on the publisher’s website: Oxford University Press
in a library near you via WorldCat.org
from one of several Indian distributors and online bookstores
Historically, Bharatanatyam was mostly prevalent in Tamil Nadu, though traces of it were found in the 20th century in what are now Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Today it is taught and practised throughout the globe. The term ‘Bharatanatyam’ has been in existence at least from the 15th century but we do not know the compositions the dancers performed in the early years of Bharatanatyam. […] The repertoire added during the time of Tulaja and Serfoji II owes its credit to four brothers of Tanjavur who belonged to a traditional natyacharya family. They were Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu, the ‘Tanjavur Quartet’ we know.
Ranjani Govind, The Hindu, Bangalore, April 26, 2011
The four strings of the tambura that provide sruthi or the basic swara (pitch) for musicians are considered the life force for any melodic exercise. Fixed in jack wood to enhance the naada, yesteryear musicians were stuck to this pitch provider because there were no alternatives. […]
While many are comfortable with the electronic gadget while practising, how does it feel to have an object there on the concert stage, bereft of human touch, minus the aesthetics of the real thing?
“The digital tamburas are handy for travel, but only a compromise. It’s like decaffeinated coffee,” says vocalist Aruna Sairam.
“Digital versions are comfortable to use, but only a tambura can bring in a tranquil aura.”
“We use both to get an effect. If it is only the tambura, sometimes we don’t hear the strings resonating as an open-air ambience often drowns it, thanks to decibel levels. So a good tambura along with a digital one can strike a good balance,” says Sriram Prasad of Malladi Brothers.
Doyen R.K. Srikantan says: “We were used to visualising a stage only with the traditional tambura both for aesthetics and aural synchrony. There is an art to playing the tambura, we were told, not just wielding one. But we get dependent on those who have to play it for hours. Technology assists us to meet urban demands.” […]
Even so, visually there is something elevating about a beautifully carved tambura, with its mesmeric resonance, being plucked in perfect timing by a resplendently turned out artiste.
And if it is the main artiste who is handing the tambura, nothing matches the picture of his or her face resting against the magnificent tambura, lost in sadhana. Bits and bytes can’t beat such chemistry.
Classical musicians have many concerns. A major one is having a perfectly tuned tambura — when practising and performing. Naturally. The tambura aka tanpura, is the keeper of the pitch. It is the guardian of the right note. The tambura is the drone instrument which keeps the sruti. And sruti is the mother of music. […]
This writer has often wondered why the tambura player’s name is not regularly mentioned in concert invitations along with that of the other accompanying artistes. Maybe, sabhas, organisers and artistes should think on these lines.
Teachers and performers consider playing the traditional tambura early in the morning both calming and even therapeutic and must be part of a student’s training. Pantula Rama believes that a musician’s personal tambura is invaluable and irreplaceable as it comes to life during the long years of sadhana. “Musicians should maintain old tamburas — either their own or inherited — as an extension of the body itself. Sabhas should maintain tamburas of different srutis, make it a point to have traditional tambura for each concert, and have a panel of music students and artistes well trained in this art,” she says and adds that good remuneration and respect on a par with other accompanists will encourage tambura players. […]
Is it time to start tambura academies? Or at least special certificate course only on tambura tuning? Or should tambura artistes have an association of their own to ensure good remuneration?
Radha Bhaskar has some good news: “We, at Mudhra, are thinking of organising a workshop on tambura tuning and playing. Madurai G.S. Mani has offered to conduct it,” she says.
Ravikiran says that AIR should restore the importance of a separate category for the tambura player.
The number of music festivals at various government and private academic institutions has grown over the years. Students of these institutions should be compulsorily trained in this art and encouraged to provide tambura accompaniment. It would give them a great opportunity to be with senior artistes and also provide valuable stage experience too.
Bridge to the past
For Bombay Jayashri, it is a unique relationship with the tambura. Her association goes back to her childhood. “The house would be filled with Omkara naadam as my father sat with his tambura in perfect sruti alignment. That left a deep impression in my mind. My grandfather and mother were also tambura lovers,” says Jayashri, who even wrote a poem, ‘Tambura My Sakhi.’
Naturally, it led to a collection of her favourite instrument — Miraj, Thanjavur, Trivandrum… she has them all. “I buy them in pairs,” she laughs. […]
Jayashri believes that it is the tambura, which inspires the musical phrases when she sings. “As I hold it close to my ear, I find myself completely cut off from the world. The raga draws me in. May be I’m imagining it but my music is an extension of my tambura.” Jayashri has names for her collection. “They are so close to my heart, I thought it was rude to identify them as the light brown, dark brown, white cedar, etc. So they have names — Mithra, Kamakshi, Kathyayini and so on.”
