Panchavadyam Home > Kerala > Culture In Kerala > Music In Kerala > Panchavadyam


The Panchavadyam is the typical musical performing art that is being practiced in the temples of Kerala – the South Indian state – for centuries. It is an instrumental music ensemble which is assembled to perform during the religious festivities at the Hindu temples in Kerala. The basic unit of this orchestra consists of five Kerala instruments – Timila, Madhalam, Elathalam, Idakka and Kombu – of which the first four are percussion instruments and the last is one is a wind instrument.  The name Panchavadyam can be roughly translated into Sanskrit as “Five Musical Instruments” and its aptness is self-evident.

Starting with the Timila, it is a drum that is shaped like an hour-glass and the leather from a calf is used as the material for its diaphragm. It mainly has two sounds that can be played by controlling the tautness of the diaphragm.

The next instrument of is the Madhalam which is also a double-resonant drum like the Timila but it has different sounds on its two resonant. It is a very heavy instrument that represents the powers of the principal Hindu divinity Shiva-Parvati.

The third instrument that is the Elathalam is a percussion instrument that is made up of a pair of small pure bronze cymbals, each held in one hand.

 Next comes the Idakka that looks similar to the Timila but is played using a stick and the player has greater control over its pitch.

The final and the only wind instrument essential to the ensemble is the Kombu which is a metallic horn with a natural pitch. Kombu in Malayalam means “Long Horn”.


The Panchavadya was primarily established as a temple performing art when it was started during the medieval times in Kerala. That makes the various celebrations and festivities at the temple, an occasion for a Panchavadya Orchestra to perform. One of the most prominent and the largest performances in ensemble and audience is the Madhathil Varavu of the Thissur Pooram temple. Other events are hosed by many temples in north and south Kerala too.

A standard Panchvadyam concert is a five part event that starts and ends with a Timila, making it similar to the concert master of a Western orchestra. The blowing of the conch signals the start of the event along with its several stages. The musical pieces that are played are often arranged as a complex medley of classical compositions interspersed with sections of improvisations. An adequately large Panchavadyam performance may require around 60 musicians, distributed among several basic groups.


The most striking and distinguishing features of the Panchavadyam is its rooting in the harmonic nature of sounds rather than their melodic arrangements, which forms the basis of almost all of the Indian Classical music – both the Hindustani and the Carnatic divisions.

Apart from the positions of the performers also holds a special place in the Panchvadyam troupe as it is strictly traditional and unalterable. The principal instrument – the Timila is the foremost, behind who stand the Elathalam players. The Madhalam players stand besides the Elathalam. Right after the Madhalam players the Kombu blowers are positioned. The Idakka players stand between the Timila and Madhalam sections, thus completing the ensemble.

Rendition Styles

The style of playing for Phanchavadya is entirely dependent on the compositions that are seldom altered. As for the improvisational sections it varies widely as the ensembles are continually being changed and reformed.


The Panchavadya follows a specific pattern of rhythmical progression or Tala. It may be ascending or descending, usually ascending. The rhythm of the concert is typically 14 beats called ‘adanta’ which is in turn made up of a repeating ‘chempata’ pattern of 8 beats. The number of rhythmical oscillations during a Panchavadyam concert goes on halving at each of the five stages and all that remains after the last stage is reduced until the oscillation stops with the concert.


There are many temples and institutions that teach various Panachavadyam groups but the students have to be already adept in playing their respective instruments. One of such institutions is the Kerala Kalamandalam that is a deemed university for the study of Indian classical performing arts with a greater focus on the arts of South Indian cultures. There are also several Panchavadyam masters and the contemporary acclaimed master is Mr. T. Krishnankutty Marar of Kerala.

Related Image

Panchavadyam 1
Panchavadyam 2
Panchavadyam 3
Panchavadyam 4
Panchavadyam 5
Panchavadyam 6

Also Browse Following Under This Section

Related Topics

Dance in Kerala

The dance forms of Kerala have a rich legacy and have grown since ancient times to produce one of the most articulated....

Culture in Kerala

The indigenous musical tradition of Kerala finds its roots in the music of the animalistic deities of the primitive ages....

Sopanam Style

Southern India an ancient land and many different...


The Panchavadyam is the typical musical...