Kanjira – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

What is a Kanjira?

The Kanjira is a traditional South Indian percussion instrument that belongs to the tambourine family. It is a small, handheld drum with a circular frame made of wood or metal, and a single head made of goat or lizard skin. The Kanjira is played by holding it in one hand and using the fingers and palm to strike and manipulate the drumhead to produce a variety of sounds. It is commonly used in Carnatic music, a classical music tradition from South India, and is often played as an accompaniment to vocal and instrumental performances.

History of the Kanjira

The Kanjira has a long history that dates back to ancient times in South India. It is believed to have originated from the tribal communities of the region, who used the drum in their traditional music and dance rituals. Over the centuries, the Kanjira evolved and became an integral part of Carnatic music, where it is now considered a vital instrument for rhythm accompaniment.

The Kanjira has also gained popularity outside of South India and is now played in various music genres around the world. Its unique sound and versatility have made it a favorite among percussionists and musicians looking to add a distinct flavor to their performances.

Construction and Materials of the Kanjira

The Kanjira is typically made of a wooden frame, usually made from the jackfruit tree, and a single drumhead made of either goat or lizard skin. The drumhead is stretched over the frame and secured with a series of metal hooks or rings. The drumhead is then treated with a special paste made from a mixture of rice flour, water, and iron filings to enhance its tonal quality and durability.

The frame of the Kanjira is usually decorated with intricate carvings and designs, adding to its aesthetic appeal. The drum is small in size, usually measuring around 7-8 inches in diameter, making it easy to hold and play with one hand.

Playing Techniques for the Kanjira

Playing the Kanjira requires a combination of finger and palm techniques to produce a variety of sounds. The player uses their fingers to strike the drumhead in different areas to create different tones, while the palm is used to manipulate the pitch and resonance of the drum. The Kanjira can produce a wide range of sounds, from sharp, high-pitched tones to deep, resonant bass tones.

One of the unique features of the Kanjira is its ability to produce a buzzing sound known as the “kanjira kala.” This effect is achieved by pressing the thumb against the drumhead while playing, creating a vibrating sound that adds texture and depth to the music.

Notable Players of the Kanjira

There have been many talented musicians and percussionists who have mastered the art of playing the Kanjira. Some notable players include Selvaganesh Vinayakram, a renowned percussionist who has performed with artists such as John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain. Another notable player is V. Selvaganesh, the son of Selvaganesh Vinayakram, who has also made a name for himself as a virtuoso Kanjira player.

Other notable players of the Kanjira include G. Harishankar, B.S. Purushotham, and V. Suresh, who have all contributed to the popularity and recognition of the instrument in the world of music.

Cultural Significance of the Kanjira

The Kanjira holds a special place in South Indian culture and is often associated with traditional music and dance performances. It is commonly used in Carnatic music concerts, dance recitals, and religious ceremonies, where it adds a rhythmic and melodic element to the proceedings.

In addition to its cultural significance in South India, the Kanjira has also gained recognition on the global stage, with musicians from around the world incorporating it into their music. Its unique sound and versatility have made it a popular choice for artists looking to add a touch of South Indian flavor to their compositions.

Overall, the Kanjira is a versatile and expressive instrument that continues to captivate audiences with its rich history, intricate playing techniques, and cultural significance.