The mridangam is a barrel
-shaped, double headed Indian
drum with a jackwood
body. Its complex, multilayered leather
heads can produce up to twenty different sound
s when struck in various ways with different parts of the hand
in different places. The mridangam is not
the two tabla
units stuck end to end. It has a documented history
stretching back at least two thousand years; one of the earliest mentions of it is found in in the Natyashastra
), which was written between 200B.C. and 200A.D. The mridangam is used almost exclusively in Carnatic
music; this fact speaks volumes of its lineage, as this is the music of South
India, and by extension Dravidian culture
. The mridangam is the chief accompanying percussion instrument
in in Carnatic music; others include the kanjira
, the ghatam
, and the morsing
. The mridangam player signals to any other percussion instruments when to start, stop, what speed to play at, what sort of pattern
to play, and so on.
Stretched over both sides of the mridangam is a layer of goatskin. On the left side, which is not tuned to a specific pitch, there are two layers of buffalo hide stretched over this with the center cut out. The drummer, before a performance, makes a thick paste out of flour and presses it onto this head. There are two basic sounds that can be made from this head: one, a flat banging sound, and the other a rich booming bass. On the other side also is a goatskin base. Around the rim of this side is a layer of calfskin; over this is a layer of cowhide with a circle cut out of the center. Within this circle is a black spot made of boiled rice flour and fine iron slag. This side is musical and when hit in certain ways produces a tone and its fifth; consequently, this side must be tuned to the tonal center of the main artist.
Running the length of the drum are leather straps attached to the drumheads; they stretch out the skin over the head and keep it in place. Increasing or decreasing the tension in these straps changes the tuning of the mridangam, and so small cylindrical pieces of wood are placed under each strap that can be moved in various directions to change the center of tension. The other way to tune the mridangam (based on the same principle of changing the tension) is to hammer on the calfskin rim.
Famous mridangam players include: