Mridangam is one of the most venerated and popular classical drums of India. Its incredible tonal quality has made this rhythmic instrument an indispensable one in the music and dance performances and in other religious rituals in India. Its design and construction being highly scientific, has drawn the attention of many scientists to make a detailed study with regard to its acoustical properties. The innumerable rhythmic patterns based on permutation and combination, when performed by a mridangist enhances the music concert. The tala system of Indian classical music provides the musical composition and the rhythmic syllables a definite structure. The great art of relating the percussion skill to music which we have inherited from our stalwarts of the past provides scope for further improvisation and innovation. Further, mridangam will reign the field of percussion art and stands as a testimony to the inventive genius of our ancestors for ever.
Shreejayanthi Gopal is a reputed mridangam artiste of Karnataka. After successfully completing the academic studies in the field of Management Science and Diploma in Computer programming and systems design, she underwent advanced training in Mridangam under Padma Bhushan Umayalpuram Shivaraman of Chennai. She was invited to participate in the Festival of India in France. She was specially invited by the Department of Art and Culture, Government of Manipur to perform in Imphal. She has given many Lecture Demonstrations in India and abroad. She has accompanied artistes of repute. She is the recipient of the Government of India Fellowship for outstanding artistes.
Natyasastra of Bharata categorises all the musical instruments into four fold classification, namely Tatavadya-string instruments, Susira-wind instruments, Avanaddha-percussion instruments and Ghana-the cymbals and other metal instruments.
The Avanaddha Yadyas, the Indian drums are known for the variety and unbroken heritage consisting of tribal, folk, martial and classical adaptation. The drum stands as basic, single musical instrument that instills life to music. We come across with a good number of distinctive drums in sculptures all over India and Indian literature has profusely quoted the drums in various contexts. Apart from these, the sastras from time to time give the technical details of manufacturing as well as the way of playing on the drums. The drums are very important musical instruments and the soul of any music, as they signify the rhythm. The nada produced by beating the face of a drum is the sound syllable which touches the soul and transcends into body of the mortal and transforms him into a human being. The sculptural panels depict the variations of the drum in vertical and horizontal way of placing and playing.
Any civilization as a matter of fact has produced definitely several types of drums if not other types of musical instruments. The first "Rhythm Syllaby" emerged from the 'damaru' of Shiva, shaking it vigorously. The 'Omkara nada' emerging out of this divine action transcended and transmitted in different forms through the centuries and placed as an inseperable anga or as an organ of Indian system of music. Among the different categories of drums, mridangam emerges out as the principal avanaddha vadya of Carnatic Music and Bharatanatyam. Mythological references quote mridangam as 'Vishnu Vadya',
Bharata's Natyasastra, the compendium of Indian performing arts has not left anything that can be considered as the necessary element of drama, dance and music. The chapter XXXIII Avanaddha vidhi, which deals with the rules of covered musical instruments, discusses in its entirety the different categories of drums. This portion of the text is the first of its kind in the written form that deals with the musical drums, occupying a very important place in Indian Musical System. In the first category, the Pushkaravadyas are dealt which includes mridangam, panava and Dardara and all these are covered with hide and bound with strings. These set of drums are recognised as angas, the major limbs of the categories of percussion instruments.
The Mridangam as we observe in early sculptures are not played keeping on the lap as we see today. They were tied to the waist and were played while moving. Accordingly the size of the musical instrument was small but followed the technique of making and playing as specified in Natyasastra. Later, Mridangam was considered as the principal rhythmic musical instrument for accompanying vocal music, instrumental music and also classical dance like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and as Pakhvaj in Kathak, Odissi and as Pung and khol in Manipuri.
Enchantingly graceful female sculptures depicted the drums of different sizes suspended from the shoulder. Sometimes the drums were so handy, that they danced holding the drums in swirling movements. The sculptors have captured unique movements of these female drummers emphasizing the fact that the women were skillful in playing different types of drums. The female drummer of Ajanta, Aurangabad cave panel of orchestra, the drummers from sun temple Konark, Khajuraho and Hoysala temples give us a feeling that the women preferred to learn avanaddha vadyas and accompanied the dancers. The Vijayanagar and post Vijayanagar period sculptures depict women playing on large-size mridangam tied to their waist and moving with great ease. Thus we have a great heritage of women playing on different kinds of drums including mridangam.
Due to historical changes the music system has undergone transformation in many ways. In due course playing on mridangam became the monopoly of male instrumentalists. Today we have a few female mridangists and they have to struggle to edge over their male counterparts.
The author Shreejayanthi Gopal has chosen this difficult path to tread on. One of the unique advantages the author of this book has with regard to her elucidation is the thorough knowledge of mridangam theoretically and practically. She had the privilege of accompanying well-known musicians of the country. The kind of experience and expertise she is endowed with is obvious in her writing. The book has a well planned contents giving proper information on the origin of mridangam, while quoting authentic texts and literature. This chapter encompasses the use of mridangam from Manipur in the east to Somnath in the west and Kashmir to the southernmost part of the country, which authenticates the popularity of mridangam as the main instrument of rhythm. Ankya and Alingya mridangams are quoted in several contexts depending on the usage.
The chapter on design and construction of mridangam is dealt with progressive stages of making, the material used and the scientific approach in the construction of this unique musical instrument. The most important aspect of the design and construction is the connotation of Sruti. A very technical chapter of the book is the science of tala. Along with spiritual context of tala as the path of realization (moksh), the author takes us to the sadangas, saptha talas and the 35 talas, their symbols and aksaras. The discussion of margi and desi talas, ashtottara sata talas and the 72 mela talas find a prominent place in accordance with the reference of respective texts in this book. It is a real challenge for the writer to come out with this technical manifestation of mridangam.
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