by H.S. Sudhindra
Mridangam Vidwan and Convenor,
Youth form, Art Centre
Sound in general can be either noise or
music. Audible frequencies which are pleasing to hear may be termed
as Naada or Musical Sound. the musical sound consists
of different swaras. These swaras are confined to different octaves.
Each swara is identified by its sthaana, which is given a particular
name. This is the basis of evolution and formulation of a written
text for music which was later called Notation. Notation is a
system of symbols and signs.
The concept of notation system did not exist even
during the times of Natya Sastra. People often forgot that every
music Grantha has a Tala Adhyaya. The contents of the Tala Adhyayas
are not clearly known because of the following reasons:
Non-technical persons (non-percussion
artists) could not have understood this.
The persons who understood the literary
language, that is the language in which this was written,
did not know the performing aspects.
The persons who knew percussion did not know the
In music, the song has a text (Sahitya) and this text has a meaning.
However, there is no meaning for mnemonics (in the literary sense)
as a language, but still the language is conveyed through musical
strokes. the language is universal and enjoyed by most. Since this
is a monotone instrument, everyone cannot appreciate.
A number of students are learning various percussive instruments
and it is very ideal to put the lessons in writing. This is highly
necessary, for the following reasons:
Useful for an artist himself to recollect a complex korvai he
has formed, after some years. We have already lost many Moharas
and other technicalities of olden days. In fact, the Mohara was
being formed from Samam. (Now we have a method of playing a korvai from Samam to Eduppu).
Most of our earlier percussionists were illiterate though
highly cultured. No notations were available due to this factor.
However art was propagated more through "Karna Parampara"
or "Guru Shishya Parampara". When the
question of retentivity and authenticity arose, writting of 'sollus'
became essential. Probably no written material or script was given
to the disciple before or after teaching. When the question of
retentivity arose, disciples gave a thinking to write much against
the wishes of their Gurus. Even early in the early part of the 20th
century copies of the Trinity's compositions were restricted for a
selected few. Much to the opposition of giants in the field, copies
were printed. As a result of this, today we have a lot of Keertanas
authored by many Vidwans and 'Kriti Mani Maalai' has become a
Over the past 50 years a lot has been done in the percussive arts
too, with respect to the notation system. Various authors have
written useful texts. The highlights of some of these books have
been represented below:
In "The Art of Playing Mridangam" by Tinniam
Venkatarama Iyer, as illustrated by the author, the basic lesson
Tha, Thi, Thom & Nam are represented
by KRDN respectively. He clearly states that Tha & Thi
are non-vibrating sounds whereas Thom & Nam are vibrating
sounds. The letter K also stands for Ku, Ka and Ki, the letter R
also stands for Ri & Tha, the letter D also stands for Ja. The
kaarvai is represented by a small elipse. (Kaarvai is nothing but
"the rest" or "silence").
In "The Art of Mridangam" by T.R. Hariharan
Sharma, the author introduces that the mridangam has the
capability to produce & distinct musical tones varying in pitch,
resonance, timbre and tonal qualities. The 7 fundamental syllables
are termed as Tha, Thi, Thom, Nam, Ta, Chapu and Dhin.These are
referred to as Major Syllables while Ka, Dhim and Tham are referred
to as Minor Syllables. A dot is used to denote a kaarvai. Absolutely
no abbreviations are used for any syllables.
In "Mridangam Tatvam" by Dhamala Ramamurthy,
the author explains a lot of technical terms and the theory
regarding mridangam. As far a sthe notation system is concerned, the
book clearly indicates various types of Gumkis with notation. The
Gumki varieties are clearly shown in the photographs.The notation
consists of Greek Alphabets etc. for notating.
As clearly observed from the above study, each author has used
his own notation system. It should not be very difficult to
establish uniformity in writing notation for percussions. Finally,
uniform notation system is essential for the following reasons:
Preserving art through textual material
For propagation of art
As a teaching material for students
This is an era of documentation
For recordings and symphonies
The essential contents of a uniform notation system:
It should represent the strokes and kaarvai
It should represent the Mruga
Graha should be indicated
Soft, hard and vibrating strokes should be mentioned
Supporting strokes on the left should be taken care of
Gumki should be taken care of
Number of times a particular phrase to be repeated should be
The kalam should be represented
The Ghana and Naya (Vallinam & Mellinam in Tamil) Should
Tala and Anga should be clearly stated