Life-giver and soul of Indian music: The Tambura (tanpura) according to T.M. Krishna

In his recent book, A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story, T.M. Krishna reflects on those misconceptions and stereotypes that stand in the way of truly appreciating South Indian music. He reiterates the unique role played by the (acoustic) tambura / tanpura which is all too rarely heard ‘live’ in Indian concerts today.  

For this eminent singer “it is the one instrument that can be said to hold within itself the very essence of classical music. So unobtrusive is this instrument, so self-effacing in its positioning on the stage and so tender of nature, that it is almost taken for granted. It is the life-giver, the soul of our music. … Only a musician who has experienced this sanctity can be a true musical vehicle. In the internal absorption of the tambura’s resonance, music happens.” (pp. 48-50) He asks whether the electronic tambura satisfies the human sense of tune when digitization really changes the manner in which we hear sound, a phenomenon he has explored in practice.

In his view, the practice of substituting the tambura by electronic devices also in the classroom “has worked to the detriment of sruti. All this has consolidated the misconception of Karnatic music going ‘off key'”. (p. 235-6; see the book’s index for more on this and related topics)

For reports on the book release and interview, type “Karnatik Story Krishna” in Google custom search – carnaticstudent.org >>

Publisher’s note
One of the foremost Karnatik vocalists today, T.M. Krishna writes lucidly and passionately about the form, its history, its problems and where it stands today
T.M. Krishna begins his sweeping exploration of the tradition of Karnatik music with a fundamental question: what is music? Taking nothing for granted and addressing readers from across the spectrum – musicians, musicologists as well as laypeople – Krishna provides a path-breaking overview of south Indian classical music. – HarperCollins Publisher (2013) Price: Rs. 699

Tambura / Tanpura “tree of enlightenment” for Mallikarjun Mansur

N. Manu Chakravarthy, The Hindu,  September 22, 2011

It [2011] is the centenary year of the legendary Jaipur-Atrauli musician Mallikarjun Mansur. Unravelling the individual genius of the maestro is also the study of a living tradition 

It is not easy to locate the greatness of Pandit Mallikarjuna Mansur and understand his relevance in our times. The life and accomplishments of Mansur unravel the various dimensions of a great tradition; it is also the act of exploring the multiple dimensions of a living community. […]

Mansur remarked quite often that the drone of the tanpura became his bodhi vriksha (tree of enlightenment). He often said that he would not have had a mystical revelation of the notes had he not constantly meditated on it. He would declare: “I understood that all the notes are the manifestations of the first note sa and all ragas are the flood that emanates from sa.” In his autobiographical work, “Nanna Rasayatre” Mansur says, “Rather than a theoretical exposition of a raga, a sterling asthaayi (the basic framework) can delineate the ragaclearly and comprehensively. These days singers have little interest in mastering the valuable old asthaayis. The ragas have lost connection with their notes, and it ends up in the torture of a raga. One is not against producing new compositions. However, it is detrimental to make new compositions without knowing the form and value of traditional compositions.”

Mansur who learnt in the gurukula tradition under Pandit Neelakanta Bua, had an encounter with Ustad Alladiya Khan sahib at Sangli, the doyen of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana; it propelled him to a state that he had never experienced until then. Mansur describes the manner in which Alladiya Khan’s music virtually mesmerised and left him speechless. Alladiya Khan’s taans and boltaans gave Mansur a new musical vision. […]

Source: Manna from heaven | The Hindu
Address : http://www.thehindu.com/arts/music/manna-from-heaven/article2476298.ece
Date Visited: Fri May 31 2013 16:15:48 GMT+0200 (CEST)

“Only a tambura can bring in a tranquil aura”: Musicians comment on the convenience and compromise of digital tanpura

South Indian tambura

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.

