Know your instruments: Kanjira – Of grace and style

The kanjira, a South Indian frame drum, is an instrument of the tambourine family. It is used primarily in concerts of Carnatic music (South Indian classical music) as a supporting instrument for the mridangam.

The kanjira have been used since 1880’s, and was added to classical concerts during the 1930s. The kanjira is a relatively difficult Indian drum to play, especially in South Indian Carnatic music, for reasons including the complexity of the percussion patterns used in Indian music.

It is normally played with the palm and fingers of the right hand, while the left hand supports the drum. The fingertips of the left hand can be used to bend the pitch by applying pressure near the outer rim. It is not tuned to any particular pitch, unlike the mridangam or the ghatam.

Normally, without tuning, it has a very high pitched sound. To get a good bass sound, the performer reduces the tension of the drumhead by sprinkling water on the inside of the instrument. This process may have to be repeated during a concert to maintain a good sound. However, if the
instrument is too moist, it will have a dead tone, requiring 5 -10 minutes to dry. Tone is also affected by external temperature and moisture conditions. Performers typically carry a couple of kanjiras so that they can keep at least one in perfectly tuned condition at any given time.

Popular Kanjira vidwans
G Harishankar
Manpoondia Pillai
Dakshinamurthy Pillai
H P Ramachar
Mayavaram Somusundaram
B Shree Sundar Kumar
N Amrit
V Selvaganesh
N Ganeshkumar
K S Rangachari
K V R S Mani
C P Vyasa Vittala
C S Venkatramanan


NT Bureau