Krishna.com Store: The Mridanga Controversy
A lot of people have been asking why we only have the Balarama brand fiberglass mridangas drums in stock now. Where are the clay, brass, and fiberglass drums from India that we have imported for all of these years? They sound better, look better, and play better than these Western versions do.
Well, the answer is in the leather. Cow hide. We don’t kill cows. It’s intrinsic to our belief system and our lifestyle. We just don’t do it.
Traditionally leather laces and heads on mridangas were ahimsa—harvested once a cow died naturally. That was a long time ago. With a significantly greater demand from the Western world for these drums, the whole drum making industry has been pushed into overdrive. Drum makers are reaching further and wider (and more blindly) to get the needed material to keep up with orders for drums. There is a ready supply of leather from the slaughter houses that are spreading across India. Inexpensive leather for people who are willing to pretend it doesn’t matter where it comes from.
This is not acceptable to us, to participate in an industry where the source of leather can possibly be traced back to a slaughter house. Even the vendors who offer ‘ahimsa’ leather drums couldn’t assure us that all of their leather was gathered from an ethical source. There is just no way to guarantee it. Rather than contribute to the problem, I had to decide to remove Krisna.com from the leather drum market completely.
That sounds a little extreme, but I prefer to err on the side of caution. We’ve learned from life-long mridanga makers that it take about one calf to make each mridanga, and that older cow hide is not acceptable because it is more brittle and doesn’t last very long. So instead of hoping that our drums are not responsible for the deaths of many calves, we are just not taking the risk.
The Balarama brand fiberglass mridangas are made in California by the same people who have been making them since Srila Prabhupada approved of their production over 30 years ago. They are made from synthetic materials and hand-assembled to order. Sure, I agree that a master musician would notice they are not as refined as a clay drum from Mayapura, but these are workhorse drums that withstand many hours of playing, amateur handling, environmental changes, and even other-enthusiastic children.
I realize that this limits what we can offer you. And that perhaps not every drum is made with dirty leather. But if there’s a chance, then I’m not willing to take it. If I can’t have a mridanga that is truly ahimsa and karma-free, I will settle for clapping my hands while I sing.
Krishna.com Store: Balarama Mridangas & Parts