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A synthetic mridangam sans animal skin

Progressive innovation:The synthetic fibreglass shell mridangam designed by vocalist and scientist Dr. K. Varadarangan of Karunya Musicals in Bengaluru.— Photo: Special Arrangement

Progressive innovation:The synthetic fibreglass shell mridangam designed by vocalist and scientist Dr. K. Varadarangan of Karunya Musicals in Bengaluru.— Photo: Special Arrangement  

In what can be termed a pioneering step towards making a mridangam sans animal skin used for drumheads, the innovation of Bengaluru-based vocalist and scientist K. Varadarangan’s ‘synthetic fibreglass shell mridangam’ with polyester films and rubber material used for drumheads stands unique and progressive.



The newer version also seems to be travel-friendly weighing just 5 kg, half of the traditional mridangam made of jackfruit wood. “It took me nearly six to seven years of research as far as material and manufacturing is concerned,” says Dr. Varadarangan, who holds a doctorate in ‘Microwave Antennas’ from IIT Madras.

His core academic interest lies in cracking the physics behind sound and naada . More specifically, in understanding the scientific energy and force behind ‘matter in music’.

Fibreglass shell is a known resonator and even in the past, some mridangam vidwans have tried it for the fulcrum. But Mr. Varadarangan’s research for producing exactitudes of the Carnatic tonal rhythm without wood and animal skin not only has the core in synthetic fibreglass shell, but has brought in two sides of the drum heads with three-membranes of synthetic polyester films imported from China — with a special rubbery bonding works out the much-required bass tone.

“More than seven decades ago, Sir C.V. Raman declared his researched findings on the rhythmic instrument that approximately explains that the mridangam-naada produces harmonic overtones with integer ratio to the fundamentals. To hear these ‘harmonic tones’ as established by Sir CVR, but on a synthetic mridangam manufactured by me without wood and animal skin, had been an all-time passion in me,” says Dr. Varadarangan.

This synthetic ‘SRI Mridangam’, as named by Dr. Varadarangan and just launched in Bengaluru, is a mathematical model bringing in stabilised sounds with aesthetically done up synthetic material strips for alignment on the sides. “Although the acoustic principle is the same, the change is in the material and process. There is a sound chemical-bonding,” he says. “The rubbery material bonds to the polyester film through a chemical process without the use of adhesives. This is my key area of research,” he adds.

This mridangam comes in two variants — G-pitch and C-pitch, while the two sufficiently covers nine semitones, as far as varying srutis (pitch) are concerned. Costing Rs. 8,000, the product is lab-tested by the scientist at his Karunya Musicals in Bengaluru.

“The pitch stability and durability tests that had 35-lakh thumps on it along with data points on temperature and humidity influences have been complete along with informal performances at home,” declares Mr. Varadarangan. “I don’t anticipate a major hurdle, but practical usage may throw up vital suggestions by stalwarts of the instrument, which I would be happy to incorporate,” he says. His earlier book ‘Naada Vignana Sampada’ on the science of music, and his latest on Shrutibheda are veritable guides to students of music.



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