From the album Ajaeng Ajaeng (2004), released by Ideologic Organ
The tanpura (तानपूरा; or tambura, tanpuri) is a long-necked plucked string instrument, originating from India, found in various forms in Indian music. It does not play melody but rather supports and sustains the melody of another instrument or singer by providing a continuous harmonic bourdon or drone. A tanpura is not played in rhythm with the soloist or percussionist: as the precise timing of plucking a cycle of four strings in a continuous loop is a determinant factor in the resultant sound, it is played unchangingly during the complete performance. The repeated cycle of plucking all strings creates the sonic canvas on which the melody of the raga is drawn. The combined sound of all strings, each string a fundamental tone with its own spectrum of overtones, supports and blend with the external tones sung or played by the soloist.
The name of the instrument derives from Persian تنبور (pr. tanbūr) where it designates a group of long necked lutes (see tanbur). Hindustani musicians favour the term ‘tanpura’ whereas Carnatic musicians say ‘tambura’; ‘tanpuri’ is a smaller variant sometimes used for accompanying instrumental soloists.
History of Tanpuras
Tanpuras form the root of the ensemble and indeed of the music itself, as the tanpura creates an acoustic dynamic reference chord from which the ragas (melodic modes) derive their distinctive character, color, and flavour. Stephen Slawek notes that by the end of the 16th century, the tanpura had “fully developed in its modern form”, and was seen in the miniature paintings of the Mughals. Slawek further suggests that due to structural similarity the sitar and tanpura share a related history.
An electronic tanpura, a small box that imitates the sound of a tanpura, is sometimes used in contemporary Indian classical music performances instead of a tanpura, though this practice is controversial. A 2006 article in the performing arts magazine Sruti notes: “Any model electronic tanpura produces a sound that is necessarily artificial, which is the opposite of artistic. The electronic substitute has no artistic value and has nothing to teach us but repetitive unnatural boredom.