Source: Does the digitised tambura manage to hit the right note? | The Hindu
Address : http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/does-the-digitised-tambura-manage-to-hit-the-right-note/article1767958.ece
Date Visited: Fri May 31 2013 16:25:29 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Video | Documentary on S. Rajam singer, scholar, teacher and painter

S.Rajam is a multifaceted genius with creative talents in a variety of fields such as music, musicology, classical painting and acting. In the field of music, S. Rajam is an unparalleled authority on Vivadi ragas and has done much to popularize Koteeswara Iyer’s kritis. He has the distinction of being the only musician to have recorded all the 72 compositions of Kanda Ganamutham, most of the kritis being accompanied by Raga, Niraval and Kalpana swaras. He was also well known for keeping the Classical Indian Painting style contemporary. He has immensely contributed to enrich our cultural heritage for over six decades.

Launch and screening of the movie: 11th November 2012 at Tatvaloka, Eldams Road, Chennai (2.00 PM)

The first Sabha of Madras

The Hindu, September 21, 2012

One of the earliest attempts to make the British appreciate Carnatic music was initiated by Gayan Samaj.

STEEPED IN HISTORY:Pachaiyappa's hall.
STEEPED IN HISTORY:Pachaiyappa’s hall.
Had the Madras Jubilee Gayan Samaj been around, it would have been 125 this year, though it began at least four years earlier under a different name. That certainly makes it the mother of all Sabhas that have been documented in the 373 years of Chennai.
The Samaj came into existence at a time when the British were taking an active if short-lived interest in Indian music. Books were being written, some of the early works being ‘Hindu Music’ by Captain N.A. Willard, ‘Musical Modes of the Hindus’ by Sir William Jones, ‘Sangeet’ by Francis Gladwin and ‘Oriental Music’ by W.C. Stafford. The absence of any form of documentation and the native methods of notation proved to be a major deterrent. The educated Indians began to seriously work on reducing Indian music to the Western form of notation often referred to as Staff Notation. It was their view that getting their music written in the Western format would encourage the English to appreciate the art form. Among the earliest such attempts were made by the Poona Gayan Samaj, one of the early organised bodies to sponsor music performances. […]
The Samaj also reduced some of its songs to Staff Notation and had the Madras Philharmonic Orchestra render them for Europeans on yet another occasion. In addition, it had Tennyson’s Ode to Queen Victoria translated into Sanskrit, set to music and performed for the benefit of an invited audience. […]
The Samaj came into existence at a time when the British were taking an active if short-lived interest in Indian music

Source: The Hindu : FEATURES / FRIDAY REVIEW : The first Sabha of Madras
Address : http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/article3920039.ece
Date Visited: Sat Sep 22 2012 16:11:11 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Paper and Lecture Recital – 15th International Conference of the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung Goettingen

Music | Musics. Structures and Processes
15th International Conference of the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung Goettingen
Paper and Lecture Recital by Ludwig Pesch & Manickam Yogeswaran

Unity in diversity, antiquity in contemporary practice? A fresh look at South Indian music

The music of South India or Carnatic music is an amalgam of regional traditions and practices and became increasingly codified in the past five centuries. Today it reaches global audiences while ancient roots are claimed even by those who cherish its association with musicians from other cultures – from Messiaen to Menuhin, from jazz to rock-fusion – throughout the 20th century. But how to account for its intrinsic qualities in a manner that makes sense to “non-Indian” ears and minds? More >>

Paper and Lecture Recital at the International Congress of the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung

Music | Musics. Structures and Processes
15th International Conference of the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung Goettingen

Title of the presentation by Manickam Yogeswaran & Ludwig Pesch: “Unity in diversity, antiquity in contemporary practice? A fresh look at South Indian music”

Read more >>

All craftsmen in Miraj are musicians – the wonderfully resonant Tanpura (Tambura)

tambura_workshop_miraj_thehindu_1907012
A view of the shop where tanpuras are made. Photo by Lakshmi Sreeram – courtesy The Hindu

Lakshmi Sreeram, The Hindu, July 19, 2012

Miraj is famous for tanpuras made by its craftsmen, who honed their skills by first becoming trained musicians.

