Sachi R

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Mridangam – the greatest percussion instrument ever

Posted by rsachi on September 12, 2009

Mridangam – the greatest percussion instrument ever
I am crazy about the mridangam. I have been lucky to hear the great vidwans on several occasions. Almost every time I hear some other rhythm or percussion instrument, I cannot help thinking how great the mridangam is.
I am nobody to push such a view, but I still would like to insist that the mridangam is the greatest percussion instrument. I give you ten reasons:
  1. The mridangam makes an impact throughout a concert. 
  2. It has great scope for improvisation, in the song, during neraval and swaras and also in the tani avarthanam. It changes colours with the light items, much like the dancer changes her costume for the second part of a recital.
  3. A good mridangam player can make you feel the concert was worth it just by virtue of his tani avarthanam.
  4. The mridangam player sits in the front, and is on the “right side”of the main artiste. He has the maximum eye contact with the musician as well as the audience. I believe he enjoys the concert the most!!!
  5. The instrument is placed horizontally, and played with both hands, with much finger dexterity. It is highly ergonomic.
  6. The instrument has a great tonal depth, and is tuned prominently to the sruti.
  7. The left side adds tremendous emphasis to the strokes, and makes a profound difference to the song accompaniment. The right side has a great tonal quality and in the right hands sounds like a stringed instrument.
  8. The accomplished mridangam player can wow you with a tani for a long period of time, with a variety of patterns and strokes and sounds, at different volumes, as a great example of improvisation.
  9. The mridangam is quite travel-hardy.
  10. The mridangam sounds better without electronic amplification. In fact in later years, Mani Iyer eschewed the mike as a modern evil!
I just heard some fusion music. After listening to these pieces, you will agree how great the mridangam is! The artiste playing mridangam is Satish Kumar and the album is a live recording in 2003 called Colours of India (Ganesh Kumaresh).You can access it here:
At, you can access a great Lalgudi Jayaraman concert on the AIR with Mani Iyer. Just the varnam is enough to know Mani Iyer’s greatness.
Palghat Raghu’s tani avarthanam in the KVN album from Nonesuch Records has been posted in the site It is the defining piece of a tani avarthanam, according to me.
Umayalpuram Sivaraman has shown his prowess in hundreds of recordings, and I have been privileged to listen to some really great ones with KVN and Lalgudi. His DVD on the techniques of mridangam playing is encyclopedic.
I think the mridangam is India’s greatest contribution to the world of musical instruments, and we don’t celebrate this fact enough.

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