Konnakol (or Konnakoal/Konnaikoal), in Tamil traditions is the verbal recital of the Solkattu (Miruthangam notes). Konnakol derives its name from two Tamil words Konnal (or Konnai) and Koal. Konnai literally means to ‘stutter’ when speaking but here denotes to recite rhythmic musical phrases. Koal is a ‘sceptre’, a symbolic ornamental mace in the hands of a ruling monarch and also equates to ‘rule’. Thus the word 'Konnakol' implies that it is the ruler of rhythmic music, indeed it is the 'King' of all the percussion instruments as it is the essential vocal reference.
Konnakol can be traced back to the Sangam period where it was classified in music under a section of its own. Silappathikaram, for example, makes reference to five types of instruments. The Tholkaruvi (Instruments with skin or percussion), the Thulaikaruvi (Instruments with holes or wind instruments), the Narambukaruvi (Instruments with veins or string instruments), the Midattrukaruvi (Instruments of the throat or vocal instruments/vocalists) and the Kanchakaruvi (Instruments of time such as gongs and cymbals).
Konnakol belongs to the Midattrukaruvi (Vocal Instrument) section of Tamil music although usually the artist performs under the Tholkaruvi/Thalavathiya (percussion) section of a musical ensemble.
Konnakol is very unique and as an art form there is no doubt that the intense beauty of Layam (rhythm) can be demonstrated with great strength and elegance. A versatile artist can indeed entrance an audience with the rendering of this fine art.
Naturally the vocalised sounds of human beings are incomparable to the sounds produced by the percussion instrument. Over time the sounds have developed into a unique language of its own with the ability to vocally imitate the percussion sounds and patterns played. Not only does its vocabulary consist of unique vocal sound for each and every Miruthangam stroke it has, with the influence of many innovative artists, developed a language well beyond the scope of the sounds of the Miruthangam.
Aside from its merits as an individual art form, Konnakol is an integral part of the extensive training required to master the Miruthangam and all related percussion instruments providing the foundation for understanding the rhythmic complexities of these drums.
Musicians across the spectrum use Konnakol as the medium to communicate rhythmic ideas to each other. It has become the basic language for percussive communication and composition. Artists often first conceive ideas in Konnakol, as it’s more practical to calculate the timing and variations in the piece, and then transfer the piece to the instrument in question.
Konnakol plays an integral part in giving teaching instructions in percussion lessons, with the corrections in lessons given vocally. The student then repeats the syllabus, both in Konnakol and on the instrument.
The patterns are learnt orally and the inflections and accents are mimicked in connection with the sound of the drum. Traditionally, well known phrases have common accents embellishments and dynamics, but there is plenty of scope for an advanced artist to develop a personal interpretations and improvisations.
Konnakol is not restricted to a particular Sruthi (pitch) of the ensemble but the drone of the Thampura functions as a referred tonal centre for the recitation.
Alongside the influence of the Miruthangam and percussion sounds, much credit is given to the development of the vocal syllables in the reciting of Jathi (strings of syllables) as accompaniment for Bharatha Natyam, known as Nattuvangam.
Phrases, that do not entirely reflect the strokes of the Miruthangam, such as | Ju-Nu | Tha Thi Ku | Thi Thi Ku | Tha Thi Ku Ku | Jom Thangku | Nu Nu Ku | have been added to the repertoire of the Konnakol to provide a greater colour to the accompanying dance piece. These additional words and variations have only been incorporated into the Konnakol syllabus because of their pleasing tones and aesthetic beauty.