Panchari Melam is a percussion ensemble, performed during temple festivals in Kerala, India. Panchari Melam (or, simply, panchari), is one of the major forms of chenda melam (ethnic drum ensemble), and is the best-known and most popular kshetram vadyam (temple percussion) genre. Panchari melam, comprising instruments like chenda, ilathalam, kombu and kuzhal, is performed during virtually every temple festival in central Kerala, where it is arguably presented in the most classical manner. Panchari, however, is also traditionally performed, with a touch of subtle regional difference, in north (Malabar) and south-central Kerala (Kochi). Of late, its charm has led to its performance even in deep-south Kerala temples.
Another chenda melam which comes close to panchari in prominence and grammatical soundness, is Pandi Melam, performed outside temple precincts in general. Other chenda melams, though less popular, are chempata, adanta, anchatanta, dhruvam, chempha, dhruvam, navam, kalpam and ekadasam. Though there are expressional differences between the panchari and the above-mentioned melams (other than pandi), the description of the former is proto-typical for the rest of them.
Panchari melam is performed either in its elaborate form (during annual temple festivals) or in its sketchy detail (to accompany the daily or weekly temple rituals). Either ways, they are performed only within the walls of the temple. The Panchari Melam represents "Satthva Guna", and elevates listeners to higher pedestals.
The ensemble starts at the main entrance to the inner part of the temple, slowly circling the shrine clockwise while playing. A panchari melam has five stages, each of them based on beats totalling 96, 48, 24, 12 and 6 respectively. The first phase of the Panchari Melam, also called the "Pathikaalam" stands out for its unique blend of percussion and noted from the Kuzhal. The crescendo rises higher with each phase, eventually culminating in the fifth phase with a 6-beat cycle. For the culmination of the fifth phase, a unique 3-beat cycle called "Muri-Panchari" is also employed to take the Melam to an apt conclusion. The Melam thus starts with a broad base, and progresses completing the pyramid structure, culminating at the apex.
The semi-circular procession, with caparisoned elephants totalling between three to fifteen generally), is led by the deity of the temple kept on tusker in the centre. (In a pure ritualistic case, the idol is carried by the Namboodiri priest himself). The deity faces the musical ensemble and devotees/melam buffs, the latter surrounding the musicians and following the progress of the melam.
Panchari melam, in its grand classical form, is staged during temple festivals in and around Thrissur district. The best Panchari Melam's are held at Peruvanam Pooram, Arattupuzha Pooram, Kuttanellur Pooram, Edakunni Uthram Vilakku, Thripunithura Sree Poornathrayeesa temple, and at Koodalmanikyam temple. The longest and the most sublime Panchari Melam's are the ones held at Peruvanam Pooram, Edakunni Uthram Vilakku & Kuttanellur Pooram, with the performance lasting for about four hours. The last one endures for a record duration of four hours. A list of Panchari in Thrissur Dist- in and around Cherpu. 1. Chendamangalam (Paliyam) temple 2. Thiruvambady Temple 2. Thaikkattussery 3. Chakkam kulangara 4. Cherpu Bhagavati 5. Chatthakkudam 6. Kadalassery 7. Araattupuzha 9. Thriprayar 10. Irinjalakkuda 11. Pothani 12. Chelurkavu 13. Avitathur 14. Ayankavu 15. Kodunthirapully Mahanavami navarathri
Among the leading masters of Panchari melam today are Kizhakkoottu Aniyan Marar, Madathil Narayanankutty Marar, Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, Cheranallore Shankarankutty Marar, Peruvanam Satheesan Marar, Karimpuzha Gopi Poduval, Mattannur Sankarankutty Marar, Kelath Aravindan, Cherussery Kuttan Marar, Pazhuvil Ragu Marar, Kelath Prabhakaran Marar, Thiruvalla Radhakrishnan, Kanhangad Muraleedhara Marar, Payyavoor Narayana Marar, Chowalloor Mohanan, Guruvayoor Haridas, RLV Mahesh, Chittannur Madhusoodhanan Marar, Peruvanam Prakashan Marar, Chendamangalam Unnikrishna Marar and Kalamandalam Sivadasan, Cherussery Sreekumar Marar.
Late panchari melam masters of the recent past include Late Shri Pandarathil Kuttappa Marar, Peruvanam Narayana Marar,Peruvanam Appu Marar,Kumarapurathu Appu Marar, Chakkamkulam Appu Marar, Thrippekulam Achutha Marar, Late Madathil GopalaMarar,Karimpuzha Rama Poduval, Mulangunnathukavu Appukutta Kurup, Pandarathil Murali, Kachamkurichi Kannan, Kuruppath Eachara Marar, Karekkattu Eachara Marar, Pattirathu Sankara Marar and Makkoth Nanu Marar The Great Thrimoorthies In All Late :Shri Pandarathil Kuttappa Marar,Late:Makoth Sankaran kutty Marar, Anthikad Raman Kutty Marar. Three of them learned the Thayambaka from Late Shri Thiyadi Naimbair.