Murasam
(Murasu) is a bowl shaped instrument of ancient Tamil origin used extensively in the classical (Sangam) periods. It was commonly used in the royal palaces (usually placed on a special the wall) to summon the villagers and pass on the messages or orders of the king. The drum was first sounded, upon hearing the roaring beats the villagers would gather around it, and then the king’s men would read out the king’s message or order. The Murasam was also extensively used in courts, royal palaces, temple festivals, religious celebrations and folk music and dance.

 

A variant of the Murasam, the Poar Murasam (War Murasam), was used extensively by the royals to announce an imminent threat to the people. On hearing the roaring sound of the Murasam, people became alert and prepared for warfare. It also provided a fearsome “marching” beat during the war often causing fear in the opponent. It was the most prized possessions captured from the defeated enemy in the battlefield.

 

There is also a Karakaattam, a folk dance involving balancing a ceremonial pot, Karakam, on the head) variation known as Murasa Karakam where the Karakaatta dancers are accompanied mainly by the Murasam as supposed to Parai or Thavil. The beats here are similar to that of the Parai.

 

A reference to the Murasam has been made in many of the Saiva hymns, Panniru Thirumurai, for example:
 
 
 
This text from First Thirumurai describes the auspicious sound of the great Murasam along with that of the bell, “Mani” and conch “Sangku”. This hymn details the auspicious sound produced when Sivan grew in infinite size that was immeasurable and unknown to Vishnu (Pandri/Varaaha Avathaaram or Boar) and Brahma (flying on a Swan). 

This text from Third Thirumurai says that Sivan awakens with the auspicious sound of the Murasam.
 
Evidences from the Malaipatukatam, a Sangam period Tamil poetic work belonging to the Paththuppattu details the construction of the Sangam period Murasam. 

 

The bowl shaped shell of the Murasam ranges in diameter from 30 – 50 inches with height varying accordingly. The shell of the small version of the Murasam is either hollowed out from a single block of wood or a large piece of metal/metal alloy made to shape. The larger size Murasam shell is either made by joining, with glue and/or nuts and bolts, many curved out pieces of wood or by welding together many curved metal/metal alloy pieces. Although the shell can be made from any metal, copper is preferred and likewise as an alloy bronze or brass are preferred.

 

A single layer of animal (cow or goat) skin is stretched across the rim of the bowl shaped shell, a hoop traditionally made of hemp (a fibrous plant) or bamboo is placed at the base of the bowl shaped shell to as a support and as a grip for the leather straps, the leather is interwoven with the hoop at the base and the eyelets on the skin. In modern days the hemp hoops have been replaced with thin metallic hoop and the leather straps with strong rope.  Water buffalo skins are also a suitable replacement and are often seen on the larger versions. Sometimes, and only when a larger skin is required, two or more pieces of leather skin are stitched together and glued.

 

Soru, the black paste as seen on the Miruthangam, is placed at the centre (sometimes off centre) of the skin surface to add a tonic element to the beat. The entire instrument is placed on a wooden platform to support its weight and to stop it from rocking from side to side.

 

Prior to every performance the Murasam is tuned by tightening and/or loosening the leather hoops intertwining the straps.  In modern versions the leather tuning hoops have been replaced with metal rings which do the same job.

 

The instrument is either played while sitting or standing, when the drum is on an elevated platform. The instrument is played with two long like stick made from hard wood such as Jackfruit wood. The sticks have patterns running from one end to the other, the handle area is smoothed for easy grip and the head of the stick is padded so that it does not tear the skin.