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Mrdangam: The King of Percussions (With Notation)

Item Code: NAL096
Author: Dr. T.V. Gopalakrishnan
Publisher: The Karnatic Music Book Centre, Chennai
Language: English
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788190666305
Pages: 248 (65 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 11.0 inch X 8.0 inch
Weight 590 gm
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Shipped to 153 countries
Shipped to 153 countries
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Book Description
About the Book

Mrdangam, having divine origins, is venerated in all ancient Indian scriptures. It is considered to be one of the most sophisticated ancient percussion instruments of the world. Today Mrdangam occupies a pre-eminentplace in the firmament of global percussion. The mellifluoustones of the Mrdangam are integral to South Indian music both traditional and contemporary.

Dr. T.V.Gopalakrishnan has been one of the greatest luminaries of world percussion over the last sixty years. His superlative playing on the Mrdangam – The King of Percussions – has made him worthy of the title himself! He has spellbound audiences world over as the preferred accompanist of stars such as M.Balamuralikrishna, George Harrison, Ravi Shankar and ofcourse his Guru Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar.

Mrdangam – The King of Percussions looms as a major landmark, set against the glorious history of this instruments. It recaps the past, analysis the present and paves the way for a magnificent future. It tells of a versatile genius in love with his art-form and with a passion to serve humanity through tireless research, education, innovation and performance.



Anyone who peruses Vidwan. T. V. Gopalakrishnan's book on the mridangam wiII find that there is nothing more to be said about the "King of percussion instruments". His research covers every aspect of the instrument from its evolution from the vedic times to its present construction ands playing techniques. The Mridangam is the only percussion instrument mentioned by Tyagaraja in tow of his kritis. In the kriti "Sogasuga mridanga talamu", he stresses the fact that 'to make God enchanted, the devotee must sing his praise with the dulcet accompaniment of the mridangam'. In another kriti, 'haridasulu vedale', he goes into ruptures at the sight of haridass walking the streets of tiruvaiyaru singing bhajans to the accompaniment of mridanga ghosha.

The mridangam is a versatile instrument which is indispensable not only for vocal music but also for instrumental music, Bharathanatyam, harikatha and bhajanas.

Many vocalists also perform on instruments like the vina, violin, mridangam etc but there is none like TVG who has mastered both vocal music and handling the mridangam to the point of perfection. His Guru was the musical colossus, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, who was also his main source of inspiration in his musical career.

TVG's book is the only thesaurus in English on every thing connected with the mridangam including smaples of preliminary lessons with corresponding western staff notation and biographical sketches of some mridangam maestros of the past.

I had an opportunity of going through the preliminary draft and I am now delighted to see the book.

I am confident that the world of music make us of the benefit by lifelong research of TVG on the mridangam.



The Mrdangam is considered to be one of the most ancient percussion instruments of India. It is placed on the highest pedestal and naturally called King of Percussion instruments. It is interesting to note that its present form is very close to that created some 3000 years ago! Generally, the Mrdangam is used in music concerts, dramas, dance and orchestras as an accompanying instrument. It is unique with regard to its sound (acoustic) properties. The series of developments leading to the perfection of the design, construction, and playing techniques of the instrument has made the Mrdangam an unique musical percussion instrument with all the credentials a Solo instrument.

The Mrdangam has several references in ancient texts as well as in the ancient authentic treatises regarding its construction and usage. It is interesting to note that the Mrdangam was common to both South and North India. After the advent of Moghuls and Persians from 11th century onwards the Mrdangam was known as Pakkawaj in the North. The Tabla was introduced to Indian music later.

Today, Mrdangam is considered to be the most important percussion instrument of South India. Although it is the foremost among percussion instruments, comprehensive studies involving all its important aspects and features like the acoustics, making techniques, research and development on the instrument, playing techniques and other subtleties, and the health aspects of the Mrdangam player, have not yet been done systematically with an integrated approach.

The Mrdangam is unique in its structure, tonality and performing capabilities. It is able to draw out almost all human emotions and the vibrations of nature. Over the last few decades, the Mrdangam has emerged as the 'King of all Percussion'. This work covers everything about the Mrdangam from the period of Bharata's Natyasastra to the present day. It has been conceived in three parts as Part I, Part II, Part III encompassing the above contents. Living with the Mrdangam for the last 6 decades has enabled me to bring out a work of this magnitude.

Part I

Chapter 1 - deals with the study of 'Origin and evolution of Mrdangam (From Bharata's Natyasastra onwards)'. This is a brief description of the structure of the instrument and the literature survey pertaining to the subject and the origin and evolution of the instrument from Bharata onwards. The relevant and important statements made by Bharata regarding the tonal qualities of the Mrdangam and its supremacy over other percussion instruments in the aesthetics of sound and performance are discussed in detail, supported by quotation of several slokas, from the literature.

It is said that Maharshi Swati invented the Mrdangam inspired by the different sounds produced by the raindrops falling on the lotus leaves and made the Mrdangam with the help of Viswakarma, the celestial architect. This is clearly delineated by considering the structural aspect of the instrument. Good instruments have a striking semblance in echoing the vocal sounds in melody and rhythm. The structural aspects of the Mrdangam, like the skin to be used, type of wood, preparation and application of paste for a perfect tonal quality, the techniques used for making and conditioning of the two faces of the instrument, the three important shapes of the Mrdangam are discussed in detail, as explained by Bharatamuni.

In Chapter II 'The stature and role of Mrdangam' is briefly discussed. Here the role of Mrdangam in the enhancing and embellishing of a concert is briefly discussed, supported by views of the great maestros.

