Tambura is a stringed instrument used as the indispensable sruthi (drone) accompaniment in most Indian classical music concerts. From the fact that a sculpture of Tambura is seen in a temple at Tirumayam in South India, it is thought that Tambura originated from the South. This instrument is also called by such names as Tamburi, Tambour, and Tambur. A well-tuned Tambura is enough to create a musical atmosphere in a concert hall. No doubt, the melodious sound of a Tambura can help a person enter into deep meditation. From an accurately tuned Tambura, we will be able to hear the Tara Stayi, Chatusruthi Rishabam from the Pancham string and Antara Gandharam from the mantra string as overtones.
The body of Tambura called ‘Kudam’ is semi-globular in shape and is made of jackwood. The belly of the Kudam is slightly convex. A long stem of wood called ‘Dandi’ is connected to the Kudam. At the other end of Dandi are seen 4 turning pegs. Over the belly of the Kudam we find a wooden bridge fixed. The 4 strings are secured directly to the ledge fixed on to the top end of the kudam. There are beads threaded in the strings between the bridge and the ledge to help for accurate tuning. The 4 strings pass over the wooden bridge, and then through the holes in ledge at the junction of the Dadi and the neck enter the pegs. Threads especially silken threads are carefully inserted in between the bridge and the strings which will help us to hear the overtones of each string clearly. These threads are called Jeevavali’ (life givers).
The names of the 4 strings and the notes to which they are tuned are given below 1. Panchamam – Mandra sthayi Panchamam – P 2. Sarani – Madhya Sthayi Shadjam – S 3. Anusarani – Madhya Sthayi Shadjam – S 4. Mandram Mandra Stahyi Shadjam – S The Tambura is usually held upright while playing. The Kudam is made to rest on the right thigh. The 4 strings are gently plucked one after another. Starting from the Panchamam and ending with the Mandram; this process is continuously repeated. The forefinger of the right hand is used for this purpose. We get the maximum effect when the strings are plucked either at the centre or at 2/3 length of the bridge. When the instrument is held horizontally with the Kudam on the right thigh the Panchama string is the farthest away from the performer.
The names of the 4 regular strings are 1) Sarani 2) Panchamukam (P) 3) Mandram (S) 4) Anumandram (P) The other 3 strings are: 1) Pakka Sarani 2) Pakka Panchamam 3) Hechu Sarani (S). On the Outer part of the Kudam, we find generally more than 20 curved lines. On the top part of the kudam we find small holes in a circular manner; They are known as ‘Nadarandirams’.
The South Indian or Carnatic Tambura is commonly known as Tanjore Tambura and is completely made of Jackwood. The Tanjore tambura has been modeled based on the Veena, without the Yazhi head. Similar to the Veena, the embellishment on the instrument may vary from simple plastic decoration to carvings.
Miraj, a small town in the southern tip of Maharashtra, is popularly known for its stringed instruments. Miraj Tamburas have a beautiful deep rounded sound. It is this full-bodied sound that has made Miraj famous, and it is well known that the best Tamburas come from there. Miraj Tamburas are of two types - Male Tambura, which is slightly larger with thicker strings, and Female Tambura with a smaller body and thinner strings.
The Instrumental Tambura, as its name suggests is used to accompany instrumental performances. Unlike the Tanjore and Miraj Tamburas, these have a flat body and is almost half their length.