Video | Playing and tuning the South Indian tambura

Tambura played by Katharina Bunzel for singer Bhushani Kalyanaraman
Fine tuning of the tambura demonstrated by T.R. Sundaresan

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As performers-cum-teachers, we should practise with the traditional tambura and teach music with the same to the students.

Malladi Brothers quoted by Aruna Chandaraju in The Hindu >>
Learn more about the tambura (tanpura) >>
Tambura posture, fingering & therapeutic effect

By Rama Kausalya

The Tambura is considered queen among the Sruti vadhyas such as Ektar, Dotar, Tuntina, Ottu and Donai. Although tamburas are traditionally made at several places, the Thanjavur Tambura has a special charm.

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’ (Paanai).

There are two ways of holding a Tambura. One is the “Urdhva” – upright posture, as 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 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 reverberating sruti.

Sit in a quiet place with eyes closed and listen to the sa-pa-sa notes of a perfectly tuned Tambura – the effect is therapeutic.

Except a few, the current generation prefers electronic sruti accompaniment, portability being the obvious reason. 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 Tambura (next only to the vintage Thanjavur) was a rage among music students, who were captivated by its tonal quality with high precision and the beautiful, natural gourd resonators.

Source: “Therapeutic effect”, The Hindu (Friday Review), 30 March 2018 

“Tambura is my constant companion – a bridge to my past, keeping the memories of my childhood alive.” – Bombay Jayashri >>
Learn more about the tambura (tanpura) >>
Tambura posture, fingering & therapeutic effect

By Rama Kausalya

The Tambura is considered queen among the Sruti vadhyas such as Ektar, Dotar, Tuntina, Ottu and Donai. Although tamburas are traditionally made at several places, the Thanjavur Tambura has a special charm.

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’ (Paanai).

There are two ways of holding a Tambura. One is the “Urdhva” – upright posture, as 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 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 reverberating sruti.

Sit in a quiet place with eyes closed and listen to the sa-pa-sa notes of a perfectly tuned Tambura – the effect is therapeutic.

Except a few, the current generation prefers electronic sruti accompaniment, portability being the obvious reason. 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 Tambura (next only to the vintage Thanjavur) was a rage among music students, who were captivated by its tonal quality with high precision and the beautiful, natural gourd resonators.

Source: “Therapeutic effect”, The Hindu (Friday Review), 30 March 2018 

More about the above person(s) and topics

Periodicals and sites included | More resources | Disclaimer >>

An artiste creates and modifies his or her style for several reasons: “Let’s Talk Carnatic” by Mopachennai.org

Is tradition set in stone? Is not change even within a musician’s lifetime in the natural order of things? Does custom or convention in musical practice have to be held sacrosanct at the cost of organic modification or adaptation?

An artiste creates and modifies, subtly or otherwise, his or her style for several reasons – physical, emotional, intellectual, political or aesthetic. A stellar artiste preserves tradition not as a rigid, fossilized keepsake but as an intelligent amalgamation of inherited values as well as current inclinations. […]

Every episode in this series promises a volley of insights into the musical style and technique of the musician being discussed. A treat for students, aspiring musicians, lay as well as experienced listeners.

These conversations are not intended to conclude, merely to present points to ponder. […]

The Museum of Performing Arts (MOPA) Foundation was established in 2017 to document and showcase the history, content, periodic changes and external influences on every aspect of South India’s performing art forms, as also to look at existing trends and the impact on subsequent generations.

Through well-designed and curated exhibitions, documentaries, lectures, concerts and related events, MOPA aims to place South India’s rich cultural legacy on the larger map of world culture.

MOPA also aims to develop a museum in Chennai, for the performing arts of South India. By this, MOPA will serve one more purpose – a complete artistic and cultural orientation under one roof for anybody who wants to get a bird’s eye view or an in-depth understanding of South Indian performing art forms.

Source: “Let’s Talk Carnatic”, Digital Projects: a series that “covers interviews, talks, presentations, lecture-demonstrations and conversations on all things related to Carnatic music” & “About MOPA”
URLs: https://mopachennai.org/digital-projects.php & https://mopachennai.org/about-mopa.php
Date Visited: 5 September 2022

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Vidyaamagna: webinar & online lessons

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WEBINAR – THE AESTHETICS OF VARNAM IN KARNATIC MUSIC

Sat, 30 July | 2 pm – 3.30 pm (BST) / 6.30pm (IST)  | £10

STELLA SUBBIAH (Artist Development Lead, Bhavan London)

In conversation with

LUDWIG PESCH (Author of The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music)

VIGNESH ISHWAR (Musician)

Today, as in the remote past, India’s musicians and dancers share a vast and varied repertoire. Apart from facilitating oral transmission, the underlying vocabulary helps to convey feelings underpinned by aesthetic principles and values. So it hardly surprises that the best-loved lyrics are those endowed with scope for reflection and debate among listeners, critics, and the artists themselves.

Mystical Dance!—
—Mazes intricate,
Eccentric, intervolv’d, yet regular
Then most, when most irregular they seem.

Milton’s Paradise Lost (AD 1667), the description of angels dancing about the
sacred hill as quoted by William Hogarth and discussed in the Chapter titled “Variety”:
Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music >>

For this webinar we focus on several key composers whose vision shaped South Indian music and dance as we know it today. We will consider the compositional form of Varnam or Varna, in Karnatic music which can be interpreted as not only colour, praise , or syllable but also as melodic movements. These melodic movements of Arohi, Avarohi, Sthayi, and Sanchari add to its structure and offer various musical possibilities for musical interpretations.

