Musician with Tanjore tambura

This 19th-century photograph was printed on very thin paper and glued to a stiffer paper mount.  At some point the mount was trimmed to the dimensions of a postcard, possibly so that it would fit into an album.  The back is blank.  I bought it from a dealer in Suffolk, England, who couldn’t tell me anything about it.  I looked at pictures of stringed instruments online and concluded that the man in the photo must be holding an Indian instrument called a tambura (tanpura).

Musician with tambura 2


Tamburas from North India traditionally used a gourd as a resonator, while those from South India had a resonator made from carved jackwood, as this one appears to have.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a beautiful example of an early 19th-century Tanjore tāmbūra from the collection of Indian dancer, singer and painter Y. G. Srimati (1926-2007).  Images of that instrument on the museum’s website are in the public domain, so I can share them with you below (read about it here):

Tanjore tāmbūra at the Met, collection of Y.G. Srimati 1s



The Metropolitan held the first retrospective exhibition of Y. G. Srimati’s paintings from Dec. 2016 to June 2017.

Tanjore is the Anglicized name of the ancient cultural city of Thanjavur, in southeastern India.

Hindustani musicians prefer the word tanpura, while Carnatic musicians use tambura (Wikipedia).



15 thoughts on “Musician with Tanjore tambura

Add yours

  1. The carved jackwood tambura has a face! The photograph of the man is wonderful. I wonder what is the significance of the picture to his right. It’s as though it’s all wrapped in symbolism of a special moment. Very nice share!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I hadn’t noticed the face, but you’re right! 🙂
      I don’t know how to interpret the picture to his right, or the patterns on his clothing, or his body paint, or even the patterns on the rug, which might be calligraphy. I do hope visitors will share their insights!
      Thank you for the lovely comment, Suzanne. 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great photo! I’m sure that his clothes/hat/bodypaint could tell you a lot more about him, but it is nothing I know anything about. I accumulated quite a bit of knowledge about ornaments etc. around the world through working at an ethnographic museum, but it is acquired more accidentally than systematically, and nothing I see in this photo rings any bells. He seems to be standing on a cushion shoved underneath the carpet – I wonder why?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I think he’s standing on a stool to position him ideally against the painted backdrop. The photographer would have had a variety of stools of different heights to choose from. The backdrop itself is very unusual. I’ve never seen a jungle-themed one before.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: