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Learning to play Mridanga

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Why should we learn to play Mridanga?


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Mridanga playing is a traditional art which is of great importance in our Gaudiya Vaishnava culture.
In the Sankirtan movement of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Shri Krishnas flute appears in the form of Mridanga
which is a constant accompaniment of hari-naam. So if one wants to be part of Sankirtan movement, its good to
know how to play Mridanga.
It is the most effective way of pleasing many Vaishnavas simultaneously. If one can play Mridanga very well in the
Kirtan then devotees can dance on those tunes forgetting everything and can have an enlivening experience. Its
easiest and best way of serving Vaishnavas

What should be our objective & attitude towards learning Mridanga?


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We should treat learning Mridanga playing as an important activity and not as optional or secondary. Only when
we would give it a priority & take it seriously we can learn it.
The objective should not be to display our art, impress others, show our prowess and get appreciation for the
same. We should not be learning or playing Mridanga as an art, but with the only objective to serve Vaishnavas

Classroom norms
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Everyone must bring their own Mridanga, DO NOT play till you are asked to.
Carry a notebook & a pen.
Be punctual. Timings of the class to be strictly followed.
Commitment to practice for 15 minutes every day.
Personal coaching only on Sunday at specific timings.
Attendance and expertise would be considered while giving admissions to further courses.
Bring flash player for recording (optional)
All mobiles should be kept on silent mode / switched off

1.

Mridanga comes as part of the paraphernalia of Lord, which is expansion of Balaramji. Hence we have to treat
Mridanga very respectful, as good as the deity.
Mridanga should be placed on Aasan or elevated platform and not directly on the floor. Can be either kept
vertical on its base or horizontal.
While picking up Mridanga, it should be always held using the loops which are created on both the sides of
Mridanga, the ones from which goes the strap
While walking or carrying Mridanga with us, it should be always held in our hands, where one hand should
support the base (bigger surface) of the Mridanga and the other hand can hold the loop on the other surface.
Never bow down or offer obeisance keeping it on our shoulder.
We should always be careful and should ensure that we dont cause any damage to Mridanga, just as we would
take care of the deity. Unlike material world, in spiritual world everything is treated as person, so also Mridanga.
Only when we give respect to Mridanga we can play it properly not otherwise.
Care should be taken that Mridanga is never exposed to humidity and is always kept covered. Dont heat Mrdanga
directly iver the flame, consult some expert to tighten it.

How to handle Mridanga?


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How to hold Mridanga while playing?


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Never play covered Mridanga, as in that state its considered that the deity is sleeping. Before playing we should
open the cover and offer the prayers.
If we want to play it while standing, then we should put the strap across the right shoulder just like Brahmin
thread (or even on left shoulder is ok) and supported by the back fully. Never place strap around the neck, can
lead to problems.
If we want to play it while sitting, then sit by putting right foot in front of the left foot thus making a cavity which
can hold the Mridanga firmly. We can also support it further by putting strap behind i.e. on our back.

Prayers to be offered to Mridanga


1.

Shloka by Chanakya Pandit


Srimad yasoda suta padakamale naasti bhaktir naraanaam
Yesaam abhira kanya priya guna kathane nanurakta rasajna
Yesam acyutalila kathayam sadarau naiva karnau
Dhik tam dhik tam dhigetan iti kathayati kirtanastho mrdangah
Meaning:Those who do not have the ear to hear the activities of Darling of mother Yashoda and they do not have
unflinching devotion to Him.

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Learning to play Mridanga


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2.
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Those have not developed taste to hear the pastimes of the Lord of the Gopis.
Those people who have no respectful veneration towards hearing the narrations of the supreme Lord's activities.
Fie upon them, fie upon them, to hell with them; thus states Mridanga.

Namo bhrahmanya rupaya


laavanyam rasamadhuri
Sarva guna samyuktaya
Mridangaya namo namaha
Let me offer my respect to Mridanga which emanates spiritual sound vibration, is very beautiful abode of all sweet
rasa and which has all wonderful auspicious qualities.
If not the above prayer, after picking up Mridanga for playing, we can offer our respect to Mridanga by
remembering in mind Nityananda Prabhu and Lord Balaram. One should pray Let me play this Mridanga for the
pleasure of deities and devotees in accompaniment of this Kirtan. Let me not become proud of the skills I am
exhibiting. Let me do it as service to Vaishnavas.

