Posted by: nandan1herlekar | May 16, 2010



A drone instrument used for Indian classical music

Tanpura or Tamboora is a unique instrument which can be compared to an oxygen cylinder used by a diver or a mountaineer. A vocalist depends fully upon this since it gives a ‘tonic’ support. It has its own proportions and measurements to meet the requirements of the male and female singers. A Tanpura used by the males is a bigger one and for a female singer it is slightly a short one. The bigger one produces lower Naada and a smaller one produces higher Naada. It has a wooden body and the bottom is made of bitter gourd with approximate perimeter of 70 to 90 centimeters. These pumpkins are grown near Pandharpur in Maharashtra. Earlier these were imported from Zanzibar in Africa. Traditional Tanpura makers are in Miraj in Maharashtra.

Only in Hindustani music a Tanpura with gourd is used. In Carnatic music the Tanpura has a wooden body including neck and bottom, which too made of a single log.

Due to its special bottom of gourd, Tanpura has a special place in the musical instruments of India. The bottom is covered with a wooden board with intricate designs and carvings. On this board a bridge is fixed which is made of sisam or of horn, or of a bone of camel or of ivory or of ….(omnipotent plastic nowadays!). The measurement is generally 7 x 4 x 2 centimeters. The strings are fixed on pegs on top. From the pegs the strings pass from the bridge to the bottom. The strings are tuned to the convenient pitch of a singer. The first string is tuned to Mandra Pancham. The second and third are tuned Madhya Shadja and the fourth is always Mandra Shadja.
The first string can be changed to Madhayam or to Nishada if required for the Raga chosen for performance. Dr. C. V. Raman was an enthusiastic observer of the tone produced with proper placement and the measurements of the bridge. He studied closely the curve of the bridge which could affect the tonality. To get proper resonance, a piece of thin cotton thread is inserted under the string. It is called “Javhari” in traditional musical language. To fix the tone, the pegs are tightened but for fineness small heart shaped piece of ivory with small hole is interwoven in the stings. With proper tuning and with apt “Javhari” the sound of a Tanpura is heavenly. One can get inspiration through the resonance of such an instrument. It is helpful not only for a singer but also for anyone for meditation. Though a musical piece is not produced from a Tanpura, it gives the basic tone for a performer. It helps the singers as well as the instrumentalists.

Tanpura is tuned on four Swaras. While it is played on continuously with proper intervals, its recurrence gives more modulations. These modulations help self produced (Swayabhu) tones that effect into producing a complete octave. A listener has to be trained to concentrate towards the self evolving Sapta-Swaras. It is observed that the mind power increases by mere listening to it. It is not a surprising fact that a performer can do wonders with a Tanpura in hand.

Tanpura is not a very old instrument. It became necessary when our music became more individualistic like in ‘Dhrupad’ or in ‘Khayal’ singing. In earlier days, chanting of ‘Vedic Mantra’ was the theme of ‘Geetam’. The chanting required three tones – ‘Udaatta’, Anudaatta’ and ‘Swarit’. Though it was a premier and primitive way of singing, the basic tone was not maintained. The chanting gradually went on to newer heights since the end had to be vigorously higher and louder. Every higher tone went on with ‘Udaatta’, ‘Anudaatta’ and ‘Swarita’, but every different layer must have been observed by some thinker! Even today the Vedic hymns are chanted in the same manner.

The ‘Saam Veda’ was the first source of inspiration. Every music of the world has its roots in religious singing. The church music is the base for choral singing. The evolution went hand in hand with ‘Jaati Gaayan’ and further improvisations made way to more tonal effects. The ‘Raga Gaayan’ required intricacies of all tonal as well as rhythmic genres. It made way to a solo performer.

Tanpura, thus got its place with the advent of individualistic music, i.e. ‘Dhrupad’ and ‘Khayal’ Gaayan. There are many names like Tansen, Nayak Baiju and many others in the history. We can see the pictures of them with Tanpura in their hand. We do not see such pictures of earlier artistes with Tanpura.

Some say that Tanpura was originally an Arabic instrument but this statement does not have any base. We have had such string instruments right from ancient days. The origin of any string instrument is bow of hunters. According to the sizes, the sound made by plucking of the string of a bow differed and it was also amusing to the ears. This must be the reason why an earlier string instrument was called as ‘Dhanurveena’. In Santal’s folk music an instrument called ‘Buang’ is popular. It resembles Dhanurveena. Tamil folk instruments ‘Villadi Vaadyam’ and ‘Villa Yaal’ also resemble it. The advent of the lute and harp also must be an advanced product of the same category. Earlier ‘Dandveena’ was an advanced step in this improvisation.

We come to the conclusion that a vertical piece (of wood!) with a tightened string of a very soft peeled thin layer (of bamboo!) to both the ends created ‘Dandveena’. In Arabic countries there are many kinds of a string instrument called ‘Tunbur’. In Greece there was an instrument called ‘Kinarh’ of the same category. In ancient texts, there are instances of a Veena called ‘Tumbaru’ (it was the name of a sage, who was a devotee of Vishnu). In Orissa there was a folk instrument called ‘Tuila’ with some convenience of playing a Saptak. Most of the single stringed instruments belong to ‘Eka Tantri Veena’ category. These were with a neck or some were without.

As a conclusion one can see that Tanpura became a necessary instrument during 16th century for ‘Dhrupad’ and then for ‘Khayal’ and gradually it has taken a very important place in classical music of India.
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