The Mizhavu is the most essential percussion instrument in classical forms of dance like the Koodiyattam and Koothu in the South Indian state of Kerala. The Indian subcontinent is well known for its diversity in the ethnicity and culture of its populace. The southern region of India is especially diverse and its people have very well preserved their traditions in the form of classical rituals and arts.The Mizhavu forms the focal point of the ancient music of devotion and epics that find their roots well grounded in the classical treatise like the Vedas and the Natyashastra.

The Mizhavu is basically a fairly large pot made out of copper that is almost perfectly spherical. Its mouth is covered with a cloth or a hide that is kept taut at all times, thus forming a diaphragm. The performer plays the Mizhavu by using the copper rim of the mouth and by the adept manipulation of the diaphragm. The player completely utilizes the fingers of both his hands to create fast and complex rhythms using the Mizhavu.


The Mizhavu is involved in classical performing arts of Kerala (A south Indian state) that are performed in the sacred cloisters of the Hindu temples. Traditionally there are two ancient performing arts of Kerala in which Mizhavu is the principal instrument. One of them is the Koodiyattam; it is a form of ancient Sanskrit theatre that is the traditional art performed inside the temples. It is in fact the only surviving form of Sanskrit theatre in India and is also classified by the UNESCO of United Nations as an “intangible heritage of Human History”.

Apart from this the other traditional performances of the Mizhavu form an integral part of Koothu or Kuttu. It is a folk dance (a kind of a street dance) originating out of the Tamil region and has become particularly popular in Kerala.

A recent platform for the instrument is the ensemble performances of music in the Thyambaka with the Mizhavu as the concert master. It is performed in both the forms of standard sets and colorful improvisations with accompanying instruments.


The main feature of the Mizhavu is that while many people may learn the art of playing it; only the artists from the Nambiar caste of the Ambalavasi community of Kerala are allowed to play inside the temples for devotional invocations and for the performances of Koodiyattam in the temple stages of Koothambalam.

Another important quality is that it is only to be played using ones hands and even gripping it with the feet is considered blasphemous. This attitude arises out of the holy and sacred status of the Mizhavu and it is often used with its special wooden stand and a symbolic Mizhavu is permanently maintained in most temples of Kerala.

Rendition Styles

The playing styles used with the Mizhavu are strictly followed traditionally and depend upon the classical composition. It is only in the Tyambaka performances that the Mizhavu masters often play virtuosic improvisations.


The structure of the Mizhavu compositions is very invariant as it is mostly played to describe the emotion (bhava) and feeling of an actor in a scene from an epic from the Vedas. The main function of the Mizhavu is that of a ‘taala vadya’ or of a rhythm instrument and hence the taala or the rhythm and the laya or the tempo of the composition governs the structure of the beats and sounds of the Mizuva. The Carantic or the South Indian classical music has a highly developed system of keeping, creating and incorporating rhythm and the Mizhavu is considered by many as the best rhythm instrument in the South Indian classical system.


The education of the art of playing a Mizhavu is primarily given by the ancestral artists of the various temple that patron its art and performances. Lately the Koothu players have also become respected artiste in the field. As true as it may be, the sacred performances that are performed in the temples are only allowed to the artists of the Nambiar caste of Kerala. The many prominent names and foremost masters in the field of Mizhavu belong to the Nambiar families of the Ambalvasi community of Kerala. Guru P. K. Narayanan Nambiar is often considered the contemporary Master who has shaped many illustrious apprentices.

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