Tanpura history 2

Historically, the function of the tanpura as a drone instrument in modern Indian chamber music is a comparatively recent development, dating from about the early 16th century (the latter part of Akbars reign). In the Natyashastra, the great work on music and theatre written about 1500 years ago by Bharata; he gives no mention of a drone being used in either of the two music forms from that time, namely the grama-murchana and the jati systems. This, according to B.C.Deva, the renowned Indian scholar, was due to the fact that the older style of music employed a variable tonic, which suggests that a steady drone could not have been used (although this is open to debate).

As far as the drone is concerned, any instrument with a sustained tone can be and has been used. In the world of folk music, the most primordial of stringed instruments, a converted bow and a pot or gourd being attached as a resonator, twanged continuously, becomes a simple drone instrument. The tamboori of Andhra and Mysore, or the chau tar from Rajasthan show a striking resemblance to the present day tanpura. Like the tanpura, it has four strings tuned to the same order, a flat bridge, and a similar body form. The tanpura is only a more sophisticated version of this folk instrument. Like these instruments, the ek-tar is also a drone instrument, carried by street musicians and monks as they sing their songs from village to village.

The second line of thought concerns the Moguls. From the 8th century AD, the Muslims started to introduce a highly evolved culture into India. The Muslims were very tolerant of the existing Indian music, and the sultans enjoyed surrounding themselves with hundreds of musicians and dancers. Slowly, over the next couple of centuries, the Persian music had taken root in the Indian musical traditions.

One of the instruments introduced by the Moguls was the tanbur, which is the ancestor of both the sitar and the tanpura. Tanbur is the general name given to all long-necked lutes from the Middle East and Central Asia. Apparently there were two kinds of tanbur introduced into  India, the fretted version which developed into the present day sitar, and the fretless type that was called the tambura.The tambura was used, as it is today, as a drone instrument to accompany vocalists. One important difference between the tanbur and tambura, was the introduction of the flat bridge to the latter (see the chapter on jawari). It is not until the late 17th century that there is any pictorial or literary evidence of the tanpuras existence. From the miniature paintings of the Akbar and Jahangir periods, early 16th and 17th centuries, we can clearly see the tambura. It resembles in form the present day Saz from Turkey.

What is certain is that the well established early classical music went through tremendous changes as a result of the initial introduction of Persian music by the Mogul invaders in the 10th century. The Muslims had an enormous respect and admiration for the Indian music of that period. That is why it took a long time to introduce aspects of the Persian music into the classical music of India. This synthesis culminated in the 16th and 17th centuries with the development of modern classical Indian music.

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