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Long-Necked Lute (Tambura), Southern India, ca. 1900

NMM 1186.  Long-necked lute (tambura), Southern India, ca. 1900 Front view Side view 1 Side view 2 Back view

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NMM 1186. Long-necked lute (tambura), southern India, ca. 1900. Tanjore-style instrument used in Carnatic music. Body of jackwood with ivory trim. Four strings plucked individually to create a drone. Ex coll.: Rev. Emmons E. White, Manamadura, South India. Arne B. Larson Collection, 1979.

Pegs and Pegbox

Pegbox, front view Side view 1 Side view 2 Back view


Neck Heel and Nut

Neck heel, view 1 Neck heel, view 2 Nut


Resonator, front view Side view 1 Side view 2

Lower end of resonator Close-up of lower end of resonator


Bridge, view 1 Bridge, view 2

Bridge, view 3 Bridge, view 4

Decorative Elements

Bone trim Decoration in center of body Lotus blossom inlay Letters 'R' and 'M'

The entire perimeter of the tambura is trimmed with bone (see detail at left). Incised bone plaques are attached to the neck and belly. The letters, R M, are inscribed in small circles on the neck.

Use and Repair of the Tambura by Rev. & Mrs. Emmons E. White

To help achieve his goal of establishing a global collection of musical instruments, Arne B. Larson frequently corresponded with missionaries. One of these contacts was a Rev. Emmons E. White, who lived in Manamadura, South India, during World War II. White's letterhead states that he was the Secretary of the Madura Mission Sangam (American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, headquartered in Boston). In a letter dated August 10, 1942, White writes to Larson, "I note that you are especially anxious to obtain various musical instruments used in India. I regret to have to advise you to wait until better times before risking much money and loss through transit in war times. My furlo [sic] is due in the spring of 1944, and, if I can, I shall bring my own instruments with me and perhaps something for you also if it can be arranged on terms mutually agreeable." Two years later (March 1, 1944), White notes that he and his family "plan to depart for U.S.A. on furlough by the first American boat available after March 10th of this year. We are restricted as to what we can bring. However, I plan to bring the musical instruments which I have been using from time to time in my musical evangelism and, after I have used them sufficiently in America for publicity purposes, am willing to sell them to you, if you desire, at reasonable prices."

A November 8, 1945, letter written by White (from an address in New Haven, Connecticut) states that White sold Larson two musical instruments from South India "last year." White goes on to note that "I now write to inform you that I have my Tambura here still with me and to ask you whether you would like to buy it. Since I expect to start back to India some time around, or soon after, Nov. 25th, I could arrange to have it sent to you if you can pay the necessary charges."

"I have just inquired of a local company here. They can box and ship it to you for aproximately $12. This does not include what it cost me to buy and bring it from India here. I valued the Tambura alone at about $15 for duty's sake. It cost us around $10 to make a box big enough to pack it and the other musical instruments to bring to America in. The tambura was by far the largest of these and so the box was constructed large enough to accommodate it. Unfortunately, the tambura got broken partially, due to the rough handling the box had on the steamer. That is, it was broken where the neck, or long finger-board, joins onto the large sounding-box at the end. Mrs. White mended it skillfully and it now seems to work as well as ever. In view of this accident, I think I should not charge you the full original cost of the instrument. But we can settle these points after I hear from you. The tambura (54 inches tall) is a rather handsome-appearing instrument, with 4 strings of steel, tuned (roughly) to the following keys (in order of sounding, by plucking in turn with the first finger): G, C, C, low C. The final "low" C approximates the low C which a good second-bass singer can sing, the other two C's are both the octave above, and the G is the fifth between the higher and the lower C. (Or, it can be tuned: A, D, D, D.)"

Repair patch

One of the repairs made by Mrs. White at juncture of neck and belly, following rough handling of the tambura during shipment to the U.S.A. in 1944.

In addition to this tambura, Arne B. Larson acquired several other instruments from Rev. White after W.W. II:

Literature:  Thomas E. Cross, Instruments of Burma, India, Nepal, Thailand and Tibet, The Shrine to Music Museum Catalog of the Collections, Vol. II, André P. Larson, editor (Vermillion: The Shrine to Music Museum, 1982), p. 16.

Thomas E. Cross, Instruments of Burma, India, Nepal, Thailand and Tibet, M.M. Thesis, University of South Dakota, May 1983, pp. 34-36, plate XIII.

André P. Larson, The National Music Museum:  A Pictorial Souvenir (Vermillion: National Music Museum, 1988), pp. 9 and 29.

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