The Mridangam is a barrel shaped double-ended drum (the right head being smaller than the left). It is played with both hands. A primary percussion instrument – Mridanga is a south Indian version of the Pakhawaj that accompanies vocal, instrumental and dance performances.
In Ancient days mridangam was made of Clay. As clay quality and durability went downhill Mridanga started getting made in wood which turned out to be a highly reliable option. Now it is difficult to get even good seasoned wood a so fibre glass is being for making Mridanga.
Cowhide used to be an essential element in mridangam but with ban on cow slaughter etc synthetic skins are being used by many a craftsman.
The modern Mridanga is made of a single block of wood. The two heads are made of layers of skin. The body of Mridangam is usually made from the Jackfruit tree. This is a thick, full, dense wood – reason why Mridanga weighs around 10 kgs, sometimes more.
Besides Southern India, Mridanga is also popular in devotional music of Bengal. Some very intricate rhythms can be performed by players having mastery over the instrument. There are several different types of Mridanga.
There are different types and sizes of clay Mridangas. Some are 22-23 inches long, and others even more elongated. There is also another type to Mridanga called “maha-Mridanga” which is 26 inches long. For professional performers there is a delicate Mridanga made from terracotta clay.
After two-and-a-half hours of playing, Mridangam loses its tonal quality. Tuning Mridangam is an art in itself. Playing the instrument with perfect fingering technique is a skill player has to work hard on in order to become a professional level player and be able to produce proper sound.