Ektara (plucking drum)

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Ektara or lao-tokari

Ektara ( Hindi एकतारा ek tar , "a string", Bengali একতারা , Panjabi ਇਕ ਤਾਰਾ) is a group of plucking drums mainly in popular North Indian music . With this combination of a membranophone and a stringed instrument , the skin covering stretched over the underside of the body is made to vibrate indirectly by plucking a string. A distinction is made between two basic forms:

  • In the gopi yantra , also gopi chand, lao tokari , the string is clamped between the center of a membrane and a string support that protrudes beyond the body.
  • With the anandalahari, also gubgub, gubguba, gubgubi, gopijantro, premtal, dudhuki , the loose end of the string is held in the hand and rhythmically pulled taut. Both are plucked with a finger or an opening pick .

Like the lute instruments , also called ektara , the singer plays the rhythm or a drone with the plucked drums to accompany the mostly religious songs. The ektara is best known for the music of the Bauls , a religious community of traveling singers in Bengal .

Origin and environment

The oldest Indian stringed instruments, collectively referred to as vina in the Vedas , were single-stringed musical bows , from the flexible strings of which bow harps were developed from a pre-bent solid material. Fixed string carriers allow multiple strings to be attached. From around the 2nd century BC. Until the 7th century AD, multi-string bow harps are documented by stone reliefs at Indian places of worship. After this time the bow harps disappeared from India, their shape only remained in the Burmese saung gauk and the rare bin-baja in the area of Mandla (central India). Single -stringed rod zithers with a straight wooden or bamboo rod as a string carrier have been known since the 6th century , from which today's vina family of multi-string lute instruments developed.

The plucked drum is basically a musical bow in which the string attached between the two ends of a stick is kept in tension by the elasticity of the stick. In the plucked drum, the string stretches from the elastic membrane to a distant fixed end. The body, over the opening of which the membrane is stretched, acts as a sound amplifier and replaces the calabash usually attached to the musical bow .

Historically, the plucked drum is the very old form of a single-string harp, which preceded the early multi-string harps and, for example, today's saung gauk . The saung gauk produces a much finer sound than the ektara, but its strings are attached at the lower end to a wooden stick in the middle under a membrane, in a similar way to the plucked drum. It is not known whether there was such a string stick in harps from Gandhara ; probably all Asian harps in post-Christian times had the strings attached to a membrane in the same way. In the ancient Egyptian harps, too , the strings attached to a stick pulled an animal skin; it was only in the European harps that this membrane was replaced by a solid wooden ceiling. In Uganda, the ennanga is a simple construction of such a bow harp with a membrane, which is extremely rare today.

Plucked drums are only found in India. In terms of their function, they correspond to the large group of Indian string instruments, which are not used to generate a melody, but rather provide an accompanying rhythm or drone. In classical Indian music , the long-necked lute tanpura is usually played for this purpose ; in folk music, a variety of single or multi-string plucked instruments (such as the long-necked lute tandura and tanburo ) serve this purpose.

This includes the buang der Santal , an exclusively rhythmically used single-stringed zither (musical bow) with bent ends, in the middle of which a resonance body is attached, which consists of a bamboo basket covered with paper. Dancers use it to create rasping noises during group dances. In several Adivasi peoples in central India, the similar but smaller kuranrajan with a carved bird's head ( peacock heads among the Saora in Orissa ) fulfills a magical function in religious ceremonies. Another rhythm instrument, consisting of a musical bow and an idiophone , is the South Indian villadi vadyam .

The tuntune (or tun-tina ) from central India and Maharashtra are also among the rhythmically used string instruments that do not produce any clearly recognizable pitches . The wire strings stretch from the edge of an approximately 25 centimeter long wooden or metal cylinder, which is covered on the underside with a membrane made of goat skin, to a wooden peg at the end of a 70 centimeter long bamboo stick attached to the side. The outer shape of the tuntune is closest to the plucking drums. It is plucked with a small wooden pick and accompanies the Marathi hymns lavani and powada , devotional songs and the marathic folk theater tamasha .