Free tala exercises to supplement this webinar

Adi tala = 8 beats (4+2+2 here simplified as 4+4)
trikala (3 speeds)
“ta ka dhi mi” = 4, “ta ka ju nu” = 4

1st speed: one beat (kriya) = 1 syllable (jati) = 8 matra per avarta
2nd speed: one beat (kriya) = 2 syllables (jati) = 16 matra per avarta
3rd speed: one beat (kriya) = 4 syllables (jati) = 32 matra per avarta

Ata tala = 14 beats (5+5+2+2, here simplified as 2+3+2+3+4)
“khanda jati ata tala”
trikala (3 speeds)
“ta ka ta ki ta” = 5, “ta ka dhi mi” = 4

Source: Tāla Anubhava: Experiencing South Indian Rhythm
Concept and audio © T.R. Sundaresan & Ludwig Pesch

Keeping tala e.g. for Rupaka tala (3 counts): 2 claps followed by a wave; Adi tala (8 counts): a clap for the first beat (samam), followed by 3 finger counts starting from the small finger marks the first half; and a clap followed by a wave (twice) mark the second half; Ata tala (14 counts) differs as 4 fingers are used including the forefinger (twice), rather than 3 fingers (once) in Adi tala.
Art © Arun V.C.

Tips

  • Practice these gestures “silently” during a live recital or recording
  • Apply your practice while watching a video:
    – Basic hand gestures for Adi tala (8 beats) & Misra chapu tala (7 beats)
    – Precision tala keeping for the following drum and konakkol solo

More excercises: Practice four widely used Carnatic talas >>

Previous webinar

Find a copy of the Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music

Food for thought

What’s the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music?

Bharatanatyam
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.

Read the full article by Bharatanatyam music expert BM Sundaram: The Tanjavur Quartet: Margadarsis of Bharatanatyam (Sruti Magazine, courtesy dhvaniohio.org)

Tip: safe-search: Bharatanatyam Serfoji Tanjavur (modify the search terms for the present context) | More search tips >>

Subbulakshmi and contemporary feminism: Sunil Khilnani on BBC Radio 4 Incarnations: India in 50 Lives

M.S. Subbulakshmi
Born 16 September 1916. Died 11 December 2004

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (Tamil: மதுரை சண்முகவடிவு சுப்புலட்சுமி, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi ? 16 September 1916 – 11 December 2004), also known as M.S., was a Carnatic vocalist. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. She is the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, in 1974 with the citation reading “Exacting purists acknowledge Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi as the leading exponent of classical and semi-classical songs in the carnatic tradition of South India.”

Source: M.S. Subbulakshmi – New Songs, Playlists, Videos & Tours – BBC Music
Address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/613361fb-24bd-4bc9-ad63-85ac5bc79156
Date Visited: Mon Apr 11 2016 14:17:14 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Sunil Khilnani explores the life of south Indian singer MS Subbulakshmi

Subbulakshmi’s singing voice, striking from the start, would ultimately range three octaves. A perfectionist, she had the capacity to range across genres but narrowed over the years to what another connoisseur of her music has called a ‘provokingly small’ repertoire. In time, the ambitions of those who loved and profited from her combined with her gift to take her from the concert stage to film to the All-India Radio to near-official status as an icon of independent India.

But, as Professor Khilnani says, “what was required of Subbulakshmi, in moving from South Indian musical celebrity to national cultural symbol, is deeply uncomfortable when considered through the prism of contemporary feminism.”

Source: BBC Radio 4 – Incarnations: India in 50 Lives, Subbulakshmi: Opening Rosebuds
Address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b073b5cb
Date Visited: Mon Apr 11 2016 14:12:31 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Sampradaya is like a broad river and the bani is a tributary

Umayalpuram Sivaraman on his 75 years of performance >>

Information about the persons, items or topics

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Mahatma Gandhi on “music of mind, of the senses and of the heart”

“There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart” – Mahatma Gandhi >>
Photo © Ludwig Pesch

Very few people know that Gandhi was extremely fond of Music and arts. Most of us have been all along under the impression that he was against all arts such as music. In fact, he was a great lover of music, though his philosophy of music was different. In his own words ‘Music does not proceed from the throat alone. There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart.’ […] 

According to Mahatma ‘In true music there is no place for communal differences and hostility.’ Music was a great example of national integration because only there we see Hindu and Muslim musicians sitting together and partaking in musical concerts. He often said, ‘We shall consider music in a narrow sense to mean the ability to sing and play an instrument well, but, in its wider sense, true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.’

Source: “Mahatma Gandhi – A unique musician” by Namrata Mishra (Sr. Asst. Prof of Vocal Music, R.C.A. Girls P. G. College, Mathura)
URL: https://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/mahatma-gandhi-unique-musician.html
Date Visited: 17 July 2022

Gandhi is a universal figure. […] He is affirmed and avowed in many parts of the world while Indians might of course forget him or scorn him or defile him as they are doing now.

Source: Historian Ramachandra Guha in conversation with sociologist Nandini Sundar, The Wire, 21 March 2022
URL: https://thewire.in/history/ramachandra-guha-history-gandhi-mentors
Date Visited: 22 July 2022

Roli Books | Other suppliers >>
Mahatma Gandhi used community voices to mobilise people:
Music of the mind and heart >>

“A historian points out the Mahatma saw morning prayers as a way to inspire discipline and that he used community voices to mobilise people. […] For Gandhi, music — whether it was a bhajan like Vaishnava Janato or a patriotic song like Vande Mataram — was a means of development of the “moral self” which was essential to become a satyagrahi.” – Basav Biradar reviewing ‘Singing Gandhi’s India: Music and Sonic Nationalism’ by Lakshmi Subramanian in The Hindu | Read How Gandhi adopted music on the way to freedom >>

Arun VC >>

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