Thrissur is the cultural capital of Kerala and Irinjalakuda a small town in Thrissur district is called the Cultural hub of Thrissur, for all the right reasons! Unnayi Warrier who authored the Nalacharitham Kathakali, the Aksharashloka Vidwan V. Kamalakara Menon, Ammannoor Madhava Chakyar, playback singer P. Jayachandran and so many more luminaries have very deep bonds with Irinjalakuda, either by birth or by nurture; Creativity runs in the veins of this little town, with its soil having produced so many towering personalities of art.
The Valiya Thampuran Kovilakam is a quaint palace that was built by the mighty 'Shakthan' Thampuran born in 1751, apparently to be able to watch the Koodalmanickam Temple Festival at Irinjalakuda and it is believed that he used to witness the festival or Utsavam from the balcony of this royal home. It is also believed that during his time, Kathakali performances were conducted in this Palace. However, for about 250 years after Shakthan Thampuran, every nook and corner of this understated royal home sank into an overbearing silence cast by time. Breaking this stillness, in January 2016 the strings of Mudikondan S.N. Ramesh’s Veena created magic in this Palace awakening its sleeping pillars and floors from musical decay. The Maestro was invited to perform at this Palace by Sreevidya Varma, his student, a descendant of Shakthan Thampuran and an enterprising young lady of the Cochin Royal Family who lives in this Palace today with her family. The success of this event and encouragement received from family and friends led Sreevidya to set up the Varaveena School of Music at the same Palace, catering to earnest students of music aspiring to learn Veena, Mridangam and Carnatic vocal music.
The School was inaugurated formally during the Navarathri of 2016 by Mudikondan Ramesh who also conducted an inaugural lecture demonstration on practicing techniques and gamakas in the Veena and that was only the beginning.
Sreevidya Varma the Veena teacher at Varaveena is a talented Vainika herself trained by masters like Irinjalakuda Krishnankutty Marar, A. Ananthapadmanabhan and is currently pursuing higher studies under Mudikondan S.N. Ramesh from Chennai. She has also been a student of Carnatic vocal under Mangat Natesan. She has performed at various festivals and is also a member of Thrissur Nadatharangam which has been conducting Carnatic instrumental symphonies at various venues. However, instead of solely pursuing her own career growth, she decided to invest some of her energies and creativity also into the running of this School. The other teachers at the Varaveena School of Music are Reju Narayanan Annamanada who teaches vocal Carnatic music at Varaveena and he holds an M Phil degree in addition to Gaanabhooshanam and Gaana Praveen from the RLV College of Thriupunithura. Violin classes are conducted by Sudha Marar while Bijay Shankar from Chalakudy teaches the Mridangam.
The School has thrown open many interesting opportunities to music lovers by way of workshops, lectures and chamber concerts by maestros and Sreevidya says, “listening is cardinal to a student of music and by attending live performances of stalwarts there is a lot of musical theory that one can master and imbibe through the process of listening alone”. She believes that regular classes alone do not complete the picture and exposure to good music is vital to musical growth of any aspirant. Like in olden times, today as well there are many vistas that offer this opportunity but there is nothing like being able to interact with these masters of music as part of the lesson, within the comfort zone of one’s own classroom and being able to absorb their musicality.
Keeping in line with this view and vision of the School, during a period of two years since its formal inception, many renowned musicians were invited to hold concerts, give lecture demonstrations and conduct workshops here.
Soon after the inauguration of the School, in November 2016 Prince Rama Varma conducted his first lecture demonstration for the School and this was on the compositions of the legendary Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna. He came back at the end of the year in December to conduct his second workshop. Thereafter he conducted two more workshops.
The School organized vacation camps led by experts like Ajith Namboothiri and Reju Narayanan and a Dwidina Sangeetha Padana Shibiram by Thamarakkad Govindan Namboothiri. Apart from workshops and lectures, the School also conducted chamber concerts by Ajith Namboothiri, Reju Narayanan, Trivandrum Mahadevan, Hari Kappiyoor, Violinst Avaneeswaram S.R.Vinu, Kottakal Ranjith Warrier and Vivek Moozhikulam. The second anniversary of the School was celebrated with a concert by Vishnudev Namboothiri. On 9 April this year, the Dikshithar Day was celebrated at the Varaveena School with a lecture demonstration by Mudikondan Ramesh. The students of Varaveena School of Music also participated in the Swathi Festival organized by Nadopasana Irinjalakuda in April 2019.
In 2016 when she formed this School it was with a view to making events such as these possible for students in and around Irinjalakuda, but it is interesting to note that the events held under the auspices of this School have brought together, students and music aficionados from not only different parts of Kerala but from different parts of the Country as well.
Music is therapeutic and this ailing world we are all a part of is certainly in need of more music. While we keep developing newer genres of music as we go, it is also important to preserve what has been handed down to us as legacy. The ambience at the laidback Palace with its wooden pillars and old-fashioned interiors, corridors and courtyards, instantly transport one back in time, adding many layers of chastity to the already consecrated purpose of imparting music education to those who wish to enrich their pursuit of music.
As this article is being written the School is preparing itself to host K. Jayakrishnan on 1 June when he will conduct his workshop on the concept of Thaalam and soon after, a fortnight later, on 16 June, Prince Rama Varma when he conducts his 6th workshop at the School.
The Valiya Thampuran Kovilakam at one time may have been a retreat for members of the Cochin Royal Family but today, through the efforts of a worthy descendent of Shakthan Thampuran, one sees visions of the Palace turning into a musical retreat for lovers of good music and seekers of musical bliss.
Perhaps this is how Shakthan Thampuran had envisaged it?
Time will tell!