Image of Mridangam Parts

What are the parts of mridangam?
1. Wooden part (some use Fibre-Glass)
2. Molded leathers called "Mootu"
3. Leather Straps or Rope with high working load type. Sail ropes or boat ropes that has high working load (withstanding capacity) measured in "lbs" (strength in pounds) are used. More the "lbs" the better. The thickness of the rope must be at least 5mm ( around 316 inch) and maximum 6mm ( around ¼ inch). 6mm is better.
4. The right side of mridangam is called "Karanai" or "Valanthalai" (also known as Right Head)
5. The Left side of mridangam is called "Thoppi" or "Idanthalai" (also known as Left Head)
6. The center Portion in the wood is called "Arada".

1. Wooden part of the mridangam can be made from five kinds of trees. It is collectively known as "Pancharatna trees". They are Jack tree, coconut tree, Margosa tree, Sandal tree and Blackwood tree. The most preferred tree (wood) is "Jack Wood" as it is more fibrous in its structure, has less pores in it and also that, it is not affected by climatic changes (if seasoned). If the wood is affected due to climatic changes, mridangam will have an undesirable effect on Pitch and sound. The wood must be selected with care. There should not be any holes, cracks, joints or small round plugs called "Suzhi". The tree must be ripe and well seasoned. Only seasoned wood will withstand climatic changes.
Please Note:Nowadays cutting Jack Tree (Jack Wood) is banned in Tamilnadu. Is there any substitute? Is there any wood that is excellent in its structure and economical? Yes, there is a wood known as "Kodukkapuli Wood", which is available in plenty. My Guru Dr.T.V. Gopalakrishnan recommends this wood for all musical instruments especially mridangam. Lack of publicity and know-how and source of procuring the wood is the fundamental cause of this wood being not popular among mridangists. At least from now, let mridangists switch over to this wood for making mridangams. The advantages of "Kodukkapuli" wood are:
1. Texture of this wood is excellent, i.e., Fine-grained texture.
2. The wood can be carved and shaped when it is raw and no seasoning is required before making the barrel. It seasons itself in six months to one year and changes its colour from whitish grey to a beautiful brown hue.
4. The wood is slightly heavier than jack wood hence, the tonal colour (sound pitch and vibration tone) is excellent.
5. The rims maintain shape better and longest than other woods.
6. The wood seasons without distortion.
7. It is very much economical.

Note: In Ancient days mridangam was made of Clay. 'Mrid' means clay and 'angam' means body. So, mrid+angam is mridangam (Clay Body). Due to the depreciation of clay in terms of durability and quality, mridangists started using wood which is highly reliable at any point of time. Since, it has become difficult now a days in getting a seasoned wood, a modern fibre-glass version known as 'Balarama Mridangam' was designed in recent years. As a mark of research by many in the field, fibre body was tried and Umayalpuram K.Sivaraman (UKS) improvised and developed prototype for Fibre-Glass mridangam which is no less than wooden mridangam. He has introduced the fibre glass mridangam to Carnatic music for the first time, improvised a mechanical jig to eliminate human error in the moulding (molding) of skins for both sides of the instrument and has done research work on tanned and untanned skins for the mridangam. His analysis of the ingredients of the black patch ("Soru") has given much insight on the overtones produced by different strokes on the mridangam. Rohan Krishnamurthy, Disciple of Shri.Guruvayur Durai has made mridangam with bolts and nuts combined with traditional woven ropes.
2. Molded leather ( Untanned skins) are fixed on right side and left side of mridangam.
How are the molds made?
There are three layers on the right side called a). Vettu Thatu b). Kottu Thatu C). Utkara thatu. The leathers are made of Goat and Cow skin (Cowhide). Vettu Thatu known as "meetu" is made of Calf-Hide (Cowhide) and it is visible. Kottu Thatu (middle layer) is made of Goat Skin and it is partially visible. A Black Patch Called "Saadham" or "Soru" is fixed on this Kottu Thatu that produces "Chaapu Nadham". What is this Black Patch? It is an ultra fine powder that has iron ore and some manganese oxide in it and is mixed with cooked rice to a particular proportion (usually 3:1), three parts of powder and 1 part of cooked rice, is applied on the Middle layer "kottu Thattu". This proportion varies depending on the status and quality of the powder. It must be mixed in such a way that the black patch paste is neither too gummy nor dry. After applying the paste, it must be dried inside a room and it should not be exposed to sunlight. Let it dry at least for two days. In the fast moving world, people use mridangam soon after applying the paste. The third layer Utkara Thatu is not visible outside and it is placed below the Kottu Thatu. This third layer is like a ring with the hallow center and has direct contact with wood. So, the Outer two layers will not touch the wood enabling one to produce soothing pleasant vibration and sound.

The video shows Artisan Applying Black Patch

The left side Mootu called "thoppi" is made of three layers again. The leathers are made of Buffalo skins and Goat skin. The outer layers are two buffalo skins (two layers) placed one after the other like a ring with the hallow center and the second layer is not visible. The third layer which is the innermost one, visible at the center of thoppi is Goat Skin and is tied below the second layer. The third layer will have a contact with the wood, producing Sound called "Thom". Only in this layer Semolina paste or rava paste is added at the center to produce pleasing sound. Only then it produces proper Bass sound and "Andhara gandhara sound".

Cowhide is an essential element in mridangam. With the cow-slaughter ban, great mridangam players like Umayalpuram k. Sivaraman, Murthy, Karaikudi Mani and TVG gave a thought for a substitute material. Sivaraman suggested importing synthetic materials and TVG suggested importing cow hide. Mani, insists: "Only those cows are killed that are old and are of no use." Sivaraman said "Cows are not killed for making mridangams. They are slaughtered anyway and we merely use the hide". General opinion is that Mridangam can't be sans (without) cowhide. The ban can slaughter its sound. Carnatic music may not sound the same as before. Anyways, experiment may be needed in this regard and let us see if mridangam can sound great without Cowhide.

Mridangam can be of two kinds. One is "Kutchi" and the other is "kappi".
Kutchi mridangam: Small strips are made from a type of tree plant that is also used for making brooms. These strips are inserted between the Vettu thattu and Kottu thattu which increases the dampening effect that acts as a snare. This helps one to produce a unique chaapu nadham with great vibration.
Kappi mridangam: Crushed stones from a variety called 'Kittam' or 'Chittam' is used and placed under the Vettu thattu so that it produces a distinct Chaapu Nadham similar to tabla sound but with great vibration.
The video shows Artisan inserting Strips (kutchi)
Note: Mridangam uses single resonator while Tabla uses two resonators. In tabla, the tension of the right and left heads is separate. In mridangam, the left head (Idanthalai) and the right head (Valanthalai) are inseparably linked. The tension of right and left sides of mridangam is inseparable. Since mridangam uses single resonator, it produces an acoustic coupling between the two heads (right head and left head). Instead of using straps (leather or Rope) to fix the right and the left heads, bolt and nuts are used to fix the right and the left head. The tension of both sides become separate, but there is an acoustic coupling of both sides in terms of sound produced because, mridangam body is made of single block of wood or fibre with "Arada" at the center where as tabla uses two separate body or shell for right and left heads.
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