Video | Tambura-tanpura explained

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 >>
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Tambura (detail) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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Source: Musical instrument (tanpura) with keys for four string, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2021
URL: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O452622/stringed-instrument/
Date Visited: 7 December 2021

Tambura (detail) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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The tambura or tanpura is a plucked drone instrument used to accompany instrumental or vocal performances. The four strings are played open rather than being depressed to alter the note. This example is considerably smaller than the typical tambura. A very small version is sometimes known as a tamburi.

This example is so profusely decorated it may have been made for display or for use at court. The front of the sound chamber features images of the Hindu deities Ganesha, Rama, Sita, Hanuman and Lakshmana, along with peacocks and cows. The neck is decorated with figures of a male musician playing a pipe or horn, a female musician playing a drum, and acrobats, who appear to be climbing a very tall bamboo pole. One of the female acrobats has a number of matkas (earthenware pots) stacked upon her head.

On the back, Krishna appears five times dancing with the gopis (cow-girls) in a circular pattern. They are flanked by four standing figures: the gods Shiva (holding his trident) and Brahma (shown with four heads and holding the vedas or sacred texts), and two rishis or great sages. The one standing below Brahma is Narada, who holds a vina, a musical instrument which he is said to have invented. He also wrote a treatise about music and was the chief of the gandharvas or heavenly musicians.

This tambura belongs to a small and fascinating group of similar tamburas, of which there are examples in museums around the world. However, most of these lack secure attribution records and the origins of the V&A instrument are something of a puzzle. The Museum’s records from 1922, when the object was acquired, state separately that it was from Pune, Maharashtra, and, slightly later, that it was probably made in Sipri (now Shivpuri), near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, although these places are very distant from each other. However, the fact that the sound chamber of the instrument is made of wood, rather than of gourd, suggests that it was made in the south of India as do other aspects of the shape of the instrument, and it has been suggested that the painting style can be linked with Mysore in the south. […]

Source: Tambura – On display in South Asia, Room 41, 16 September 2015 – 31 October 2016
URL: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/display-musical-wonders-of-india/tambura/
Date Visited: 7 December 2021

Lavishly decorated tamburas, albeit with resonators made of gourd rather than of wood, were discovered in Germany, Austria and Italy; these were among about 1000 instruments gifted to dignitaries and institutions visited by pioneering musicologist Raja Sir Sourindro Mohan Tagore (1840-1914), manufactured in Bengal on his behalf; this particular one now being described as Göttinger Tagore-Tambura:

Es ist demnach zweifelsfrei dem Kreis jener schätzungsweise 1000 Instrumente zuzuschreiben, die der prominente bengalische Musikgelehrte Raja Sir Sourindro Mohan Tagore (1840-1914) im späteren 19. Jahrhundert bei bengalischen Werkstätten in Auftrag gab, um sie als Bestandteil kulturdiplomatisch motivierter Schenkungen Monarchen und anderen politische Würdenträgern sowie Museen und Gelehrten in aller Welt zu übereignen.

Photo credit © Stephan Eckardt (Goettingen University)
Source: Klaus-Peter Brenner in “Die Göttinger Tagore-Tambura und der Beginn des musikwissenschaftlichen Austauschs zwischen Indien und dem Westen im späteren 19. Jahrhundert”, first published in “Die Göttinger Tagore-Tambura und der Beginn des musikwissenschaftlichen Austauschs zwischen Indien und dem Westen im späteren 19. Jahrhundert” (Musik‐ wissenschaftlichen Seminars der Universität Göttingen, 2012)
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