Dressed in her red wedding sari and decked up in finery, Shilpa Sreekumar drummed up excitement as she entered the wedding venue in the company of percussion team Ponnan’s Blue Magic.
Keeping time with the 26 percussionists confidently, Shilpa played the chenda to give her bridegroom Devanand Chelot, a surprise.
As the melam got into their rhythm, the groom joined in, playing the cymbals with them and, soon, the father of the bride, Sreekumar Paliyath also became part of the ensemble by playing the chenda. Their joyous performance at Rajvalsam in Guruvayur, Kerala, on December 25 went viral.
Watch | Bride plays the chenda at her wedding
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An upbeat Devanand says, “Of course, it was wonderful to see her play the melam. When I saw the Ponnan’s team at the venue, I wondered if Shilpa would be playing along with them. But then I felt she might find it difficult to play the chenda in her sari and did not think further about it till I saw her walk in with the chenda.”
Soon after the temple thali kettu (marriage) at Guruvayur, the rest of the ceremony was held at Rajvalsam. Shilpa, a student of melam for the last 12 years, had played with the Ponnan’s during the shooting of the Malayalam film Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri in 2018.
Umesh Peringode, the lead player of the Ponnan’s, recalls: “We know Shilpa’s aptitude for melam and her proficiency and so when she invited us for her wedding, we asked her if she would play along to surprise Devanand. Initially, she was a little hesitant. But then she got into the spirit of the occasion.”
That is how the bride walked into the venue with the percussion team. Shilpa says it was a well-guarded secret that only she, her mother, Rashmi, father and brother, Pranav Sreekumar, knew in addition to the percussionists.
Sreekumar says that when Umesh suggested that Shilpa play the chenda as a surprise for her groom, her family was all for it. Sreekumar, Shilpa and Pranav have been trained in Pandi and Panchari melam. “We thought the bride playing the chenda would be something new. And everyone enjoyed the performance because it was spontaneous and Shilpa can keep up with the energy levels of the male melam players,” says the proud father.
Dubai-based 24-year-old Shilpa has been learning to play the chenda from Shyju Mankeel since she was 12. Since Shilpa’s parents are fond of the arts, she was learning dance and music. When a Dubai-based women-only shingari melam team was being formed, one of the organisers asked Sreekumar if Shilpa could learn the chenda with them.
“Dala was the first Vanitha percussion melam team in Dubai. Then I started playing with Dubai-based Seek Singarimelam. Since the last Onam, we have performed at more than 70 venues,” says Shilpa.
Sreekumar has also been learning shingari melam and last year Devanand became a student of Thaalam at the same place.
Devanand, 30, an engineer with an underground construction firm, says he wants to continue learning the melam and hopes to play with the percussion team along with Shilpa.