to beat on the drum, should not be more than 0.5 inches and the length of it is either 13 or 14 inches. We use thick padded belt made of cloth to hang the Edakka from the left shoulder. This belt is tied to the Edakka chords.”

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Edakka is not just unavoidable in Kerala temples but is also part of major dance forms of the state like the Mohiniyattom and Kathakali. In Kathakali, Edakka is played as an accompaniment instrument for the female characters on stage, which is basically because of the lasya or feminine sounds that reverberate from the instrument.