Does she not find them unwieldy especially when travelling?
“They are delicate. So I don’t carry the antique ones. I have compact ones, which I can carry as hand luggage. But I would never travel without one,” she explains. “Tambura is my constant companion – a bridge to my past, keeping the memories of my childhood alive.”
The Tambura is considered a queen amongst the Suri vadhyas such as Ektar, Dotar, Tuntina, Ottu and Donai. Although tamburas are traditionally made at certain places, the Thanjavur Tambura has a special charm, which makes it a favourite. They are beautifully ornamented like the Thanjavur Veena. Veena Asaris are the Tambura makers too but not all are experts the reason being it requires a special skill to make the convex ‘Meppalagai’ or the plate covering the ‘Kudam’ or ‘Paanai.’ The making and fixing of the Meppalagai must be done with utmost care.
There are two ways of holding a Tambura. One is the “Urdhva” — upright posture, as in in concerts. Placing the Tambura on the right thigh is the general practice. The other is to place it on the floor in front of the person who is strumming it. While practising or singing casually, it can be placed horizontally on the lap, the Kudam on the right side.
The middle finger and index finger are used to strum the Tambura. Of the four strings, the ‘Panchamam,’ which is at the farther end is plucked by the middle finger followed by the successive plucking of ‘Sārani’, ‘Anusārani’ and ‘Mandara’ strings one after the other by the index finger. This exercise is repeated in a loop resulting in the sruti resonating entirely and creating a wholesome musical atmosphere. Playing the Tambura also needs special skill since the plucking should give a sustained sruti guide to the main performer.
The Tambura which gives the sa-pa-sa Sruti notes is pure therapy to the mind and soul. Sit in a quiet place with eyes closed and listen to the notes of a perfectly tuned Tambura — the effect is therapeutic.
Tambura makers rarely get orders. If they did, the preference is for instruments 50 years old since the wood used then was well seasoned and of great quality.
Except a few, the current generation is for electronic sruti accompaniment, including Bluetooth. Portability is the obvious reason for the choice. Besides few music students are taught to tune and play the tambura. Beyond all this what seems to swing the vote is that the electronic sruti equipment with its heavy tonal quality can cover up when the sruti goes astray.
During the middle of the last century, Miraj Tamburas (next only to the vintage Thanajvur) were a rage amongst music students, who were captivated by its tonal quality with high precision and the beautiful, natural gourd resonators.
[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]
Find out more about the persons and subjects covered above
A teacher teaches music – the curriculum, the techniques, the methods and so on, but a Guru teaches how to approach music: how to understand it, how to internalize it and how to enjoy it. […]
Music is a lifelong pursuit and its emotions start sinking into you with more internal growth of the self (for which the Guru is an enabler). At a certain phase in this pursuit, you become your own Guru.
Have you been looking for a fun way of memorizing the 72 melakarta names and numbers, finding them “mind bending” rather than “mind boggling” until now?
Here’s one method that may work – if you are ready to practice it for a few minutes every day; like passing time while waiting in queues or commuting, or unable to fall asleep. Silently so … such is the beauty and usefulness of the melakarta system.
STEP 1 Take today’s date (or your favorite musician’s birthday) in the format you commonly use (DD-MM or MM-DD, here we’ll use DD-MM)
12-07 for 12 July
STEP 2 Pick the corresponding mela numbers from the list available here (a special gift for all motivated learners):
Tip: if interested, find more explanations on page 2 to understand how the Kaṭapayādi sūtra is being applied to the names of 72 mēḷakartā rāgas (“melas”).
STEP 3 Remember how “yesterday … your troubles seemed so far away?”
11-07 for 11 July … so keep moving forward and backward after getting today’s numbers and names right, to start with.
You got it, all ready to go for days and weeks to come: because that date, too, is another day; one bound to become a memorable one with the help of the Boggle Your Mind with Mela (BYMM) method.
STEP 4 What’s next? Here are some suggestions:
find the actual DD-MM date in the Western calendar which corresponds to “72 October 2021”
or any other DD-MM date you consider booking a ticket and attend the Chennai December Season
if motivated to do so: memorize the entire list of 72 melas in batches of 10 (rather than 6): you’ll spot the patterns more easily
apply mela numbers in order to remember daily matters: birthdays, holidays or passwords – you name it
print the above PDF-attachment, then fold the sheet along the lines “accordeon style”: this yields a neat, visiting card size BY-MM paper-app (battery free for 24/7 use)
use it as a gift for fellow music lovers interested in this subject
Just one more thing as regards general well being Although it seems unlikely you didn’t know yet: remember how good walking is for both, one’s mental and physical health? For our brains and moods … even for learning all the 72 mela ragas by heart in a stress-free manner.
