The origin of mridangam goes back to the Indian mythologies wherein it is stated
that Lord Nandi (the Bull God), who was the escort of Lord Shiva was a master
percussionist and used to play the mridangam during the performance of the " Taandav
" dance by Lord Shiva. Another myth addsz that that the mridangam apparently was
created because an instrument was needed that could recreate the sound of Indra (the Hindu
counterpart of Zeus king of Gods) as he moved through the heavens on his elephant
Airavata. That is why mridangam is called the 'Deva Vaadyam' or the instrument of the
Indian music, like every other aspect of Indian culture, reflects centuries of influences
and changes wrought during its 3,000 years of recorded history with the immigration of the
Aryans from Central Asia in the second millennium B.C. to Islamic invasion in the 12
century B.C. and the British rule from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. With each
group came new cultural ideas and technical innovations, and with the passage of time, the
new ideas were absorbed and assimilated, emerging finally in an undeniably Indian
synthesis. In music this synthesis can be seen in the relationship between ragas
(expressive modes) of India and those of the Middle East (the Islamic influence) as also
in the talas (cycle of beats).
Indian music, classical, folk or popular, thus reflects layers of metamorphosis. It
includes the two styles of classical music - North India's melodious Hindusthani music and
the intricate Carnatic Sangeetham of South India. India can be said to be a country of
countries; its diversity of languages, religions, cultures, and traditions have no
parallel example anywhere in the world. Indian musical instruments in the same manner are
very diverse in nature.
Most of the Indian musical instruments have evolved over centuries. Each instrument has
its own history behind its evolution. In Indian culture's early stages, artifacts, musical
instruments, and lifestyles were simple and basic in nature. Example: all tribal
instruments are basic rhythm instruments and never complex instruments having a capacity
to produce a range of octaves. As a society progressed, the demands on musical instruments
arose. Thus, most Indian instruments, although having started in simple forms, because of
a long period of evolution, have now become exquisite instruments capable of producing a
varied pitch and range of octaves.
Musical instruments, according to ancient works, have been divided into four types.
Thatha, Avanaddha, Sushira and Ghana which are Chordophones, Membranophones, Aerophones
and Idiophones respectively. The mridangam belongs to the percussion family and has been
played by Indians for more than 2000 years. It consists of a wooden shell approximately 27
inches long, covered with stretched skins on each side. It is famous for its distinctive
buzzing sound and is used extensively for dance performances. Mythologically it is
believed that God himself created tabla by cutting the mridangam into half.