A link between the plucking drums and membrane-covered clay pots like the ghumat in Goa is the South Indian tantipanai . With her, a metal wire runs from the center of the membrane into the inside of the pot, leaves it on the bottom and runs along the outside, where some rattles are lined up , to a movable tuning wood protruding outwards in the upper area of ​​the body. In contrast to the ektara , the string cannot be plucked; instead, the player strikes the membrane and the pot with his hands, whereby the membrane also transmits its vibrations to the moving parts via the wire.

The same principle of sound generation makes the thunder drum or thunder tube an unusually loud sounding instrument. The thunderbolt consists of a tin can with an open top and a long, thin metal spring attached to the center of the bottom.

Design and style of play

Baul singer with an ektara or gopi yantra at the grave of Fakir Lalon (around 1774–1890), a singer and poet of the Bauls who was revered as a saint. Kushtia, Khulna Division , Bangladesh
Bauls, from the left in a circle with the lute dotara , the cymbal manjira , the flute banshi , double-headed drum dhol and gopi yantra

Curt Sachs established the classification of the instrument group in the Hornbostel-Sachs system as plucked drum , i.e. as a plucked drum in the group of membranophones . According to more recent estimates, however, the string causes the primary vibration excitation and the membrane mainly serves to Tone amplification, which is why the group is also known in English as variable tension chordophone (" stringed instrument with variable [string] tension").

The string tension and thus the pitch of plucked drums can be changed while playing, in that in the case of the anandalahari the string is stretched directly with the hand or in the case of the gopi chandra the elasticity of the string holder is used to deform it by hand. All plucking drums have a cylindrical or bulbous body, which is open on the top and covered with a skin on the underside. The body is made of wood, pumpkin, metal or clay. In the middle of the membrane, a wire or gut string is passed through a hole and secured there with a button (two to three centimeters in diameter) or a piece of bamboo on the outside.

The ektaras are commonly played by singers of religious songs (collectively, bhajans ). The Bauls roam the villages as traveling musicians, singing praises of their guru and thus expressing their Vishnuit and Sufi form of the Bhakti cult. In addition to gopi yantra and anandalahari , they play the two to four- stringed long-necked lute dotara , the banshi (bamboo flute with six finger holes), the small kettle drum duggi, bronze cymbals ( manjiras ), bamboo or wooden rattles ( kartals ) and ghungru (metal bells on the ankles that create a rhythm when stamping).

Gopi yantra

The gopi yantra , the "milkmaid instrument" is named after the gopis , shepherds of Indian mythology and playmates of Krishna . The almost cylindrical wooden body is slightly wider at the bottom than at the top. At the bottom the body is completely covered with skin, at the top only at the edge, so that a circular opening remains in the middle. Both membranes are braced together by a Z-shaped lacing. With simpler instruments, only one membrane is glued to the underside. A bamboo tube split lengthways in the middle is bent apart and wrapped or nailed to the side of the body. The sound is finer and more versatile than with the tun tune . At the end of the tube, which remains a little over ten centimeters above a knot, the string is attached to a wooden tuning peg. A typical plucking drum measures 88 centimeters in total with 24 centimeters for the body, which has a diameter of 19 centimeters.

The instrument is typical of the Bauls of Bengal and Orissa. The player holds the body sideways under the left arm while using the hand on the same side to squeeze the bamboo sticks to vary the pitch. He plucks the string with the index finger of his right hand or an opening pick. This consists of a galvanized iron wire 0.3 millimeters in diameter. A begging musician who entertains alone can hold and operate the gopi yantra with his right hand and simultaneously beat a small kettle drum with his left hand (the bayan of the tabla drum pair ) that hangs on a ribbon from his left shoulder.


