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.
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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)
Sannidi Academy of Music and Arts, (SAMA) a nonprofit organaisation established in the year 2011 by carnatic musician T.R. Sundaresan. Sannidi, helps young talents to come together and also provides them a platform for team work, learning and performing. Sannidi Academy of Music and Arts welcome all like minded musicians and artists to come forward and be a part of its future endeavors.
Carnatic Wave is an aural journey into the Karaikudi Veena tradition, a centuries old practice of Southern Indian classical music being carried on by a group of musicians in Portland, Oregon. This short documentary offers a glimpse into their world of Carnatic music, highlighting the importance and challenge of teaching traditional art forms in our modern society. – Documentary maker David Van Auken
Concert on 31.12.2020 by Vidwan J.A.Jayanth – Flute, Vidwan L.Ramakrishnan – Violin , Vidwan N.C.Bharadwaj – Mridangam , and Vidwan Chandrasekara Sharma – Ghatam. For Daily Informations refer to Our Blog : https://naadainbam.wordpress.com/
Jayanth, still in his late twenties, is the most recognisable and sought after flautist in contemporary Carnatic music who also commands a considerable cross-over following in India and abroad. He’s a prime time performer in Chennai’s prestigious Sabhas and also a regular fixture in Indian musical festivals in Europe and the US. He enthrals his audiences with an arresting gayaki style, riveting wizardry on his instrument, and rare musical wisdom. | Read the full interview by G Pramod Kumar on Jayanth’s musical background, the Carnatic bamboo flute, and the challenges it poses in the Indian Express (December 12, 2020) >>
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