Chapter III deals with 'Concepts in percussion accompaniment in Carnatic classical music'. The art of percussion accompaniment in Carnatic music is a highly specialised and aesthetic one. A successful accompanist has to have an uncanny anticipation of the multi - hued classical music concert, and contribute to the enhancement of the beauty of the concert. The artiste also has to show his calibre during the Tani Avarthanam (solo). These aspects, which are very essential for the success of any concert, are discussed in detail.

Chapter IV deals with 'Mrdangam Tani Avartanam (Solo and Ensemble)'

Tani avartanam is an integral part of a music concert and in Carnatic music, the role of the percussion instrument is unique. The Mrdangam Vidwan has to play his Solo in a particular tala, Tempo, Gati and Eduppu (take off point) whatever the main artiste suggests, be it a song or a Pallavi. This is a thrill and challenge to the solo player. The techniques of presenting a solo both as an accompanist as well as a part of percussion ensemble are discussed in detail highlighting the different aspects. References to the inimitable style of playing by the great maestros are also given.

Chapter V is about the 'Mrdangam in the modern musical context, other than classical music concerts'.

My own contributions to Mrdanqam playing and innovations are discussed here.

Chapter VI deals with a topic not dealt with seriously till now- "Uthama Vadaka - The Ideal Performer". Interesting factors like general health and hygiene, posture, specific exercises, diet, breathing techniques and the principle of minimum effort and maximum result in playing techniques are emphasized.

Chapter VII deals with the 'Study of the acoustical aspects of the Mrdangam'. The research papers presented by the eminent Nobel Laureate, physicist of India, Sri. C. V. Raman, regarding the acoustical properties of Indian musical drums is discussed. A comparative study of different types of drums with regard to the structural aspect, tonal quality and the acoustical values is made from a scientific viewpoint and thus a clear picture of the evolution of Mrdangam after Bharata's time is provided.

Chapter VIII deals with 'Making of Mrdangam in recent times - with pictorial descriptions'. A comparative study of different schools in the manufacture of Mrdangam Viz., Thanjavur, Madras, Andhra and Kerala is made, highlighting their characteristics, merits and demerits. My innovations in the evolution of the modern Mrdangam are also presented and discussed.

Part II

Provides biographical sketches of the great maestros of percussion of yester-years like Vidwans Narayana Swamy Appa, Pudukkottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai, Azhaganambi Pillai, Mylattur Krishna Iyer and of course the inimitable Palghat Mani Iyer.

Part III

Deals with the 'Seven major Talas and other Talas'.

Laya or the concept of rhythm is one of the four basic facets of Indian music. Laya has evolved to a very great extent and extensive research has been carried out.

Tala is the regulating factor in musical compositions similar to prosody / metrics in poetry. The classification of talas - the 35 talas, which result when 5 Jatis are applied on the Laghus of the 7 major talas and other talas which result when 5 Gatis are considered. All these factors are discussed and charts provided for easy comprehension.

Deals with 'Tala Dasapranas', i.e., the inherent characteristics of tala, which form a theoretical grounding for a detailed study of the practical lessons in Mrdangam playing. The different concepts of tala, right from its definition are illustrated through Slokas in order to get a panoramic view of the tala system in our music.

The playing techniques with relevant photographs.

Mrdangam lessons

- Indian notations

- Western staff notations

- Chart of 35 talas explained in English and German

- Few samples of preliminary lessons with corresponding staff notations

- Traditional lessons (Notations) in preparation for Solos

- Solos - Adi-Rupakam-Misra and Khanda Chapu

- Aruthis and Teermanams

- Formula for creating Moras in talas of different Aksharakala




  Part I  
1 Origin and Evolution of Mrdangam (From Bharata's Natyasastra onwards) 1
2 The Stature and Role of Mrdangam 15
3 Concepts in Percussion Accompaniment (In Carnatic classical music) 19
4 Mrdangam in Tani Avartanam 27
  I. Solo 29
  II. Talavadya Ensemble 32
5 Mrdangam in Modern Musical Contexts (Other than classical music concerts) 35
6 Uthama Vadaka - The Ideal Performer 39
7 Study of the Accoustical Aspects of the Mrdangam 47
8 Making of Mrdangam in Recent Times (With pictorial descriptions) 63
  Part II  
A Biographies of Few Great Mrdangam Maestros 91
1 Mrdangam Narayanaswami Appa 91
2 Thukkaram (1862-1901) 92
3 Sethurama Rao 92
4 Dasu Swamigal (1844-1919) 92
5 Mylattur Krishna Iyer (1866-1920) 93
6 Azhaganambi Pillai (1863-1939) 93
7 Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai (1875-1936) 94
8 Manpoondia Pillai (1857-1921) 95
9 Palghat Mani Iyer - The legend 96
10 Palani Subramanya Pillai (1909-1962) 103
11 Ramanathapuram C.S. Muruga Bhupathi 104
  Note: The Great Masters and teachers of rhythm control 106
B Mrdangam Maestros (Photos) 107
C About Me and the Mrdangam 111
D References 115
  Part III  
A 1. Seven Major Talas and Other Talas 117
  2. Tala Dasapranas 135
B Illustrated Playing Techniques 147
C Mrdangam Lessons  
  1. Indian Notations 151
  2. Western Staff Notations 152
  3. Chart of 35 talas in (German and English)  
  4. Samples of Preliminary lessons in Staff Notations  
  5. Traditional Lessons (Padam) leading to Solos  
  6. SOLO (Adi, Rupakam, Khanda & Misra Chapu talas)  
  7. Aruthis and Theermanams  
  8. Formula for Creating Moras (Talas with different Aksharakalas)  
Sample Pages

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