The first person in the world to develop the vegan Mridangam, Dr K Varadarangan is expanded with other instruments as well. He shares how his inner voice compelled him to make a difference. He is the Guest Speaker at the Global Vegan Business Expo 2020 scheduled from 30 Oct – 1 Nov 2020.

Patience and innovative ideas helped him create this wonderful instrument, which is made without leather. Today, Dr K Varadarangan is renowned for being the first person in the world to invent the cruelty-free Mridangam, which is a path breaking effort. As a result, the instrument is almost weightless with a fibre body and is maintenance free. One could tune easily to any shruthi without any difference of Meetu and Chapu.

“This would enable artistes to consider a new version of the age-old percussion instrument, which is highly durable. My aim as a vegan, scientist and musician was to showcase a novelty that did not use animal skin. They are sustainable and free from cruelty to animals” says Dr Varadarangan. This metamorphosis or rearranging the use of age-old materials is part of evolution”, according to him.

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 The Next Step

His latest innovation (after the synthetic fibre glass shell Mridangam is the synthetic tabla. This is the second musical instrument to come out of Karunya Musicals.

The SRI Tabla (Synthetic Rhythm Indian) as named by Dr Varadarangan is made of drum-heads with polyester films, and shells with fibreglass of synthetic rubber loading. Dr Varadarangan explains, “The top or Chati is the main vibrating membrane made of a double layered polyester film which acts as a good protecting layer. The centre black ‘Syahi’ is a chemically bonded vibrating membrane. It is not an adhesive as used in traditional instruments made of boiled rice and iron oxide powder. My new version consists of synthetic rubber that naturally bonds with the polyester fibre that uses replaceable drum heads that are maintenance free and highly durable. This Synthetic ‘SRI Tabla’ is a mathematical model with stabilised sounds and aesthetically done synthetic strips for alignment. Although the acoustic principle is the same as in the traditional one, the change is in the material and process. The key aspect of my research is subjecting rubber material bonds and a polyester film to a chemical process without the use of adhesives.”

“With the kind of material that is used, there is hardly any maintenance cost,” says Dr. Varadarangan. “The tabla works on the same principle as my synthetic mridangam that took nearly seven years of extensive research and trial and error modules.”

Both the traditional and the synthetic tabla are similar as far as playing the instrument is concerned. “What makes its maintenance easy is that it comes with a nut and bolt system for tuning. It uses fibre-glass shell instead of wood that makes its sound-sustenance better. It weighs only five kilos and makes it travel friendly as the pitch will also not vary due to temperature variances,” says Dr Varadarangan.

Matter In Music

Dr Varadarangan, who holds a doctorate in ‘Microwave Antennas’ from IIT Chennai had a core academic interest in cracking the physics behind sound and naada. More specifically, in understanding the scientific energy and force behind ‘matter in music.’ His research to produce the exact tone of a Carnatic percussion instrument made him import drum heads with membranes of synthetic polyester films from China with a special rubber bonding that provides the necessary bass tone. “More than seven decades ago, Sir CV Raman had published his researched findings on the mridanga that approximately explains that the naada produces harmonic overtones with integer ratio to the fundamentals. To replicate these ‘harmonic tones,’ as established by Sir CVR on a synthetic mridanga manufactured without wood and animal skins, was a dream I chased for many years. Now I have added the tabla that works on similar principles,” adds Dr Varadarangan.

The pitch stability and durability tests included 35-lakh beats on the tabla along with data points on temperature and humidity influences; it was also checked with informal performances at home explains Dr Varadarangan. Both the mridanga and the tabla cost ₹11,000.

The vocalist’s earlier book ‘Naada Vignana Sampada’ on the science of music is being used as a text book at Mysore Gangubai Hangal University, while his latest on ‘Shruti Lakshana Prakashini’ (Kannada) and ‘Shrutibheda’ (English) are veritable guides to students.

The Moment Of Truth

In his interview, Dr Vardarangan recollects that turning vegan was his own internal calling. He was born in a vegetarian family and right from a young age was greatly saddened and helpless at the unimaginable horrors that animals underwent in slaughterhouses.  However, at that time he was not aware of the cruelty to cows and calves in the dairy industry and so continued to consume dairy products.

However, when he settled in Bangalore for work, he started observing pregnant cows with heavy udders and suspected something amiss in the dairy industry. In 2010 while browsing the net, he read about the torture animals underwent, not only for meat but also for dairy, leather, entertainment, consumer goods, cosmetics and modern medicine. It was a moment of truth. From that moment onwards, he turned vegan and there was no question of looking back for him. On hearing this from him, his wife too decided to turn vegan. So officially both he and his wife turned vegan and have never looked back.

Speaking about the special features of his wonderful invention, he says that there are many special features of the cruelty free leather for the musical instruments.  The “Leather” for the percussion instruments is a synthetic material, basically a plastic called polyester. This is the material that is used widely in western drums most of which are synthetic. This material has the right properties to be used as a drumhead material. It is extremely strong and retains its elastic properties over exceptionally long periods of time. This material is available since 1960 but no one who makes Indian drums such as the Mridangams and Tablas took a look at them.

Mridangams and tablas have a black circular patch (called syahi) on their skin which gives them a distinct musical tone with a perfect sense of pitch. The main challenge was to find a suitable material for the black patch for the drum head. Dr Vardarangam’s experiments began with a wooden shell. For the syahi, finding the right material was a huge challenge, but after months of struggle, he found a rubbery material that could bond very well to the polyester drum head and produce a nice sustained tone. This was the most important breakthrough in the entire project.

When asked about method of promoting the use of Vegan Mridangams, Dr Vardarangam states that he has not done any advertisements or employed direct marketing methods. Most of it has happened through Facebook and their website (karunyamusicals.com). They are able to reach out to a large number of people through their Facebook posts. Most importantly the “word of mouth” publicity and testimonials from satisfied customers have been the main driving force to reach out to prospective customers.

BOOK YOUR 3-DAY PASS TO ENJOY THE DEMO VEGAN INSTRUMENTS’ DEMO: https://compassionmagazine.in/global-vegan-business-expo-2020/

Dream To Vegan-ize Every Percussion Instrument

Dr Vardarangam says that it is his ambition and dream to veganise every percussion instrument. He is actively engaged in continuous improvements of existing products and bringing out new vegan percussion Instruments. His musical company has also rolled out the vegan Khol, which is already gaining wide acclaim. In the pipeline are vegan Maddale and Dholak.

All vegans and animal lovers have welcomed Dr Vardarangan’s efforts in making the world more compassionate towards the animal kingdom. He is indeed a shining example and a great source of inspiration to many.

WATCH Dr Vardarangam IN GVBE2020 BULLETIN