played host to a great artist on July 16. He was here to present a
musical concert at Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan. He is a man, who has
given a new vocal style to Sopana Sangeetham by singing his own songs
according to the occasions and calls it ‘ Kottipadi Seva’. The man is
none other than Njeralathu Harigovindan, who has raised a few eye brows
with his new and unconventional style. One of the six sons of the
maestro Njeralathu Rama Pothuval, the well known name in the field of
Sopana Sangeetham, Govindan’s talent is hereditary.
Hari has a
very beautiful memory about Thiruvananthapuram. He recollects that his
first appearance with an idakka accidently happened here. He had played
the role of an idakka player in an Onam play directed by artist
Dayandan. He was 17 years old then and he had used his father's ídakka
for the performance.
father Ramapoduval did not encourage his children to follow in his
footsteps. So Hari did not have enough exposure to Sopana Sangeetham.
Sopana Sangeetham was usually only sung in temples during Pooja, near
the holy stairs named Sopanam leading into the sanctum sanctorum housing
the deity. It is meant to help devotees focus their attention on God.
Traditionally, the Marar or Pothuval castes of Ambalavasi community are
the singers of Sopana Sangeetham.
Hari’s father made this music
form social, by singing it outside the temple too, something for which
he faced stiff opposition. The difficulties that he had to face by
worshipping this music compelled him to take the decision to keep his
children away from this art form.
Unfortunetly Hari had to
follow the artistic path of his father. He tells Yentha, “I started to
sing 3 months after my father’s death. My first stage performance was at
the Malappuram district Edappal Devi Temple Sangeethosavam. I only had
to sing a couple of songs then. But soon, the number of stages increased
and there was no way other than studying music. So I started to learn
the lines of the songs. I have grown up listening to my father sing. So
I try to sing in the same tune.”
During this period, Hari
received media attention for being prohibited from singing inside
temples since his father belonged to the Pothuval cast, while his mother
belonged to the Nair community.’
However Hari had several stages
inside and outside Kerala, set to showcase his talent. Hari claims that
what he sings is not the real Sopana Sangeetham because he is not
singing in front of the Sopanam in the temple and that he has not been
formally trained in this music. In his words, “It is Kottipadi Seva
with the support of Idakka. I established my own style of doing it.
So there is no constraint to sing the song. I worship Nada that rises
above all limitations.”
During stage performances, Hari usually sings verses from the Geetha
Govind or Ashtapadi by the poet Jayadeva, devotional songs praising gods
and goddesses, poetry, his own songs about nature and communal harmony
etc. In his opinion, “Art is for peace in life and not to defeat
anybody. Only if the artist enjoys his music, it is possible for him to
convey it to the audience.” Hari continues, “It is art that has to be
In order to concentrate on his music, he resigned from his teaching
profession in January 2005. In his research he has found that there are
60,000 temples in Kerala but less than 60 Sopana Sangeetham artists. He
is afraid that gradually the traditional form of Sopana Sangeetham will
disappear. So he has recorded the songs sung by traditional singers and
archived it for the coming generation. The artists are also not very
keen on passing on this art form to their children.
In doing his bit for promoting Sopana Sangeetham, Hari has started a
Kalashramam in Njeralam and a Sopana Sageetham Website to promote the
art. Using this site, people all over the world will be able to get
information about Sopana Sangeetham and the artists behind it. He also
includes other folklore artists in his programmes.
Besides music, Hari has proved his talent in acting. He has acted in a
Malayalam tele film named ‘Anubhavangal’ by M G Sasi. In the film
‘Adayaalangal’ he appeared as an actor and play back singer. In 1996,
Hari won the Narayanunni Nambi Puraskaram and in 2004, he won the
‘Boston World Youth Cultural Award’. Without the boundary of cast,
creed, religion or language Hari Govindan’s ‘Kottipadiseva’ is reaching
out to a wide audience.