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The mridangam is a percussion instrument of ancient origin. It is the primary rhythmic accompaniment in a Carnatic music ensemble. In Dhrupad, a modified version, pakhawaj is the primary percussion instrument. A related instrument is the Kendang, played in Maritime Southeast Asia.
During a percussion ensemble, the mridangam is often accompanied by the ghatam, kanjira, and morsing.
The word "Mridangam" is formulated by the union (sandhi) of the two Sanskrit words mŗt (clay or earth) and anga (limb), as the earliest versions of the instrument were made of hardened clay.
In ancient Hindu sculpture, painting, and mythology, the mridangam is often depicted as the instrument of choice for a number of deities including Ganesha (the remover of obstacles) and Nandi, who is the vehicle and follower of Shiva. Nandi is said to have played the mridangam during Shiva's primordial tandava dance, causing a divine rhythm to resound across the heavens. The mridangam is thus also known as "deva vaadyam," or "Divine Instrument".[ citation needed ]
Over the years, the mridangam evolved and was made from different kinds of wood for increased durability, and today, its body is constructed from the wood of the jackfruit tree. It is widely believed that the tabla, the mridangam's Hindustani musical counterpart, was first constructed by splitting a mridangam in half. With the development of the mridangam came the tala (rhythm) system.
The mridangam has a large role in Newa music. One of the earliest Nepal Bhasa manuscripts on music is a treatise on this instrument called Mridanga anukaranam.
The range of its use has changed over the years. In the old days, percussionists were only employed to accompany the lead player, often the vocalist. Now its use is not restricted to accompaniment, and it is used for solo performances.
In Tamil culture, it is called a tannumai.The earliest mention of the mridangam in Tamil literature is found perhaps in the Sangam literature where the instrument is known as 'tannumai'. In later works, like the Silappadikaram, we find detailed references to it as in the Natyasastra. During the Sangam period, it was one of the principal percussion instruments used to sound the beginning of war, along with the murasu, tudi and parai, because it was believed that its holy sound would deflect enemy arrows and protect the King. During the post-Sangam period, as mentioned in the epic Silappadikaram, it formed a part of the antarakoṭṭu - a musical ensemble which performed at the beginning of dramatic performances, and that would later develop into Bharathanatyam. The player of this instrument held the title tannumai aruntozhil mutalvan.
The mridangam is a double-sided drum whose body is usually made using a hollowed piece of jackfruit wood about an inch thick. The two mouths or apertures of the drum are covered with a goatskin and laced to each other with leather straps along the length of the drum. These straps are put into a state of high tension to stretch out the circular membranes on either side of the hull, allowing them to resonate when struck. These two membranes are dissimilar in diameter to allow for the production of both bass and treble sounds from the same drum.
The bass aperture is known as the thoppi or eda bhaaga and the smaller aperture is known as the valanthalai or bala bhaaga. The smaller membrane, when struck, produces higher pitched sounds with a metallic timbre. The wider aperture produces lower pitched sounds. The goat skin covering the smaller aperture is anointed in the center with a black disk made of rice flour, ferric oxide powder and starch. This black tuning paste is known as the satham or karanai and gives the mridangam its distinct metallic timbre.
The combination of two inhomogeneous circular membranes allows for the production of unique and distinct harmonics. Pioneering work on the mathematics of these harmonics was done by Nobel Prize-winning physicist C. V. Raman.
Immediately prior to use in a performance, the leather covering the wider aperture is made moist and a spot of paste made from semolina (rawa) and water is applied to the center, which lowers the pitch of the wider membrane and gives it a very powerful resonating bass sound. Nowadays, rubber gum is also used to loosen the membrane helping in creating the bass sound, and its advantage is that unlike semolina, it will not stick on hands. The artist tunes the instrument by varying the tension of the leather straps spanning the hull of the instrument. This is achieved by placing the mridangam upright with its larger side facing down, and then striking the tension-bearing straps located along of circumference of the smaller membrane with a heavy object (such as a stone). A wooden peg is sometimes placed between the stone and the mridangam during the tuning procedure to ensure that the force is exerted at precisely the point where it is needed. Striking the periphery of the smaller membrane in the direction toward the hull raises the pitch, while striking the periphery from the opposite side (away from the hull) lowers the pitch. The pitch must be uniform and balanced at all points along the circumference of the valanthalai for the sound to resonate perfectly. The pitch can be balanced with the aid of a pitch pipe or a tambura. The larger membrane can also be tuned in a similar manner, though it is not done as frequently. Note that since the leather straps are interwoven between both the smaller and larger aperture, adjusting the tension on one side often can affect the tension on the other.
