The mridangam makers of Mylapore

Jesudas and his son Edwin are skilled craftsmen, known in the Carnatic music universe of Chennai and elsewhere for the mridangams they give life to, though they still face occasional communal biases

Ashna Butani

The sounds of Carnatic music on the radio fill a cramped room painted blue in a small lane of Mylapore. Photos of Hindu deities adorn the walls, and pieces of jackfruit wood and leather are strewn on the floor. Jesudas Anthony and his son Edwin Jesudas are working in this room, sitting amid hammers, nails, a wooden peg for tuning and castor oil for polishing. Outside, temple bells resound in this old residential neighbourhood of central Chennai.

The two master craftsmen make the mridangam , a drum used as an accompaniment in Carnatic (south Indian classical) music. “My grandfather’s father started making mridangams in Thanjavur,” says Edwin, referring to the old town 350 kilometres from Chennai. His father looks up and smiles, then continues punching holes around the edges of two circular leather cutouts. He then stretches the two pieces and binds them to the open ends of a hollow frame with thin leather strips. Thicker leather straps are also stretched and twined from one end to the other, across the instrument’s ‘body’ or resonator. The entire process of making a mridangam (they work on more than one at the same time) takes around seven days….