m.rda.mga drum

Mandakranta Bose mbose at unixg.ubc.ca
Tue Jul 30 05:35:02 UTC 1996

Dear Srini,
About six years ago I brought out a critical edition of a late sixteenth 
century text named Nartananirnaya by Pundarika Vitthala who discusses in detail 
the making of a mrdamga in chapter 2.  Pundarika Vitthala, who was a native of 
Khandesh, describes the dance and music of India of his time.  I had originally 
planned to send you the entire description of it but realized that it is far too long 
(over 30 verses, pp.47-50 in my edition).  Hence, I am sending you this 
abbreviated version of the description.  
The author suggests that a mrdamga should be made with extremely mature, 
dry, hard and resinous wood, such as red-sandal-wood, khadira, sirisa or bija.  
Skin from the belly of a healthy goat, treated carefully in warm water, should be 
used to cover both ends.  The skin should farther be treated with clarified 
butter, evaporated milk, yogurt and flour.  The ends are to be fastened with a string 
called dambara.  The description goes on to give detailed measurements.  If you 
are interested, you might look up my book:  Nartananirnaya by Pundarika Vitthala, 
ed. Mandakranta Bose, Calcutta: General Printers, 1991.  Since then the Indira 
Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) has been in the process of bringing out 
another edition of the same text but it is not complete yet.  My study and 
translation of Nartananirnaya is in preparation. 
I am not sure whether in an earlier message to you I mentioned that a 
revised second edition of my 1970 book, Classical Indian Dancing:  A Glossary, was 
brought out by Indian Book Centre in Delhi in 1995.  The title now runs:  The 
Dance Vocabulary of Classical India.  I am editing another musicological text for 
IGNCA at present.  Every music text has descriptions of instruments.  It is 
interesting to note the regional variations.
I hope this communication will be useful for you. 
Best wishes,

Mandakranta Bose
University of British Columbia
mbose at unixg.ubc.ca

On Fri, 19 Jul 1996, Srinivasan Pichumani wrote:

> >>I should appreciate it if someone could give me a
> >>description of that Indian m.rda.mga drum 
> The mrdangam is a 2 faced drum/percussion instrument.
> Whatever be the original material used for the instrument,
> (the name seems to indicate it was made of clay/mud)
> currently it is made out of a barrel of wood whose 
> diameter is larger at the center compared to the edges.
> I think the wood used is from a palA (Tamil... the Inglish
> term for it is jackfruit) tree.
> Over the right side face of the drum (called "valantarai" 
> in Tamil), there are 3 layers of hide... I believe 2 layers 
> are cowhide, and the central layer is something else... also, 
> if I remember the great mrdangist Palghat Raghu's description 
> correctly, the center layer is "suspended".  
> In the center of the face, a mixture of cooked rice and a
> black powder rich in ferrous content (known variedly as
> karaNai, cOru...) is applied many times in thin layers, 
> one over the other, and each layer is smoothed out with 
> a piece of stone.  This has to be done very carefully
> and thoroughly in order to get a good tone... Raghu mentioned 
> that, if possible, he has this completely re-done before 
> every concert.  The "normal" stroke on this produces a 
> tone tuned to the AdhAra S of the performer. 
> On the left side (known as toppi... lit. cap), the hide  
> is stretched rather loosely and has a bass sound.  In order
> to tune this to the lower P of the AdhAra S, a little bit 
> of rava (sUji...semolina) is kneaded with some water, and 
> the thick mixture is applied in a circle in the center of 
> the face.  The mixture has to be kept a little moist... 
> otherwise, it dries out and falls off the face.  Normally, 
> this paste is completely removed at the end of a performance.
> -Srini.

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