Idakkai (also spelt as Idakka, Edakkai or Edakka), is an hour glass shaped instrument of ancient origin. The Idakkai now is almost extensively used in Temples of Kerala either as a solo instrument or is one of the primary instruments of the quintet orchestra, the Panchavadyam.
It is very similar in shape and construction to the Udukkai (Udukku), it can be said to be a larger variant of the Udukku. Due to its similarities it is sometimes said to be the instrument, as supposed to Udukku or Damarutham that is tied to the Soolam (Trident) that Siva holds.
The hour glass shaped body ranges in length of about 8 – 10 inches with a diameter of about 4 – 5 inches at either side. The instrument body traditionally is made from a single block of Jackfruit tree wood that is hollowed out, it is usually red varnished. Other woods such as the Black wood and the Red sandal wood are also used.
Two rings (Valayangal) each of about 1 inch thickness are made from the plank of wood from Jackfruit tree or Mango tree. Each ring is of about 8 inch in diameter and contains 6 evenly spaced holes used to hold the heads together by lacing with strings. Once the holes are punched the rings are ready for skin application.
The skin is made from the outer wall of the cow's intestine due to its thickness. This thin layer of skin in cleaned and purified before use. This skin is stuck on the rings in such a manner that it covers and reaches out of the circumfarance of the rings. It is stuck with a paste made from a special kind of boiled rice mixed with Thiruneeru (or Vibuthi, in Sanskrit) which is the sacred ash worn on the forehead of Saivites.
The skins are tightened slightly by running the string around the laced strings at the centre (the thinnest section of the body), once the desired sound is achieved the strings are tied firmly. Two strings are then loosely laced around each of the six interlaced strings, this runs in parallel to the central laced string section. A small piece of string is then hooped to the top of each of the loosely laced string. The shoulder strap (Tholnadai), usually made of cloth, is attached at either end to the string loop, the strap is held on one shoulder, the left for right handed players, while simultaneously holding (by grasping the hand around) the body of the instrument.
Although, the Idakkai has two sides or heads, it is only played on one. The playing face is commonly known as the 'Kottuvattam' (the playing ring/face) and the other is known as the 'Mootuvattam' (holding ring/face). A colourful woollen ball is tied to the end of the playing face so that it can be distinguished from the non-playing face.
Four perfectly rounded sticks, which are about 7 inches in length and about 1 inch in diameter, are inserted through several of the laced strings (at the base). Each end of the stick has 8 decoratively coloured woollen balls hanging from it making up a total of 64 (This is said to represent the 64 arts).
The playing head/face is played with a stick, the Kutchi, which is curvy at the playing end so that it does not pierce the delicate skin. The stick can be made from any number of hard wood trees including Jackfruit tree.
While playing the left, or the holding, hand aids to vary the pitch. When the Idakkai is pushed further down (i.e. away from the shoulder) it enables the strap to exert tension on the strings that go around the laced strings. This tightens the laced strings which intern causes the skins to be tightened around the body thereby causing an increased pitch modulation. When the Idakkai is pulled towards the shoulder the tension is relaxed which causes the pitch to decrease.
Similarly to the Udukku, and in addition to producing rhythmic notes, the pitch of the Idakkai can be regulated to mimic the tone of the human speech (vocal notes). Those that are proficient in playing the Idakkai can make it “sing” to songs.
The Idakkai’s antiquity can be traced back to reference in the Saiva hymns, Panniru Thirumurai, this extract from the Third Thirumurai describes that Sivan adorns himself with the Idakkai amongst other instruments and/or ornaments.
References to the Idakkai has been made in the below Saiva hymns, Panniru Thirumurai:
கத்திரிகை துத்திரிக றங்குதுடி தக்கையொ டிடக்கைபடகம்
எத்தனையு லப்பில்கரு வித்திரள லம்பஇமை யோர்கள்பரச
ஒத்தற மிதித்துநட மிட்டவொரு வர்க்கிடம தென்பருலகில்
மெய்த்தகைய பத்தரொடு சித்தர்கள் மிடைந்துகளும் வேதவனமே. 3.76.5
Katharikai thuthirika rangkuthudi thakkaiyo didakkaipadakam
Ethanayu lappilkaru vithirala lappaimai yorkalparasa
Othara mithithunada middavoru varkkidama thenparulakil
Maiththakaiya paththarodu sitharkal midainthukalum vethavaname 3.76.5