An Indian tanpura at home

Finally it’s here in the living room. I went to Mumbai last month and found it with all my desire in a small shop. The man said that of the two available this one was the best because it could stand by itself and the sound was also good. It comes from Baranasi. I wanted a tanpura because I feel its quite minimalist as instrument and it can be a good support to my daily meditation. Here is a little history about it taken from the net (where there is very little about it). I also read that the player of tanpura are very few at this world.

definitions:

  1. Taan means a musical phrase and puraa means to complete. Therefore, Taan-puraa is named after its primary function in a classical Indian music ensemble. It provides the touch of completion to the lead artist’s musical renditions.
  2.  In India Toombaa means a gourd. Hence Tamboora means “made from a gourd”.

type:

The 4 string type, which is the traditional one, is recommended for there is a certain rhythm that is very satisfying to the player and to the artist being accompanied.

position:

There are a few different positions proper to this instrument. Especially for women, there are sitting positions more appropriate and recommended by cultural norms of the Indian society. For men there is no real restriction except that the tanpura should be held to enhance the looks of the performing group. It should be kept steady and not allowed to rock, move or weave as this can be very disruptive to the visuals of a performance.

function:

The primary function of this instrument is to provide the lead artist with a drone using the proper intervals. These can be in a tuning of 4ths or 5ths. For example Pa/Sa/Sa/Sa (lower octave), and Ma/Sa/Sa/Sa (lower octave).

Ma = 4th
Sa = Tonic
Pa = 5th

Some other tunings are also used. But for the time being I recommend trying the two given above. Proper striking of the strings is crucial to the creation of warmth in the sound produced. So strike the strings gently. Use your fingers – as finger picks tend to have a plucky sound. Cut your nails – as striking with your nail will also give the tone a harsh attack. Strike sequence is of 5 beats so count

Pa – Sa – Sa – Sa – rest

1    2    3    4    5

Well, these are the first very notions I could read about it. It seems there are no books about tanpura in the Internet, but only a dvd tutorial at the moment to be ordered. Wish me good luck! Much love, r.

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8 thoughts on “An Indian tanpura at home

  1. Hi,

    Surprising to see you being so much interested in the Tamboora – as a child, I remember the lilting sound of the Tamboora that used to make me sleep.

    These days, most artistes prefer the electronic version.

    But yes, like all musical instruments, Tamboora ia also beautiful given its simplicity and purpose.

    I have a statue of Meera clad in a white saree with the brown Tamboora resting on her shoulders. She has her right hand on the Tamboora strings and the left is held in the air as if she is singing – the eyes are closed and the face reflects high serenity. Nice one. Will soon upload a picture.

  2. In fact I enjoy it for my meditation time before going to sleep. I ‘d really love to see the statue of Meera cause i am trying to find also the best position to hold it while sitting. cheers & rgds

    1. i learned simply by watching my Guru playing it on a dvd ~ about the position crossed legs or on your knees, instrument on your left, find the most comfortable way to pose next to it: left arm embrancing it and left open hand sort of holding it at the base; right hand is moving thru teh chords, one ay is to touch the first chord with second finger and all the others with third finger; the head is relaxed, the eyes too. it is a perfect instrument for meditating at night time.

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