Mridanga

IN
1 = index finger

OUT

2 = other 3 fingers
BIG END

SMALL END

About Mridanga
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Mrid means clay & anga means body, i.e. one whose body is made of clay that is Mridanga, Bengali name for
Mridanga is Khol.
Two sides of Mridanga are tied along the body using the strings which are called as vaadi and they are 32 in
number. These represent 32 letters from Hare Krishna Mahamantra.
As per Gaudia Vaishnavas we should use right hand for SMALL end & left hand for playing BIG end of Mridanga
For simplification we shall be using two basic notations (to indicate beat played on the either side of Mridanga)
BIG end - we play OUT and IN. In the centre we play IN and the outer periphery we play OUT using
front portion of 4 fingers. For IN we press and for OUT we allow it to reverberate.
SMALL end we play 1 and 2. In the centre we play 1 with our index finger & we play 2 using the
other 3 fingers again in the centre. 1 makes high pitch resounding sound whereas 2 makes sound like
chuk
Above are the 4 basic building blocks for all the beats, hence more precise we play them the sweeter would be the
sound of the beats. Making various permutations and combinations of these notations, other beats (or taal) are
formulated.
We must learn to sing while playing Mridanga. Only when we master one beat (taal) alongwith singing we should
try to learn the second taal.

Golden rules for playing


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Play it slow and steady till we get the clarity of all the sounds produced (IN, OUT, 1 & 2). Only when we play it
slow the Taala develops and hands become flexible. Keep it slow for long period of time.
Do not increase the speed of playing by compromising the quality of sound. Quality must be maintained even as
you increase the speed.
Practice (play Mridanga) while repeating the notations aloud. DONT NEGLECT THIS thinking its trivial.
Eventually as we learn unlimited varieties of beats played using these notations this practice would be useful.

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Learning to play Mridanga


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Various beats that are played on Mridanga


1. Six beat slow -

f faint

Beat
No.
1
2
GAP
3
4
5
6
GAP

BIG

Beat
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7

BIG

OUT

IN
OUT(f)
OUT(s)

2. Seven beat slow

IN
OUT(f)
OUT(s)

&

s strong
-

SMALL

1
2
1
2

SMALL

2
1
2
1
1

After second beat and 6th beat there is a gap


i.e. 12.3456.
In case while playing we can not understand
how to leave gap, then instead there 2 can
be played
But the gap here (i.e not playing when a beat
is expected) is to create sweetness in the
tune, so it would be best to learn to leave
the gap instead of filling it with 2
This is a simple beat, every beat is played
only on one of the sides there is no
combination
At the 3rd beat of the kartal i.e. at Sama the
7th number of this beat is to be matched.
Thus its played as first beat followed by beat
1 onwards
7th beat is played on both sides of Mridanga
Mridanga is hit 7 times and there is a gap
after 7th beat

3. Five beat fast

Beat
No.
1
2
3
4
5

BIG

IN
IN
OUT(f)
OUT(s)

SMALL
1
1

4th & 5th are to be played together and playing 4th beat OUT(f) as faint adds the sweetness

4. Eight beat slow (plain)


Beat
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8

BIG

OUT
IN
OUT
OUT
-

SMALL
2
1
2
1
2
1
2
1

Both sides are played simultaneously many


times
Small side is continuously played
Playing this beat gives the required
flexibility to our hands for playing other fast
beats

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Learning to play Mridanga


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5. Eight beat slow (off beat)
Beat
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8

BIG

OUT
IN
IN
IN
OUT
-

SMALL

2
1
2
1
2
1
2
1

Both sides are played simultaneously many


times
Small side is continuously played
Playing this beat gives the required
flexibility to our hands for playing other fast
beats
Rhythm is different from previous 8 beat
slow-plain

