Highly Decorated Tambura

7 • A Highly Decorated Tambura

Deccan, central eastern India, circa 1800
97 cm long; gourd, jackfruit wood, ivory, paint

This tambura belongs to a small group of similar instruments, most of which lie in various museum collections around the world such as those of the Victoria & Albert Museum (IM.238-1922) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1994.498). They are the product of the highest quality Mughal court patronage, the generosity of which was underlined by their patrons’ belief that in order to receive, you must first give. These instruments are symbols of that generosity but also of the importance of music in Mughal royal courts and the skill of their painters.

Front: Ganesha (Hindu god of success) flanked by two peacocks representing Lord Krishna (Hindu god of compassion), offering divine garlands of flowers. Below Ganesha are two mice, often interpreted to represent Desire, to be overcome. Below those are Ganesha’s parents, Shiva and Parvati, accompanied by their courtesans.

Neck: Different aspects of the Tandava – or dance of Shiva – performed with vigorous movements and said to represent the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythms of birth and death.

Back: At the centre is Krishna dancing with his consort Radha, draped in a sari. Circling them are four more depictions of Krishna dancing with gopis (milkmaids). At the edge are four standing figures: Shiva (holding a trident), Brahma (with four heads and holding vedas, sacred texts), Narada (holding a stringed instrument called a vina that he is said to have invented) and finally Agni (holding a torch).

This instrument is in excellent condition and fully playable.