There is not much literature available that throws light on the life of one of the most outstanding Malayali musicians in the field of Carnatic music. And what little we have is worth its weight in gold. Marar was born in 1798 at Mamangalam in Ernakulam district. At a very young age, he mastered chenda, edakka, thimila etc. It is believed that he learnt Carnatic music under Harippad Ramaswamy Bhagavathar. The latent talent was soon ignited. Marar who led the life of an ascetic soon became an astan vidwan (eight scholars) in Sree Swathi Tirunal’s court.
A notable feature of Govinda Marar’s Tampura was that it had seven strings, instead of the four in ordinary thamburus. That is 2 panchamam, 2 sarini, 2 anusarini, 1 manthram. With his Thampuru he could scale ativilambith to adidruth with ease. That set him apart from other musicians. This extraordinary ability to sing in the sixth speed earned him the title “Shatkala Govinda Marar”.
An ‘astan vidwan’ in Swathi’s court Govinda Marar once visited Tiruvarur, Tanjavur to meet Tyagaraja Swami. History says that he stayed there for some days. Before Tyagaraja Swami, he rendered ‘Chandana charchitha neelakalebhara vasathivane vanamali’, an ashtapadi in six speeds. A wonder-struck Tyagaraja Swami soon asked his disciples to sing ‘Enthoru Mahanubhavalu’, which he had composed. The meaning of the line is ‘I bow in reverence before all the greats in this world’. It was apt.
In his musical sojourn, he could receive the blessings of two great contemporaries, Swathi Tirunal and Tyagaraja Swami.
In the course of his journey from Tyagaraja Savidha to Kasi in1843, the most versatile musician Shatkala Govinda Marar breathed his last at Pandareepuram Panduraja temple.