“Music flows from heaven to soul to describe emotions that words cannot express.”
Mridangam, which is also known as “Deva Vadyam” (instrument of Gods), is an Indian percussion instrument which appears like a double-sided drum. Being a primary rhythmic accompaniment, it plays a big role in a Carnatic music ensemble.
The quality of sound produced by Mridangam directly depends on the quality of trunk used to make the shell of Mridangam. It is usually made from a hollowed and polished trunk of Jackfruit tree which gives the best kind of sound. Shape similar to Pakhavaj, the sound of Mridangam is crisp, sharp and tight than it. Wide in the middle of its length with narrowed ends on both sides, one of the two ends of Mridangam is smaller and it is called as “Balabhagam” while the larger end is called as “Edabhagam” or “Thappi”.
After hollowing the shell both ends and mouths are covered with three layers of goatskin and cowhide alternatively with outermost layer covering around the circumference of apertures. Long strips made of buffalo skin are used to hold together and keep the skin tightly stretched on both ends. A thin layer of a paste that is a mix of powdered iron and cooked rice is applied on Balabhagam, to get the high pitched sound. On Edabhagam, the bottom layer of skin is stretched fully covering the whole aperture and the two layers over it are cut from the middle in a way that creates a skinless circle over the bottom layer. It is then covered by applying a thick layer of paste on the same circular portion to produce heavy low-pitched bass. By maintaining the balance with high pitched sound of Edabhagam, Mridangam is able to speak different emotions through the beats.
Once mridangam is ready, it is time to test it by playing it. A Mridangam can only be played while sitting crossed legged on a flat surface like floor or asana. The smaller end, Balabhagam, is played with the primary hand while Edabhagam is played with secondary hand. A thin coat of paste, which is made of rice powder and water, is applied on both sides before each performance to increase the resonance. Just like any other instrument, Mridangam should also be tuned to match rest of the instruments which are to be used in a performance. To tune it, the player should use wooden peg and round stone.
That was about the anatomy of Mridangam. To know more, read our series of articles.