The mridangam is played resting it almost parallel to the floor. A right-handed mridangam artist plays the smaller membrane with their right hand and the larger membrane with the left hand.
The mridangam rests above the right ankle (but not on it), the right leg being slightly extended, while the left leg is bent and rests against the hull of the drum and against the torso of the artist. It is extremely important that the two sides of the hips are level, to prevent a habitual lateral pelvic tilt. For a left-handed percussionist, the legs and hands are switched.
It is not uncommon for artists to use stands for the miruthangam so the body is not loaded in an asymmetrical position.
There have recently been reports of gradually altered gait and balance, varying in severity, in those that play the mridangam for long periods of time in asymmetrical positions, especially with poor attention to body posture. Some drums schools do not pay attention to posture and health so it is important to find a school that does so, and to ensure that teachers are experienced and licensed to teach. Additionally, the nature of the drum makes it difficult to avoid a symmetrical position for the two sides of the body. Perhaps, new innovations for the miruthangam will adapt it in such a way that circumvents this issue.
Issues caused by asymmetrical body position include functional (not structural) scoliosis, uneven shoulders and hips, and this may cause issues further down limbs, such as the gradual turning in of sole of the right foot to face medially. The asymmetry throughout the body may cause mild balance issues. As well as impairing sporting prowess, it can impair one's ability to maintain good cardiovascular health, leading to the development of associated health conditions. If the body becomes uneven to the point of impairing balance, this too can affect one's daily life. It can also affect one's self image through changing gait and balance - especially in male artists.
It is not known how prevalent the issues are and some artists do not experience any symptoms, although this might be due to an awareness of health and physical appearance not being so significant some countries. Research has yet to be done on the association to physical impairments when the drum is played with a stand.
Musicians should also watch out for uneven shoulder positions when playing the drum, which may be unavoidable. It is recommended that musicians sits completely straight, with hips, spine and shoulders completely even and relaxed. Wooden stands may help alleviate issues with scoliosis, uneven shoulders, hips and its associated issues at the knee and ankles. The impacts can result in difficulty in walking and running efficiently and may cause pain later in life and in old age. Whether strength training and stretching may alleviate these problems is yet to be researched. Therefore, it is strongly advised to notify minors and their parents of issues associated with the drum so that they can make informed decisions on whether to play the drum. When played without adequate care to posture, the miruthangam has the potential to have lifelong effects on one's physical health. Regular stretching, weight training, and sports are advisable but may not prevent impairments.
Western physiotherapists may struggle to comprehend the issues faced because they are unfamiliar with the nature of the drum. Even when the issues are well understood, it is not known whether such long-term changes to the body can be reversed.
Such conditions may be avoided through learning from experienced, licensed teachers.
Research on the miruthangam and postural issues are yet to be done.
Basic strokes on the mridangam:
There is also a parallel set of rhythmic solfa passages (known as "solkattu") which is sounded by mouth to mimic the sounds of the mridangam. Students of this art are required to learn and vigorously practice both the fingering strokes and solfa passages to achieve proficiency and accuracy in this art.
Many other strokes are also taught as the training becomes more advanced, which are generally used as aesthetic embellishments while playing. These notes include gumki (or gamakam), and chaapu. The combination of these finger strokes produces complex mathematical patterns that have both aesthetic and theoretical appeal. Increasingly complex calculations (kanakku) and metres (nadais) may be employed when the mridangam is played.
Classically, training is by dharmic apprenticeship and includes both the yoga of drum construction and an emphasis on the internal discipline of voicing mridangam tone and rhythm both syllabically and linguistically, in accordance with Rigveda, more than on mere performance.