The lao-tokari is essentially identical to the gopi yantra with the difference that the body is not made of wood, but of a calabash ( Assamese lao-khola , "pumpkin-dried"), which is covered with glued goat skin. The split bamboo stick is about 80 centimeters long and four centimeters in diameter. The top of the calabash remains completely open.

In addition to the songs of the Bauls, the lao-tokari is also used in the Assamese folk music Debhicarar Git , together with the frame drum dogor in the Boiragi Git , the Assamese Sufi music style and in the Bengali folk music Bhatiali .


The anandalahari of Bengal is also known by the onomatopoeic name gubgubi . Sanskrit ananda means “perfect happiness”, lahari “intoxication, overwhelming experience”. Similar instruments have the regional names ( Hindi ) premtal and tumba in Uttar Pradesh and bhapang in Rajasthan , all three with a calabash resonator, furthermore khamak or khomok ( bengali ), chonka or chonak ( marathi ) in Maharashtra and jamidika or jamaku ( telugu ) a metal resonator in Andhra Pradesh . Further plucking drums of the anandalahari type are the bagilu with a wooden frame and a metal string in Gujarat and also the dudhuki or dhudhki in Odisha . The dudhuki is played by male and female snake charmers ( kela, kelum ) and accompanies the song genre dhudhki gita .

While gopi yantra and lao-tokari produce a drone tone, the anandalahari and comparable plucked drums are mainly used for the rhythm. The body of the anandalahari consists of a calabash of simpler instruments, otherwise it consists of a bulbous wooden cylinder. As is customary with the calabashes, the bottom is covered with a skin; From the middle of the jar a leather strip about 60 centimeters long or a string runs through the vessel and out on the other side. The string is secured to the membrane not by a button but by a longer rod. Earlier instruments were open at the top, today's wooden resonators are also covered with a membrane at the top, except for the hole in the middle, whereby both membranes are fixed by leather rings and these are tensioned by a V-shaped lacing. In some instruments, each V goes through an iron ring that can be moved to tension the membrane. The free end of the leather strip is attached to a small brass pot, the opening of which points towards the body, or to a wooden block, both of which act as a handle. The player holds the anandalahari horizontally with the left elbow pressed against the upper body. With his right hand he pulls the string taut in rhythm, while at the same time he plucks the string with a pick made of wood, bone or the like in his left hand. The result ranges from a dull drum beat with a fluctuating pitch to a high-pitched howling sound when the string is strongly tightened and at the same time plucked. The construction of the anandalahari may be even more archaic than the plucked drums with a tightly attached string, but they have finer expressive possibilities .

In the gopi yantra the string moves away from the membrane at an angle of 90 degrees, in the anandalahari there is a margin of between 90 and 70 degrees. The vibrations of the string and the membrane consequently run at approximately right angles to each other in both types. The membrane vibration is superimposed on the string vibration, which leads to an increased build-up of overtones above the fundamental frequency of the string. The diaphragm acts as a frequency doubler and leads to non-linear acoustic phenomena that are not expected from a stringed instrument whose strings are clamped between two fixed points.

Pulluvan kudam

Pulluvan kudam ( pulluvan kutam ) is a clay pot ( ghatam ) with a string used by the Pulluvan community in Kerala , South India, along with the single-stringed fiddle pulluvan vina in the music of the nagakalam possession ritual . With the ritual that the Pulluvan perform on behalf of the higher caste Nayar , the snake deities ( Nagas ) are to be addressed and appeased. Pullavan ensembles also perform to accompany the snake dance of the September – October Ayilyam celebrations in the Naga Temple of Mannarsala. The clay pot has an opening at the bottom and is completely covered with a skin. The cord starting from the middle of the floor ends on a wooden stick, which the musician clamps under the foot of the extended right leg while sitting or fixes it with his toes in order to tighten the string. A pick in the right hand is used to pluck. The pulluvan kudam is mostly played by women (pulluvatti) to show the rhythmic patterns. The mythical songs of the Pulluvan praise or conjure up the magical power of the snake deity Naga. The accompanying instrument of the Pulluvan chants is the hand cymbal pair kaimani or elathalam .


