The mridangam is an essential instrument in Carnatic music ensembles and a preferred pick of many percussionists in not only classical music but also South Indian films. From the Sangam age to present times, the instrument has been played in some way or the other. Such is its popularity that it even reached countries like Nepal. Here are some amusing facts about the instrument that you would not know.
The Origin of the Name
The word mridangam is a sandhi (amalgamation) of the Sanskrit words mrt (clay) and angam (limb/body part). This is interesting to note as the modern mridangam isn’t made out of clay. The name has still stuck on as earlier versions were built of hardened clay. As for the current times, mridangams have core bodies built out of hollowed pieces of jackfruit wood. The two mouths of the drum are then covered with goatskin and tied together with leather straps.
Fusion of Mridangam and Rap
The mridangam received a larger global audience with Canadian rapper Shan Vincent de Paul and his friend Yanchan as they released a series of ‘mridangam raps’. Having Sri Lankan roots, de Paul has been at the forefront to combine hip-hop with Carnatic beats and Tamil lyrics. A usual collaborator of the rapper’s, Yanchan Rajmohan is a producer and singer who also happens to play the mridangam. In their video series, Yanchan used to play the drum while de Paul rapped in English. The settings kept on changing from the duo climbing a tree or sitting in a studio, and so on. These videos have amassed millions of views, furthering the rise of the instrument.
Other Instruments like Mridangam
Mridangam is an essential part of Carnatic music but up north, the pakhawaj might be a close counterpart in Hindustani music. While the tabla looks vastly different from a mridangam, it is interesting to note a certain myth that connects the two instruments. Legend has it that the tabla was built after a mridangam was split into two. Other myths also include the fact that the tala (rhythm) system came out of a mridangam only.
A Recent Mridangam-centric Film
In 2019, the instrument saw its resurgence in mainstream popularity in Tamil Nadu. This was largely due to the release of the movie Sarvam Thaala Mayam that revolved around a famous mridangam player and his student. The starcast included GV Prakash Kumar and Nedumudi Venu as the teacher and student respectively. AR Rahman scored the film while Kumar also took mridangam lessons from ‘mridanga vidwan’ U Sivaraman to get into his character.
Importance In Nepal
The mridangam is not only relevant in South Indian music but even in Indian neighbors like Nepal. For those who are unacquainted with the concept of Newar music, this traditional music was developed in the country by the Newars (inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley and its neighbouring areas). In fact, one of the earliest manuscripts from this region include a mridangam-specific treatise called Mridanga anukaranam.