How did it ever strike someone to stick a piece of wood on a dried pumpkin, build this bridge and that and twist some strings on it, to make this wonderfully resonant thing one calls the tanpura? […]

“Musical training is the basic foundation for an expert tanpura maker. There are about 500 craftsmen in Miraj and all are musicians.” […]

As much as Miraj is associated with the tanpura, it is also associated with Ustad Abdul Karim Khan saheb, the founder of the Kirana gharana of Khayal. It was after listening to his record, playing in a shop, that Bhimsen Joshi decided at the age of 11 to run away from home to learn music. Music can become as obsessive as that.  […]

All great musicians of the Kairana gharana have sung at this festival such as Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Roshanara Begum, Hirabai Badodekar and Suresh Bhau Mane. “We have a tradition of ending the three-night musical offering with a concert by a Kairana gharana vocalist. This year it was Ganapati Bhat,” said Mirajkar.

Abdul Karim Khan saheb’s music was uncluttered and deeply moving. He could tug at hearts with his plaintive and sharply etched swaras, and the power of his music lay mostly in that. Sheer mastery over swaras, what Bhimsen Joshi once spoke of as ‘swara siddhi.’ Veena Dhanam, who was hard to please, had great regard for his music. He was probably the first Hindustani musician to seriously study the Carnatic system and the first to be invited to sing all over the south. He even recorded a Tyagaraja kriti.

Source: The Hindu : Arts / Music : Strings of purity
Address : http://www.thehindu.com/arts/music/article3657463.ece
Date Visited: Wed Jul 25 2012 17:50:40 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Rajeswari Padmanabhan: Vainika, teacher, friend – a tribute in Sruti, A Monthly Magazine on Indian Performing Arts

By Dr. Pia Srinivasan

rajeswari_pia_vina_1969
Pia with her guru in 1969

I joined Kalakshetra in 1968 to learn Carnatic music. It was there that I met Rajeswari. It was a great event in my life as I came to realise more and more. Rajeswari, along with her music, is the central figure in my book titled Il raga che porta la pioggia (The raga that brings rain) describing my first stay in India 40 years ago.

As a teacher she was totally different from the elderly gentleman who first taught me to play the veena. He was taciturn, introvert, and did not correct my fingering, so much so that I had to stand behind him to observe how he played. Rajeswari Amma (later, as our friendship grew, there was no need for the ‘Amma’) was extrovert, she immediately caught hold of my fingers to correct their position. She was a remarkable teacher, playing a passage again and again, insisting on my repeating it till I got it right. She saw my deep involvement in Carnatic music, and knowing that I would not be staying very long in India, taught me difficult pieces, like the Viriboni varnam in the wonderful Karaikudi style, with all the gamaka-s possible. I had not learnt the subtleties while learning to sing it in a class for beginners at Kalakshetra a few months earlier.

At first Rajeswari Amma was very severe, paying no compliments on how I played the Veena. I remember once when I managed to play a passage very well and she reacted with a cool “Correct”. In later years, however, she would ask me at times to sing to her students, pieces that the great Turaiyur Rajagopala Sarma had taught me – Tyagaraja’s Seetamma mayamma (Vasanta), or Seetapatey (Khamas). In course of time, I became a member of her family. […]

To me Rajeswari was inconceivable without the veena. Hearing her play the listener would be reminded of her great-uncle Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer. Sometimes she sang, matching the veena so perfectly that you were not sure who was singing – the veena or she! […]

The unique Karaikudi tradition has not come to an end, for Rajeswari’s daughter, Sreevidhya, is continuing the tradition. Back in 1969 Rajeswari did not accept the ‘mike’ (as the pick-up was then known). Playing on her veena- she said, “This is the sound of the veena, and not a nasal nonsense.” Like her mother, Sreevidhya too keeps away from a ‘technologised’ veena. And her sons Kapila and Sushruta, still children, are immersed in the veena. Watch out for the Karaikudi Brothers of the 21st century!

Read the entire tribute in Sruti, December, 2008 Issue No :291 >>