In November 2015, Carnatic vocalist K Varadarangan created and launched the first 'synthetic rhythm Indian (SRI) mridangam’, making it one of the first vegan percussion instruments in the country. His vision behind the creation of this mridangam and eventually the first synthetic tabla in March 2018, was to develop a classical percussion instrument that was devoid of any animal hide.
This is a mathematical model bringing in stabilised sounds with aesthetically made synthetic material strips for alignment on the sides. “Although the acoustic principle is the same, the change is in the material and the process. There is a sound chemical bonding. The rubbery material bonds to the polyester film through a chemical process without the use of adhesives. More than seven decades ago, Sir
C V Raman declared his researched findings on the rhythmic instrument that approximately explains that the mridangamnaada produces harmonic overtones with an integer ratio to the fundamentals. To hear these ‘harmonic tones’ as established by
C V Raman, but on a synthetic mridangam without wood and animal skin, had been a passion for me,” says Varadarangan.
Varadarangan, a Carnatic vocalist, musicologist, physicist and wireless specialist, has been highly conscientious about the fact that young cows are slaughtered specifically to make the mridangam membrane. This set him on a research journey of over five years to create this instrument.
Dr Varadarangan began with extensive research on how western drums, which do not use animal hide, are made. One of his biggest concerns and priorities was to reproduce the same sound and effect that a normal mridangam would have and for this, he had to choose an ideal material for the three-layered karane. He recalls trying out several materials and failing several times before it actually worked!
After many trials and experimentation, he zeroed in on a polyester film which blended perfectly with rubber, thereby, enabling the binding process of the materials used to make the mridangam to perfection. He recalls a time when he reached out to Mahadevanna, a well-known musician, to try and help him achieve this. They tried several methods and approaches but it took its time before Varadarangan was convinced about what was needed to create SRI mridangam. This whole process of creation has also been a process of self-discovery for him.
After one and a half years, things slowly started taking shape and in all, it took five years to complete. This is a journey of obstacles and triumphs and needed multiple breakthroughs to achieve success. “I always wanted to know the science behind the art, “ he says.
Varadarangan’s creations include essentially three types of mridangam — one suitable for male pitch (two feet), one for female pitch (22 inches) and one for children (18 inches). The last one is also called as mini mridangam. His creations in tabla include two types — one suitable for pitch C to D and one suitable for pitch D to E. These instruments are extremely light in weight in the range of 4.5 to 5 kg compared to the regular ones which weigh 10 kg. The instruments have been developed to retain a consistent tonal quality and operate on very low maintenance including the elimination of the need for karane replacement. One of the most commonly used semolina pastes is eliminated, providing a larger playing area and protection from messing up with the sticky paste. The instrument has also overcome one of the most important challenges, that of pitch variation with changes in temperature. In addition, all these products are completely weather resistant.
The instruments developed by Varadarangan have been exported to over 14 countries and now used in concerts, recitals, both by students and musicians. One artiste has performed in over 650 concerts with the instrument, with absolutely no repair or maintenance. More than 400 musicians and groups who are using these instrument are supportive of this effort and believe that more awareness needs to be created and a far higher number of musicians need to use the instrument.
Vidwan Ashwathnarayana Rao says, “I have performed in over 650 shows and have absolutely no problems with the instrument. It is highly flexible, light-weight, can be modulated for a range of pitches, has no change of tonality as compared to the traditional one, and melodious. More musicians need to adapt to this instrument and protect our environment.”
Carnatic musician Balachandra Bhagavat says, “There is a seamless transformation from the wood to the synthetic concept. After over 150 shows, I experience no challenge or difficulty and am contended that I have done my bit to save animals and the environment.” Those interested can log on to www.karunyamusicals.com for more details.