Types of Talam, each with specific angas and aksharas:
Today the mridangam is most widely used in Carnatic music performances. These performances take place all over Southern India and are now popular all over the world. As the principal rhythmic accompaniment (pakkavadyam), the mridangam has a place of utmost importance, ensuring all of the other artists are keeping their timing in check while providing support to the main artist. One of the highlights of a modern Carnatic music concert is the percussion solo (thani avarthanam), where the mridangam artist and other percussionists such as kanjira, morsing, and ghatam vidwans exchange various complex rhythmic patterns, culminating in a grand finale where the main artist resumes where he or she left off.[ citation needed ]
Mridangam is used as an accompanying instrument in Yakshagana Himmela (orchestra) where it is called the maddale. However, the mridangam used in Yakshagana is markedly different in structure and acoustics from the ones used in Carnatic music.[ citation needed ]
Significant players of the mridangam in modern times are T. K. Murthy, Dandamudi Ram Mohan Rao, T. V. Gopalakrishnan, Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, Vellore G. Ramabhadran, T S Nandakumar, Karaikudi Mani, Trichy Sankaran, Mannargudi Easwaran, Yella Venkateswara Rao, [ citation needed ]and Thiruvarur Bakthavathsalam, who have been playing and advancing the technique for decades.
Mridangamela is a synchronized performance of mridangam by a group of artists. The concept of Mridangamela was developed by Korambu Subrahmanian Namboodiri and is currently propagated by Korambu Vikraman Namboodiri.Mridangamela is designed to be easily performed and managed even when performed by a group of children. It is common that the age of artists can range from 3 years to above. Most Mridangamelas are performed by children soon after their initiation to learning mridangam. A teaching method developed to train for Mridangamela made this easy to be taught and contributed to its popularity. In Koodalmanikyam Temple, Irinjalakuda, it is a tradition that Mridangamela is held by children of the age group 3 years and above, as soon as the Utsavam is flagged off. This is performed as an offering to Lord Bharata, who is the deity of Koodalmanikyam Temple. In 2014, Mridangamela by 75 children was performed at Chembai Sangeetholsavam, which is the annual Carnatic music festival held in Guruvayur by the Guruvayur Devaswom. Mridangamela had been performed at Chembai Sangeetholsavam for the past 35 years orchestrated by Korambu Mridanga Kalari.
Over the years and especially during the early 20th century, great maestros of mridangam also arose, inevitably defining "schools" of mridangam with distinct playing styles. Examples include the Puddukottai school and the Thanjavur school. The virtuosos Palani Subramaniam Pillai, Palghat Mani Iyer and C.S. Murugabhupathy contributed so much to the art that they are often referred to as the Mridangam Trinity.
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Carnatic music, known as Karnāṭaka saṃgīta or Karnāṭaka saṅgītam in the South Indian languages, is a system of music commonly associated with South India, including the modern Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and Sri Lanka. It is one of two main subgenres of Indian classical music that evolved from ancient Sanatana dharma sciences and traditions, particularly the Samaveda. The other subgenre being Hindustani music, which emerged as a distinct form because of Persian or Islamic influences from Northern India. The main emphasis in Carnatic music is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in gāyaki (singing) style.
The dholak is a two-headed hand drum, a folk percussion instrument. The instrument is about 45 cm in length and 27 cm in breadth and is widely used in qawwali, kirtan, lavani and bhangra. The drum has two different sized drumheads. The smaller drumhead is made of goat skin for sharp notes while the bigger drumhead is made of buffalo skin for low pitch. The two drumheads allow a combination of bass and treble with rhythmic high and low pitches. The body or shell of the Dholak is made of sheesham or mango wood. The larger membrane, played with a stick, has a compound (Syahi) applied which helps to lower the pitch and produce the sound. The smaller drumhead is played with the left hand which produces a high pitch. A cotton rope lacing and screw-turnbuckle are used to release tension while playing. Steel rings/pegs are twisted inside the laces to attain fine tuning. Dholak can be played in three ways — on the player’s lap, while standing, or pressed down with one knee while sitting on the floor.
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A thavil (Tamil:தவில்) or tavil is a barrel-shaped percussion instrument from Tamil Nadu. It is also widely used in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamilnadu and Telangana States of South India. It is used in temple, folk and Carnatic music, often accompanying the nadaswaram. The thavil and the nadaswaram are essential components of traditional festivals and ceremonies in South India.
A morsing is an instrument similar to the Jew's harp, mainly used in Rajasthan, in the Carnatic music of South India, and in Sindh, Pakistan. It can be categorized under lamellophones, which is in the category of plucked idiophones. It consists of a metal ring in the shape of a horseshoe with two parallel forks which form the frame, and a metal tongue in the middle, between the forks, fixed to the ring at one end and free to vibrate at the other. The metal tongue is bent at the free end in a plane perpendicular to the circular ring so that it can be struck and is made to vibrate. This bent part is called the trigger.
