29 October, 2020

Thyagaraja's Cow

Mridangam can't be mridangam sans cowhide. The ban can slaughter its sound.

S. Anand
Thyagaraja's Cow
Sogasuga mridanga talamu jatagoorchi ninnu sokkajeya dheerudevvado? Who is it that can beautifully sing your praise to the rhythm of the mridangam? Thyagaraja, the early 19th century bard, asks Rama in one of his 700-odd kirtanas. The Telugu composition in Sriranjani Ragam, much repeated in the concert circuit, always brings a smile to the lips of a mridangist. But it may soon disappear. The leather drum stands threatened by the prospect of a cow-slaughter ban about which the Congress momentarily was, and the bjp always is, enthusiastic.

While the nation has been debating the political and economic fallout of such a ban—the fate of beef-eaters, leather and beef export industries etc—there's an unintended consequence many are unaware of: Carnatic music will no longer sound the same. Cowhide forms a crucial element of the double-headed leather drum, which is to Carnatic music what the tabla is to Hindustani. And a ban would silence what Nobel laureate Sir C.V. Raman described as "the king of percussion instruments".

Mridangam-makers have always been Dalits...


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