Srinivasa plays the morsing and makes mridangams and tablas

For artiste Srinivasa Anantharamaiah, home is where the tabla, mridangam, dholak, ghatam, morsing and kanjeera are all there. He has been living surrounded by Indian classical percussion instruments ever since he can remember. Well versed with not only how each instrument is played, he is also adept at making them for a living.

Srinivasa is the son of the Karnataka Kalashri award winner, tabla Vidwan R S Ananthramaiah who was responsible for initiating him into the field of playing as well as making of musical instruments. “My father established this store in 1962,” says Srinivas, sitting in a circle of mridangams. While a variety of rare instruments were formerly made and sold at the store, it now undertakes the manufacture of mainly the mridangam and the tabla.

Harping with the jaw

In performances, Srinivasa generally accompanies the mridangam with his tuneful playing of the morsing (jaw harp). The morsing is one of the lesser known instruments that usually accompany the tabla or mridangam. “The reason for this is just that it’s not that grandly publicized. It is a secondary instrument that adds to the melody of a particular composition but is not an indispensible part of it,” Srinivasa says. “The morsing is something like the pickle you eat along with the food. It does not necessarily have to be added, but the flavour is richer when you do.”’

Called the Jew’s harp or the Jaw harp in English, Dan Moi in Vietnam and Mukha Shankha in Sanskrit, according to Vidwan Bharadwaj R Sathavalli, musicians are seen playing the instrument in Chinese paintings from the 4th century BC.

The instrument seems to have had a place in tribal cultures as well, with Assamese and Rajasthani women playing it for folk numbers, Sathavalli says.

What, then, is the reason for its relatively lesser popularity? “The morsing has certain limitations. Some of the complexities that are involved in producing these sounds are not easily discernible because they could not be amplified earlier. But with better microphone systems nowadays, more number of people are getting interested in the instrument," Sathavalli says. “It is only in India that is it used more as a percussion instrument. In other parts of the world, it is used to enhance melody or create certain desired overtones."

Tough process

Srinivasa’s own preferences lie more with playing the mridangam. “Since the morsing involves the use of one’s hands, tongue as well as teeth, it cannot be played once they are lost due to old age. The mridangam on the other hand can be played all of one’s life,” he explains.

Eager to explain the making of his instruments, he explains how the same instrument needs to be made differently for each player or type of music. “Hindustani and Carnatic music require the same instruments to be made in a different manner. Differences also arise according to the pitch that the instrument is required to produce,” he says. The wood used for the mridangam should ideally be that of the jackfruit, he says. For the layers of leather head (muchhike), cow skin, buffalo skin and goat skin are used; the leather straps or bars are made of buffalo skin.

“With the advancement of technology, though, several other kinds such as mango wood are also used. Nylon straps replace the buffalo skin,” he says. “Making it traditionally, Curing of the wood itself takes a fortnight. But one can never tell what part of the process may go wrong,” he continues. “The leather may tear, its thickness may not be sufficient. When this happens, all of what has been made goes waste and one has to begin from scratch.”

The store is Shantha Tabla Works located at No.382, OTC Road, Opp. LV Temple, Near Balepet Circle.