About Mridangam




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The music of India is one of the oldest systems of music in the world. It has two branches. There  is  the Hindustani sangeet (music) of the North and the Carnatic sangeet (music) in the south. Collectively these two limbs form the body of a musical tradition that is said to extend back several thousand years.

The Carnatic sangeet of southern India prefers a drum called Mridangam. It is the principal drum used in the performance of classical South Indian music and dance. This instrument is a single piece of wood that is hollowed out and has playing heads on both sides. The Mridangam is a south Indian representative of a class of instrument known as Mridang. This class includes other drums like Maddal, Shuddha maddalam, Khol, and Pakhawaj. Mridangam forms the basis for carnatic classical percussion in India.

One major winning point in Carnatic music is the rhythm management which admits of any amount of innovation and growth. In Western music, the rhythm instrument is the drum. The drum just maintains the pulse rate of the music and it calls for more of brawn than brain. In the big contrast with this, the indian monarch among percussion instruments - the Mridangam is first "tuned" to the appropriate pitch and far more than drum beat, it 'accompanies' the music. It enriches and enhances the musical effect of the whole troupe. When on a solo turn, the variety and patterns and mode of rhythmic travel is a veritable feast to both the learned and the laity. There is hardly any acclaimed expert in any percussion instrument anywhere on earth who does not venerate the Mridangam as the king in the rhythmic realm.

One of the differences between Indian Classical Music and its western counterpart is the importance given to percussion in the former style. Percussion is the backbone of Indian classical music. Its importance is best expressed in the saying Shruti Mata Laya Pita (the microtone is the mother while tempo is the father).

In south India we have a mind-boggling array of drums the most prominent being the mridangam used in every south Indian state and associated with the dance styles of Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi and Mohini Attam. The south Indian dancer depends on not only the mridangam but also the chenda, the maddalam, the edakya, the morsing (or mukha veena) with more than of these present during a performance of Mohini Attam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi while the Bharata Natyam dancer is content with just the mridangam.

While the two systems - north Indian or Hindustani and south Indian or Carnatic-use percussion systems differently, it can be observed immediately that the south Indian system has evolved in more more ways of keeping and dividing time than Hindustani music has. The south Indian system has a very sophisticated taal system (the taal is a cycle of beats). Taal in the South Indian system is kept either through the slapping of thighs or the counting of beats on fingers. Though there are 22 taals in total, mainly 5 of them are used frequently. They are Adi, Roopakam, Khandam, Misram and Sankeernam.

The importance of a percussionist has changed over the years. Earlier, percussionists only used to accompany the main artist like the vocalist but nowadays their involvement is not restricted to accompaniment only but also to present solo performances.


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