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date: 16 November 2019

Mṛdaṅga [mṛdaṅgam, mṛdang, mirdang]locked

  • Alastair Dick,
  • Harold S. Powers,
  • Gordon Geekie
  •  and Allen Roda


[mṛdaṅgam, mṛdang, mirdang]

Indian name, in use for more than two millennia, for tuned, finger-played, double-headed drums, primarily elongated barrel drums, which give the principal accompaniment to indigenous art-music styles of the Indian high tradition. In the earlier period they were used in theatre music, and since that time they have been employed in concert forms and more elaborate styles of temple and devotional music.

The name occurs from epic and classical times and has long been thought to mean ‘having a body [aṅga] of mud or clay [mṛd]’; this explanation is given by the earliest detailed source, the Nātyaśāstra (early centuries ce, but see below §1 (i)), and comparison has been made with the modern eastern Indian mṛdaṅga, or khol, of clay. Most drums of the mṛdaṅga type, however, are of wood, and Powers has proposed the interesting alternative that the name means ‘having a part of earth’, referring to the tuning paste applied to the skins, long an important characteristic of this type, for which earth or mud is prescribed in early sources. The traditional etymology of Indian lexicographers is very different: ...

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