Mobilising crowd to the beat of chenda melam

Troupes were used by various parties during campaigning

Chenda melam, a percussion instrument widely played across Kerala, has slowly but steadily spreading its wings in Tamil Nadu thanks to the patronage by political parties to entertain crowd during the campaign of top leaders. Chenda melam troupes are in heavy demand in the region these days.

The political parties, which face a tough task of mobilising crowds to the campaign, follow several tactics to retain them till the arrival of star speakers. On the line of orchestra, dance, ‘thappattam’ and folk dance, chenda melam has also joined the list in recent years.

Chenda melam troupes were ubiquitous when various leaders including Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and AMMK leader T.T.V. Dhinakaran visited various parts of Tiruchi, Perambalur and Pudukottai districts recently to seek votes for their respective candidates.

To the surprise of many, the organisers of Makkal Needhi Maiyam had arranged for a performance by a chenda melam troupe from Kerala (MNM) when actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan campaigned for its candidate V. Anandharaja in Srirangam on Monday.

At least four troupes were hired for the campaign of Mr. Palaniswami, who sought votes for AIADMK’s Perambalur Lok Sabha constituency N. R. Sivapathy in Tiruchi and Perambalur districts a few days ago. Another troupe entertained the crowd at Karur prior to the visit of Mr. Palaniswami, who garnered support for Karur Lok Sabha candidate M. Thambi Durai on Saturday.

To cash in on the demand, several popular troupes in Kerala have appointed agents in Tiruchi for booking. There has been sharp rise in their rates too.

The rate, which was quoted between ₹20,000 and ₹25,000 for a four-hour performance, has gone up to ₹27,000 to 30,000 mainly due to demand during the campaign.

“The sound of chenda melam is unique in these parts of the region in Tamil Nadu. Since it revs up the festive mood among the people, political parties vie with each other to fix these troupes for political meetings,” says Jeyam Sankthivel, a chenda melam organiser from Madurai.

Vattekkad Sasi, a chenda melam and panchavadyam artist from Palakkad, said that the demand for chenda melam was mainly restricted to major festivals in Tamil Nadu until recently. Now they are called for marriages, conferences and political campaigns.

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