Type: Barrel Drum > Membranophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 211.22
Region: South Asia.
Description: The Mridangam is a double-sided barrel drum having ancient origins. Alternative spellings also includes mrdangam, mridanga or mrdanga, played in Carnatic music of southern India. The mridangam evolved to be made of different kinds of wood due to its increased durability. Today, its body is constructed from wood of the jackfruit [Artocarpus heterophyllus]. 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.
In Tamil culture, the mrdingam 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 also we find detailed references to it as in the Natyasastra. During the Sangam period, it was one of the principal percussion instruments to sound the beginning of war along with murasu, tudi and parai because it was believed that its holy sound will 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 at the beginning of dramatic performances that would later develop into Bharathanatyam. The player of this instrument held the title tannumai, aruntozhil, mutalvan.
In Nepalese Music: Mridangam has a large role in Newari music. One of the earliest Nepal Bhasa manuscripts on music is a treatise on this instrument called Mridanga anukaranam. The importance of a beating has changed over the years. In the old days, percussionists only used to accompany the lead player like the vocalist but this time their development is not restricted to accompaniment only but also to play one instrument shows.
Construction: A removable patch of tuning paste is affixed to each end, giving the drum a definite pitch. The left head is usually tuned an octave lower than the right. The drum is held across the lap and played on both ends with the hands and fingers. A similar instrument, the pakhawaj, is played in the Hindustani tradition of northern India, as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh.