The mridangam , also known as Tannumai, is a percussion instrument from India of ancient origin. It is the primary rhythmic accompaniment in a Carnatic music ensemble, and in Dhrupad, where it is known as the pakhawaj. During a percussion ensemble, the mridangam is often accompanied by the ghatam, kanjira, and morsing.
In ancient Hindu sculpture, painting, and mythology, the mridangam is often depicted as the instrument of choice for a number of deities including Ganesha (the remover of obstacles) and Nandi, who is the vehicle and follower of Shiva. Nandi is said to have played the mridangam during Shiva's primordial tandava dance, causing a divine rhythm to resound across the heavens.
Today the mridangam is most widely used in Carnatic music performances. These performances take place all over Southern India and are now popular all over the world. As the principal rhythmic accompaniment (pakkavadyam), the mridangam has a place of utmost importance, ensuring all of the other artists are keeping their timing in check while providing support to the main artist. One of the highlights of a modern Carnatic music concert is the percussion solo (thani avarthanam), where the mridangam artist and other percussionists such as kanjira, morsing, and ghatam vidwans exchange various complex rhythmic patterns, culminating in a grand finale where the main artists resumes where he or she left off.
Mridangam is used as an accompanying instrument in Yakshagana Himmela (orchestra) where it is called the maddale. However, the mridangam used in Yakshagana is markedly different in structure and acoustics from the ones used in Carnatic music.
Significant players of the mridangam in modern times are T. K. Murthy, Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, Vellore G. Ramabhadran, T S Nandakumar, Karaikudi Mani, Trichy Sankaran, Mannargudi Easwaran, Yella Venkateswara Rao, and Thiruvarur Bakthavathsalam, who have been playing and advancing the technique for decades.
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