Indian Percussion instrument - Mrudangam, Mridangam
Mridanga, which means body of clay, is the most ancient and oldest of all percussion instruments. Mridangam is a common instrument which is used in south as an accompaniment to the vocal as well as instrumental performances. In the northern India, mridanga is known as pakhawaj but a slight difference has been observed in both. In Bengal and Manipur states in India the, mridangam is popularly known as khol.
Making of Mrudangam: The making of the mridangam is very interesting. Mrudangam has heavy annular membrane around the right side, and a number of straw pieces are placed radically between the annular and the main membrane.
The percussion instrument mridangam is hollowed out of a block of wood and measures about 60cm in length. It is shaped like a barrel which has a bulge slightly to one side and where the right face is smaller than the left. The left face is called 'tappi' and has two lamina. The outer portion is a flat ring of leather and at its periphery attached to a plait known as the pinnal. This outer layer holds on to its inner side another parchment which is a circular piece and has a diameter approximating to the outer skin.
The whole unit of mrudangam is fixed to the left head. The right face has three laminations. The inner and the outer are rings like mentioned already and the middle circular layer is held erect and tight by pasting the annular rings of leather along its periphery. This entire complex called 'valan talai' is then stitched on to a plait and then mounted onto the right side mouth of the barrel. The two faces are thus joined and are held together tightly with the help of leather straps which pass in and out of the pinnals or plaits or braids on both the sides.
Like mentioned earlier, Mridangam is a basically the South Indian version of pakhawaj. Although it bears a strong yet superficial resemblance to pakhawaj yet there are major differences with respect to construction and technique with which the mrudangam is handled. The tone of this percussion instrument is quite distinct and different. Which is because of the difference in the construction of the two.
The right side has a permanent application, which is known as karanai and sometimes Soru. The left side uses a mixture of flour and water which helps to provide the desired and right tone. This application is removed at the finish of each performance. The lacing and heads of the percussion instrument are then all placed upon a barrel shaped wooden shell. Jackwood comes in use generally.
Playing & Tuning: The mrudangam is generally tuned with the help of a small wooden block & a heavy stone. The block is positioned against the rawhide weaving and struck with the stone. To raise or lower the pitch depends upon the manner of striking the instrument. It is generally tuned in accordance with the tonic of the piece being performed. Tuning of the mrudangam is done with the help of striking the right pinnal with a wooden block, with hand or with anything else. By striking the mrudangam from different angles and parts, a wide range of tones can be obtained in various ways. In the southern India, the mridangam is the only drum used in classical music recitals except in the Nagaswaram recitals.
The person playing the mrudangam sits cross legged with his/her left foot placed below and the right foot over and slightly extended. The mridangam is then rested upon the player's right foot and ankle. Since mrudangam is very heavy it is cushioned with the help of rolled up cloth placed where the right foot is. While the right hand plays the smaller head, the left hand plays the head which has been plastered with the temporary application of flour which like mentioned earlier is removed after every performance.
A mixture of flour and water is applied on the middle of the left side which helps it to lower the tone to the desired pitch. This technique helps to give a full, bass sound. Which is removed each time after use and new paste or mixture applied before the new performance. The center of the right side has a permanent coating of a black substance called siyahi which is a mixture of boiled rice, iron filings, manganese dust, and other things. This layer helps to give characteristic tone to the mridangam and helps facilitate tuning to a particular pitch.
About Mrudangam: This percussion instrument, mridangam is an indispensable component when it comes to south Indian classical performances. In these performances, the player weaves magic by playing some intricate patterns to complement and accompany the south Indian vocalists, or vina, or violin players. Attaining mastery over playing mrudangam is a very demanding art and requires many years to master.
Mridangam has secondary accompaniment to Kanjira and is used to accompany vocal music, instrumental music, dance music and is a primary percussion of South Indian Music. It is a classical drum of South India. The Mridangam is the principal instrument, that is used in the performance of classical South Indian music and dance. This instrument is a single piece of wood hollowed out with playing heads on both sides.
Mridangam is a double-sided drum, that can produce a wide variety of tones. Heavy wood combined with multi-layered heads helps the instrument in producing a variety of very bright sound. Other elements used in the body of mridangam are goat skin, high pitch aperture, and a black disk made of flour and ferric oxide powder.
A six-sided Mridangam
Shri Gopakumar of Pondicherry has developed a six-sided percussion instrument, and has named it Arumukhanam (the six-faced). The instrument is placed on a seat of semicircle. From left to right, the instrument plays low pitch, high pitch, Madyamam, Mel Shadjham, Panjamam and Shadjham. The instrument can be played both ways - sitting as well as standing. It is not difficult to relocate or move it from one place to the other because the faces can be dismantled. The reassembling is also easy. According to Shri Gopakumar, the instrument can be played solo or in orchestra.
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