Indian Percussion instrument Khanjira


Khanjira with Fishskin
The kanjira is a very old percussion instrument that is very popular in South Indian classical performances. There was time once when this small tambourine was a treated as a primary percussion instrument. But with passage of time things have changed and Today the khanjira is a secondary percussion that is played as an accompaniment with the mridangam. 

Some features of a good quality khanjira and also amongst what is available in the market are that they are made from a solid piece of local Egyptian wood, called Sarsouh with the Manta Ray fish-skin head and 1 brass cymbal set. The frame of khanjira will be around 7 inches in diameter and 3 inches in height. It will be accompanied with in a nylon case. The traditional Indian percussion instrument, kanjira is made with lizard-skin. But because of the conservation reasons, and increased accessibility and availability, the kanjira in modern times are  offered with the Manta Ray skin; which has proved to be a close substitution in terms of quality of sound and the aesthetics. If the performer is right handed, he should hold the kanjira in his/her left hand. Though the head is fixed, the player or performer can vary the sound and pitch with the help of application of pressure close to or near the outer rim of the head of khanjira with his/her left hand. The performers are advised to play this Indian percussion instrument by simply tapping and rolling it with the fingers on the head and cymbal

The khanjira is a very old Indian percussion instrument that is extremely popular in Southern Indian classical performances.  The kanjira, also known as ganjira, is an percussion instrument that belongs to the tambourine family. Kahnjira is basically used in concerts of Carnatic music which is a form of south Indian classical music as a supporting instrument for the mridangam. The kanjira is comparatively quite a recent innovation, being in use for less than 100 years, was added as an accompaniment to classical concerts during the 30s.

Making Of Khanjira: Similar to the Western tambourine, an authentic khanjira consists of a circular frame made of the wood of the jackfruit tree, that measures between 7 and 9 inches in diameter and 2 to 4 inches in depth. Khanjira is covered on one side with a drumhead made from monitor lizard skin, here too the specific Bengal monitor, Varanus bengalensis, which is now an endangered species in India. And the other side of khanjira is left open. The frame contains a single slit which has three to four small metal discs, often old coins are used here which jingle and make a certain noise when the kanjira is played.

The kanjira is probably one of the most difficult Indian drum to play. The reasons for it somehow remain unexplained. Khanjira is generally played with one's palm and fingers of the right hand, while the left hand helps to support the drum. The fingertips of the left hand can be used to bend the pitch by applying pressure near the outer rim. It is not tuned to any particular pitch, unlike the mridangam or the ghatam

Normally, without tuning, khanjira creates a very high pitched sound. To be able to get a good bass sound, the performer has to reduce the tension of the drumhead by sprinkling some water on the inside of the khanjira. This process may need repetition during a concert to maintain a good bass sound. However, one needs to be careful while sprinkling water bvecause if the instrument is too moist, it will have a dead tone, requiring 5-10 minutes to dry. Tone is also affected by external temperature and moisture conditions. Performers typically carry a couple of kanjiras so that they can keep at least one in perfectly tuned condition at any given time.

G Harishankar is widely considered to have been the greatest kanjira artist ever to have played this instrument.

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