Object: Tanpura

Date unknown
Materials: Wood, ivory, metal, gourd

A tanpura is a commonly used musical instrument in India. It is a stringed drone instrument, which provides a deep harmonic foundation for a musical ensemble. In India, Taan means a musical phrase and puraa means to complete. Therefore, the name of this instrument means that it completes the entire sound. Tanpuras are made mainly of wood making them very durable and easy to transport. The resonator is made of a gourd and the neck is made of wood and has no frets. There are typically anywhere from four to seven steel strings attached to pegs on the bottom and tightened to nuts on the top. Many tanpuras are sanded and painted or lacquered to enhance their appearance. This object in particular is decorated with green and red dye.

Historically, these instruments were used in folk and tribal music, and often played an important role in religious worship. Now, they are increasingly popular and used by many groups of people. It is interesting to note that men and women play the instrument differently. Women traditionally play from a seated position, and tend to use relatively small versions of this instrument. Men, however, can play the instrument from a variety of positions, including while standing, allowing them to use larger versions of this instrument [Chenoa Copeland].

To hear what a tanpura sounds like, click one of the links below.

Large file.

Small file.

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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