6. Eight beat slow (namami iswaram tune)


Beat
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8

BIG

OUT
OUT
OUT
OUT
IN
IN

SMALL
2
1
2
1
2
1
2
1

Both sides are played simultaneously many


times
Small side is continuously played
Playing this beat gives the required
flexibility to our hands for playing other fast
beats

7. Six beat (fast)

Beat
No.
2
3
4
5
6
1

BIG

IN
OUT(f)
OUT(s)
OUT

SMALL
1
2
1
2

There is gap after 1 and rest of the beats


are
played
together
i.e.
1.234561.234561.23456

In the beginning play it slow till we get


perfect sound quality for all beats, then
increase the speed
As it may be difficult to leave the gap
after 1st beat, till we get the proficiency
we can start playing from 2nd beat come
to 1st beat and then take gap
Its important to maintain difference
between faint OUT and strong OUT to
get the sweetness of the beat
Many other varieties of fast beats are
based on this beat and can be learnt
easily if this beat is mastered

8. Four beat (fast) (for Jay Prabhupad!!)


Beat
No.
1
2
3
4

BIG

OUT(f)
OUT(s)

SMALL

Another variation:
Beat
No.
1
2
3
3
4
5

1
1
-

BIG

OUT(f)
OUT(f)
OUT(s)
-

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SMALL
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Learning to play Mridanga


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9. Seventeen beat

Beat
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

10. Tihai / Antara

BIG

IN
IN
OUT(f)
OUT(s)
OUT
OUT
OUT
OUT
OUT
-

SMALL
1
1
2
1
2
1
2
1
2
1
2
1
2
1

There is a gap after 10th beat and


remaining seven beats to be played in
two groups as 12 followed by 12121

Beat BIG
No.
1
IN
2
IN
3
OUT
Repeat 3 times

Beat BIG
No.
1
IN
2
OUT(f)
3
OUT(s)
Repeat 3 times
Beat BIG
No.
1
2
3
IN
4
5
OUT
Repeat 3 times

SMALL
1
1
2

SMALL
1
1

SMALL
2
1
2
1

Tihai is used at the end of Hare Krishna Mahamantra, mainly to break the monotony of the taal, to add
surprise element in the rhythm, to indicate that one mahamantra is completed.

Which beat to play where?


- 6 beat slow, 8 beat slow (off beat) suitable tunes are classical, Indian raga, south indian tunes
- 8 beat off beat suitable for western tune
- 17 beat for sitting kirtans where rhythm is low paced for long period of time e.g. plain simple tunes
- 17 beat or 7 beat for early morning kirtan, where no artistic skills are to be shown e.g. during mangal aarti
Role of Mridanga player in Kirtan and some other tips
- Mridanga player is a servant not boss, so we should be humble and play as per singers expectations, should not
show off our skill over and above the sound of the Holy Name.
- We have to be conscious that the strength and art of playing Mridanga comes from Lord Balaram and he is the
Guru tatva who provides paraphernalia for serving the God & intelligence of how to use that paraphernalia in
service of God. Kirtan is assisting hari-nam which is non-different from Krishna, Mridanga player has to be
conscious of his assisting role in the hari-nam. Holy name is the personality of the lord and playing musical
instruments is like decorating shri vigraha of the Hari-nam Prabhu.
- We want to play in a way that our presence is never felt but at the same time assistance given should be so
powerful that everyone is attracted to Kirtan and chanting of holy name. We have to be conscious of this aspect
and keep reminding ourselves again and again as we tend to forget.
- At any time we lack strength or we are not able to pick up the skill we should pray to Lord Balaram
- Gesturing between singer and Mridanga player normally happens through singers eyes, bodily movement,
kartaal and is indicative of which taal to play or change of taal. So dont close your eyes/ dont be inattentive
towards the needs of the singer.

Conclusion

Just by learning above beats, almost 90% of the tunes played for Kirtans & Bhajans in ISKCON get covered and can
be played by us. Wish you all the best! May Lord Balarama bless you with the necessary talent, intelligence,
strength and service attitude to become a good Mrdanga Player.
Thank you very much! Hare Krishna!!
Vaishnava Kripa Abhilashi,
Bala Govinda Dasa. bgd@voicepune.com

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