The kanjira, khanjira, khanjiri or ganjira, a South Indian frame drum, is an instrument of the tambourine family. As a folk and bhajan instrument, it has been used in India for many centuries. It was modified to a frame drum with a single pair of jingles by Manpoondia Pillai in the 1880s, who is credited with bringing the instrument to the classical stage. It is used primarily in concerts of Carnatic music as a supporting instrument for the mridangam.
The pakhavaj is a barrel-shaped, two-headed drum, originating from the Indian subcontinent, a variant and descendant of the older mridangam. The kendang of Maritime Southeast Asia is a distant relative of the pakhawaj and other South Asian double-headed drums.
Kendang or Gendang is a two-headed drum used by people from the Indonesian Archipelago. Kendang is one of the primary instruments used in the Gamelan ensembles of Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese, the Kendang ensemble as well as various Kulintang ensembles in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. It is constructed in a variety of ways by different ethnic groups. It is a relation to the Indian mridangam double-headed drum.
A flamenco guitar is a guitar similar to a classical guitar but with thinner tops and less internal bracing. It usually has nylon strings, like the classical guitar, but it generally possesses a livelier, more gritty sound compared to the classical guitar. It is used in toque, the guitar-playing part of the art of flamenco.
Palghat T. S. Mani Iyer (1912–1981), born Thiruvilvamalai Ramaswamy was one of the leading mridangists in the field of Carnatic music. He, along with his contemporaries Palani Subramaniam Pillai and Ramanathapuram C. S. Murugabhoopathy, are revered as the "Holy Trinity of Mrudangam". Mani Iyer was the first mridangist to be awarded the Sangeetha Kalanidhi (1966) presented by the Music Academy of Madras ,the Padma Bhushan (1971) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards(1956) presented by the Government of India.
The udukkai, udukai or udukku is a member of the family of membranophone percussion instruments of India and Nepal used in folk music and prayers in Tamil Nadu. The drums are an ancient design of hourglass drums similar to the northern damaru and southern idakka. Its shape is similar to other Indian hourglass drums, having a small snare stretched over one side. They are played with the bare hand, and the pitch may be tered by squeezing the lacing in the middle. It is made of wood or brass and is very portable. It originated in Tamil Nadu as well. Other members in the family include thehuruk, hurkî, hurko, hudko or hudka, utukkai.
Konnakol is the art of performing percussion syllables vocally in South Indian Carnatic music. Konnakol is the spoken component of solkattu, which refers to a combination of konnakol syllables spoken while simultaneously counting the tala (meter) with the hand. It is comparable in some respects to bol in Hindustani music, but allows the composition, performance or communication of rhythms. A similar concept in Hindustani classical music is called padhant.
Carnatic music terms are briefly described in this page. Major terms have their own separate article pages, while minor terms are defined / described here.
The Maddale also called Mrudanga(ಮೃದಂಗ) in North Canara region is a percussion instrument from Karnataka, India. It is the primary rhythmic accompaniment in a Yakshagana ensemble along with Chande. Maddale also represents a remarkable progress in percussive instruments as it produces the perfectly hormonic tonic when played anywhere on the surface compared to Mrudangam, Pakawaj or Tabla that can not produce the tonic (shruti) on all parts of the drum surface. The traditional variety of Maddale was 30 cm long, had 8 inch drum head for right and produced the louder sound. These days 6 - 6.5 inch wide right side maddale is used with only a few using 7 inch wide. Left bass side is about an inch bigger than right. Maddale is available in more than three different variations. Maddale used in Yakshagana looks similar to mridangam but is markedly different in structure, acoustics, playing techniques and the rhythm system.
A tabla is a pair of twin hand drums from the Indian subcontinent. Since the 18th century, tabla has been the principal percussion instrument in Hindustani classical music, where it may be played solo, as accompaniment with other instruments and vocals, and as a part of larger ensembles. Tabla is also frequently played in popular and folk music performances in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The tabla is also an important instrument in the bhakti devotional traditions of Hinduism and Sikhism, such as during bhajan and kirtan singing. It is one of the main qawali instrument used by Sufi musicians. Tabla also features in dance performances such as Kathak.