Thursday, September 21, 2023


Folk Music

Villu Pattu

One of the quaint type of simple and catchy folk music, which still stands as a symbol of a cultural wealth of the Tamils, is popularly known as Villu Pattu in Tamil, literally translated as 'bow-song'.

In the fifteenth century, one Arasa Pulavar is said to have originated the Villu Pattu. The materials that go to make up the orchestra producing the background music for the bow-song consist of a very big bow made either of a sturdy branch of the palmyra tree or of metal. The two ends of the bow are tied by a strong high tension string. The centre of the convex side of the bow is made to rest on the neck of a large sized earthen pitcher. The pitcher itself rests on a soft cushion or a circular disc like thing with a concave cavity made of coconut fibre. Thus the bow, when placed on the neck of the pitcher and held in delicate balance by the performers, looks like a magnified crescent with its two ends looking upwards. There are numerous bronze bells hanging from the bow in a row from top to bottom.

The chief vocalist or the main story teller of the party will be seated in the centre of the bow, with two slender wooden rods called the Veesukol, one in each hand . At the end of each rod, just near where the artist grip it are found two cymbals, the concave face of each facing and touching the other. It makes a sort of cavity containing beads or small sized metal balls or stones inside. The artist, while singing well, artfully raises and moves his hands, holding the rods as to express the mood and the bhava portrayed in song, and deftly strike against the bow string producing the tala or the time beat, synchronizing it with the stresses and the time beats in the song. This will produce notes from the bells hanging from the bow. At the same time, the artist in charge of the big earthen pitcher will raise simultaneous notes, by beating against the mouth of the pitcher with a cardboard-like plate made for the purpose from a stiff and sturdy plantain sheath. The sweet sound emanating from the pitcher will seem to come from within the pitcher owing to the pressure exerted on it both by the weight of the bow, resting on its neck and the beats brought to bear on its mouth by the pitcher player. It is perhaps more charming and melodious than that produced by any other percussion instrument like Mridhangam, Dholak' Khole and Kanchira. The pitcher player while he strikes against the mouth of the pitcher with his right hand, strikes at the same time on the body of the pitcher with a piece of coin held in his left hand.

There is another percussion instrument called Udukku, which the player holds in a horizontal position while playing . A second member in the party will keep tala with the aid of small wooden pieces called the Kashta. A third member will play the cymbals. When the bow-song programme is in full swing, there is a perfect co-ordination of music in which the bow, the bell and the percussion instruments operate together each producing by itself and in combination, vigorous and fast moving music in keeping with the moods of the ballad. When the chief vocalist sings, the others play on their instruments and when the others sing the chief vocalist plays the veesukol on the string of the bow. After the main story teller completes a line of the song, the persons accompanying on Udukku and other instruments will repeat the last phrase of the line or they will say in chorus 'aama', 'aama' and raise certain other sounds to denote arrangements.

The spirited gestures and movements of the bow-song members have so much life and enthusiasm that the simple village folk who constitute the audience abandon themselves in their enjoyment. The performance usually occurs in connection with the temple festival lasting for about a week between September and January. The dais of the performance will be  setup in front of the temple on one side and the audience will be seated on the ground facing the deity. The bow song troupe usually consist of eight members. The  duration of the programme will depend largely on the length of the story chosen for rendering. If the episode portrayed is a small one, it will be finished in one session itself. On the other hand, if the theme is mythological it will be of much long duration. Stories from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata will require a number of sessions lasting three or four days. The leader of the troupe is generally a shrewd judge of audience psychology and knows well how, where, and when he should allow an interval in the course of a folk ballad.

The texts of the song are simple and flowing and are invariably in ballad style, couched in rural dialect and abounding in proverbs. Almost every couplet or stanza ends with a refrain. As soon as the chief vocalist in the party finishes singing a couplet or a stanza, the other members of the party take up refrain and sing it in chorus. The stories are woven round supernatural, mythological, devotional, historical and social themes. Appeasement of wicked spirits and the gods, human sacrifices, gruesome and horror-striking situations and many other weird things figure in these stories. The main idea is to illustrate the triumph of good over evil.

Some features:

Apart from the variety of themes and stories, another very interesting feature in the Villu Pattu art is the ex-tempore debate in verse. The party divides itself into two groups. The main singer with the veesukol, those who sing with him and the two man who keep tala by playing on the Kastha and the cymbals form one group. While the 'pitcher player' 'Udukku player' and those who sing with them form another group. The first group of persons singing on the right hand side are called the rightists (Valathe padupavar) and those who sing on the left hand side will be called the leftists (Idathe padupavar). The rightists will compose verses on the spot in a particular tune. The subject matter of the verses may be anything under the sun, on vedanta, or siddhanta mysticism, philosophy or theology. The verses of the rightists contain a series of questions and the leftists answer them in verse of the same metre and tune as those employed by the rightists.