  • Dilip Ranjan Barthakur: The Music and Musical Instruments of North Eastern India. Mittal Publications, New Delhi 2003, pp. 129-131
  • Alastair Dick: Variable tension chordophone . In: Stanley Sadie (Ed.): The New Groove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Volume 26. Macmillan Publishers, London 2001, pp. 283f
  • Alastain Dick, Jeremy Montagu: Variable tension chordophone. In: Laurence Libin (Ed.): The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Volume 5, Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York 2014, pp. 165–167
  • Bigamudre Chaitanya Deva: Musical Instruments. National Book Trust, New Delhi 1977, p. 73
  • Laurence Picken : The 'plucked' drums: gopī yantra and ānanda laharī. In the S. (Ed.): Musica Asiatica 3. Oxford University Press, London 1981, pp. 29-33

Web links

Commons : Ektara  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Laurence Picken : String / Table angles for harps, from the Third Millennium BC to the present. In the S. (Ed.): Musica Asiatica 3. Oxford University Press, London 1981, pp. 41f
  2. Deva, p. 75
  3. Deva, p. 73
  4. Keyword: Tuntuṇé. In: Late Pandit Nikhil Ghosh (Ed.): The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India. Saṅgīt Mahābhāratī. Vol. 3 (P – Z) Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2011, p. 1097
  5. Thanti Panai (Tantipanai). chandrakantha.com
  6. Alastair Dick: Tantipānai. In: Grove Music Online , January 20, 2016
  7. ^ Robert Fishbone: Thunder Tube Tutorial. Youtube video
  8. ^ Curt Sachs: The musical instruments of India and Indonesia. 2nd edition, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / Leipzig 1923, pp. 78–80
  9. Alastain Dick, Jeremy Montagu, 2014, p 165
  10. ^ Picken, The 'plucked' drums, p. 29
  11. ^ Alain Daniélou: South Asia. Indian music and its traditions. Music history in pictures. Volume 1: Ethnic Music . Delivery 1. Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1978, p. 108
  12. Debhicarar Geets, Assamese Folk Music. Indianet Zone
  13. Barthakur, p. 129f
  14. Curt Sachs ( Reallexikon der Musikinstrumenten. Julius Bard, Berlin 1913, p. 12) translates ananda-lahari as "Flash of pleasure"
  15. Alastair Dick: Premtāl. In: Grove Music Online , January 20, 2016
  16. Jogte - Folk Music of Maharashtra at Baajaa Gaajaa 2011. Youtube video (plucked drum chonka in Maharashtra, played by Jogte. These are temple musicians consecrated to the goddess Yellama, the male counterpart to the female Devadasis )
  17. Jamiḍika . In: P. Sambamurthy: A Dictionary of South Indian Music and Musicians. Vol. 2 (G-K), The Indian Music Publishing House, Madras 1984, p. 243
  18. Keyword: Bāgilu . In: Late Pandit Nikhil Ghosh (Ed.): The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India. Saṅgīt Mahābhāratī. Vol. 1 (A – G) Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2011, p. 101
  19. Alastair Dick: Dudhukī. In: Laurence Libin (Ed.): The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Vol. 2, Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York 2014, p. 99
  20. CJ Adkins, RC Williamson, JW Flowers, LER Picken: Frequency-doubling chordophones. In: Laurence Picken (Ed.): Musica Asiatica 3. Oxford University Press, London 1981, pp. 1-9
  21. ^ A. Sreedhara Menon: Social and cultural history of Kerala. Sterling, New York 1979, p. 147
  22. Laurent Aubert: accompanying booklet, p. 24f, the CD: Kerala. South India. Pulluvan songs. Archives Internationales de Musique Populaire Musée d'Ethnographie, AIMP LXXIII, Geneva 2004 (VDE Gallo 1147)