Let’s begin with basics. Have you ever heard about these three famous Indian stringed instruments: Veena, Sitar and Tanpura? Unfortunately a massive share of the population is uneducated about its own musical heritage. If I'd asked about David Guetta or SHM, or composition software, there would have been an mass of thoughts. However, I don’t think my words will garner even a stir among the youth. The reason? Plain anarchy. It’s really strange that, for an average teenager, The Beatles hold a place dear in their hearts but most of them easily forget that The Beatles were actually inspired by Pandit Ravi Shankar - they even opened one of his concerts. It might come as a surprise, but many western instruments draw inspiration from the aforementioned three. One would think they are essentially big balls with a long stringed neck. You know — like a guitar gone fat. But there's so much more to it.
Getting to business. The Veena is a instrument originating in ancient India and is used mainly in Indian classical music. It derives its characteristic tenor and reverberation from sympathetic strings, its unique bridge design, a long hollow neck and a gourd-like resonating chamber. It's widely recognized as the thing which GoddessSarawati has in her hands whilst sitting on a pretty swan and blessing us with music and intelligence. In popular culture, it has been quite significant behind the scenes. Even the 1965 movie ‘Help’ used a Veena in one of the many background scores, and the Vainika was none other than Pandit Shiv Dayal Batish! The Veena can be of many types according to the number of strings or sometimes even on the size of the gourd. The more common ones are Vichitra Veena,Saraswati Veena, Chitra Veena & Rudra Veena. You can have a look at them at the Sahitya Academi in New Delhi which houses all these in their musical instrument museum.
The Veena's immediate counterpart is the Sitar, which is a Mughal rip off ofthe Persian instrument setar, meaning three strings. The sitar became popular through the efforts of late Pt. Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka Shankar. It came onto a global limelight thanks to The Beatles' obsession and a certain Mr.George Harrison. The Beatles featured the sitar in their compositions"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", "Within You Without You","Tomorrow Never Knows"_and "Love You To". Their use of the instrument came as a result of George Harrison taking lessons on how to play it from Shankar and Shambhu Das. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones also used a sitar in "Paint It Black" and a brief fad began for using the instrument in pop songs.The East Indian scales used on the track _Friends (Led Zep III) and Kashmir (Physical Graffiti) are considered fine examples of the influence of the sitar in rock music. But though all good things come to an end, the sitar still holds good thanks to many Indian artists who still believe in the powerful strings and the soul rendering capabilities of the sitar. It’s safe to say, for me at least, that the sitar is a star for those who know how to play it.
Coming to the most underrated and unknown of the three distant sisters, we have the Tanpura. The tambura, tanpura, tamburi is along-necked plucked stringed instrument found in different forms in Indian music culture. Hindustani musicians speak of tanpura whereas Carnatic musicians say tambura; tamburi is a smaller instrument used for accompanying instrumental soloists. It is generally categorized into three styles: miraj styles, tanjore styles and tamburi. These are based on the region and the style of the soloist accompanying the instrument. Unfortunately, the tanpura hasn't been as successful in finding its footing in modern day music as opposed to the sitar and the veena but still remains a favorite with many Carnatic vocalists.
With this, probably, I have told you whatever menial information there is to share to have basic knowledge about these three. My idea is not to educate anyone on how to use the three, or for that matter showcase a propaganda for these furlong instruments. A culture as diverse as India has never made bold statements to make its mark on a music psyche. Maybe it can’t, but it has made these small gestures which have impacted the idea of music reasonably. These three might be the unsung heroes, but they are certainly champions in a race in which we rely on softwares and electronic beats, bereft of the experience we can equip our fingers with. A chord is just not about the puckering of metal which resonates its impact on the wood, but it’s about lending the ear to the transgression which has come to engulf the mass generation. Maybe the authentic desire for these instruments was to create an enigma, but the veil has taken its toll the very same. The competition rises every day - the scope of survival a difficult task - but constructing letters for music has always been, and will be tedious.
Maybe it’s not as grey a cloud as I'm weaving but in mass culture, it is very important to preserve a musical heritage which is actually much more than just about musicality but also about a cultural identity. The breathless notions are still transient but only some of us will be ever able to understand the culture and legacy of either of the three. There is just one silver lining that, perhaps, these three will be much more than the paintings of Raja Ravi Verma and might reconcile with its roots soon, or it might be too late to realise.