Sopana Sangeetham

Sopana Sangeetham is one of its kind in the field of vocal music. Sopanam which means the sacred steps that lead to the Sanctorum and sangeetham is music. The melodious rendition of songs sang in praises of the Gods in Kerala temples is a sight all temple devotees are familiar with. He is found doing this when the doors are closed for the Pooja. The artist stands besides the closed door of the Sanctum Sanctorum and sings the song solo with an Edakka for the beat. Usually Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam or Ashtapadi are rendered. Gita govindam’s 24 songs have been popularized by the Sopana Sangeetham. Whichever songs are sung as Sopana Sangeetham are all variations of describing the Lord and his benevolence. Sopana Sangeetham is traditionally done by the Marar and Pothuval castes. They are part of the caste called Ambavasi’s. Ambalavasi’s are the community who takes care of the temple as in its upkeep, arranging all things needed for the temples function etc.

Sopana sangeetham though not a classical form has features from folk, tribal and classical music. There are specific ragas for Sopana Sangeetham. It is different from Carnatic in its rendition. The songs are sung in plain manner unlike Carnatic songs where the expertise of the artist is exhibited. Sopana Sangeetham is an expression of devotion, and gratitude and not exhibition. Having said so Sopana Sangeetham does have set form. The introductory part is similar to a Carnatic rendition. It starts with the alapanam of a raga. While the niraval in Carnatic music uses sounds like ‘Ta’ ‘ra’ ‘ne’ etc for the alapanam Sopana Sangeetham use only the akaram or the ‘aa’ sound. After this the main song is sung melodiously creating a mesmerizing ambience inside the temple. The ragas used for Sopana Sangetham are time specific as in there is a time for a raga which is similar to the Hindustani style of music.. The songs are either in Malayalam, Sanskrit or Manipravalam (a combination of Malayalam and Sanskrit) and the singer himself might write the songs. 

Sopana Sangeetham

Since the Edakka is beat by the sing himself Sopana Sangeetham is also called Kottipadi Seva (kotti – beat, padi – sing). The way the songs are sung is said to show the extent of devotion and experience of the artist. The training of the artist starts from singing invocatory songs in front the ‘Kalam’ in ‘Kalmezhuthu’ for different Gods or Goddesses.

Sopana Sangeetham

The styles of Sopana sangetham that is rendered in North of Kerala is different from how it is done in the South of Kerala, In South Temples like Pazhoor and Ramamangalam are famous for their Sopana Sangeetham. Similarly temples of North Guruvayoor and Thirumandhamkunnu too have their names associated with Sopana Sangeetham. All these temples have traditional hereditary families who have it as their duty to perform it.

Sopana Sangeeetham has been sung in the temples since ages and has become part of the tradition in the temples. Edakka which accompanies the Sopana Sangeetham is mainly used for these songs only. The Edakka is supposed to be the same instrument which is found tied to Lord Shiva’s Trishul.