For this musicologist and author, there are good reasons to believe that Carnatic music matters, perhaps more than ever and almost anywhere in the world. So why not perform and teach it in the service of better education for all, for ecological awareness or in order to promote mutual respect in spite of all our differences? And in the process, get “invigorated and better equipped to tackle the larger issues at hand”.
Published by Shankar Ramchandran on behalf of Dhvani Ohio | Read or download the full article (PDF, 800 KB, updated 19 June 2021):
Tyagaraja worried about many things — about the death of brahmanatva — the lofty way of thinking and living, of sham religiosity, of sycophancy, of Lord Rama’s reluctance to bestow grace. In one such song in the poignant raga Naganandini, he laments: sattaleni dinamunu vacchena
Such days have come…
Days that have no strength (sattu)
Strength that faith in God gives.
Reverence for parents and teachers is nought
And men indulge in evil acts
Such days have come…
But he did not worry for music except that it should not be divorced from bhakti. […]
What makes one refer to Carnatic music as “classical or art music”? Evoking Dr. Ashok Ranade’s suggestion of the musical pentad in India, religious music is a different genre of music from art music. Religious music consists of repertoire that is religious in content and it may and very often does use ragas and the tala. But the whole musical effect is towards heightening religious fervour. The repertoire of Carnatic music is predominantly religious; but the intent of a Carnatic concert is not religious — it is aesthetic. A good presentation of a composition focuses on correctness of lyrics, of patantara, of delivering raga nuances, of following the kala pramana or measure of time or laya, and indeed of bhava or communication of an emotive content. This emotional content is not religious but musical; intensity of imagination, artistry and delivery must evoke emotion, not literal meanings of words. […]
Even the brilliant Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who was himself deeply religious, clarified that bhakti is essential for a Carnatic music, but this bhakti is for music, not for any personal deity. […]
[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]
Find out more about the persons and subjects covered above
In Kerala’s Peruvemba village, one family has been making the Mridangam, a Carnatic instrument, for four generations. They make two types of Mridangams – Ech and Thag. […]
The cumbersome and labour-intensive process of making every piece, which continues seamlessly and without glitches, takes anywhere between 2-3 months to complete. Generally, the artisans dedicate a part of their house to make the instruments. This is probably the reason why the entire family is involved in the work. Rajesh was around eight when he first tried his hands at making one. […]
Every family member excels at certain tasks. For example, my grandmother aces mashiyidal, which is the black circular ring on top of the instrument made from boiled rice and black stone. Her work is especially in demand by customers. Likewise, my father perfects the shape,” says Rajesh.
The main materials to make the instrument are jackfruit and leather. The family sources their jackfruit from Tamil Nadu’s Panruti village and to ensure the sturdiness, the tree has to be at least 30 years old. The middle and lower body of the fruit is cut and kept for drying for nearly two months, and then chiselled to make the body. […]
JA Jayant performs for Indian Arts Connection’s Breath of Life fundraising concert to buy oxygen concentrators to help with Indias 2nd wave of COVID. He is accompanied by B Ananthakrishnan on the Violin, NC Bharadwaj on Mridangam and S Karthick on Ghatam. Donations accepted https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/breath-…
Sampradaya is like a broad river and the bani is a tributary. It is born out of creativity and sustained when creativity combines with novelty, while based on the core principles. It should be aesthetically beautiful and serve as something new for present and future generations to work upon. I learnt from four great masters: Arupathi Natesa Iyer, Thanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer, Palghat Mani Iyer, and Kumbakonam Sakottai Rangu Iyengar. On that base I formed my own distinctive style, something novel, attractive and worthy of emulation. Bani is about everything — accompaniment, mridangam solo, giving pauses, creating a lot of nada, and new moras and korvais, complex mathematical creations. It is like Ariyakudi’s music; it may seem simple, but when you attempt it, it’s impossible until you work at it. That is what I have created. It has complete clarity, with or without mic. As my father taught me, I coax the mridangam, I don’t beat it. Another principle of my bani: First, you become a rasika of the main artiste, whether vocal or instrumental. You must become the first rasika. And you must go into the music, so that it affects your psyche, your playing. The tempo, the voice, the volume, the mellifluousness, everything enters your body, and it reacts in the mridangam. Then, your reactions and movements will be in advaita bhava with the main artiste.
Read the full interview: “Umayalpuram Sivaraman: ‘I have not even touched the tip of the iceberg’” by Vaishna Roy (The Hindu, 6 May 2021)