Slideshow | India Inspiration – Tropenmuseum Amsterdam

This exhibition at the Tropenmuseum (today’s Wereldmuseum Amsterdam) featured two strands of shared memories: one celebrating the sources of inspiration shared by Indian and Western artists; and the other honouring migrants from India via Suriname.

Visitors experienced both strands as being intertwined by means of songs and memorabilia including historical photographs, video clips and historical film footage.

Concept and research by Ludwig Pesch ( in collaboration with museum staff and Architectenbureau Jowa ( for display between 2007 and 2017.

Photographs © Ludwig Pesch

This exhibition was one of the five themes in the exhibition “Round and About India”: Wanderings


For millennia, storytellers and actors have spread their stories to every corner of India: stories about gods and heroes just as those of “ordinary mortals” revolting in the face of injustice or oppression of every conceivable kind.

Today their narrative boxes, scrolls and performances are often replaced by modern media, and this hardly for want of interest – quite on the contrary: it is a deeply felt interest in one’s identity or cultural roots that keeps these stories alive.

“Round and About India” therefore invited visitors to immerse themselves in stories told by people, ideas or objects even in the absence of a universally accepted or “final” written edition. What holds these stories together is the recurring theme of “wanderings”: a perennial flow of people attracted to local festivals, going on a pilgrimage or persuaded to migrate to distant lands for a variety of reasons.

In this exhibition these stories relate to dance, theatre and music traditions from different regions.

De bamboe dwarsfluit

Tekst: Ludwig Pesch

Mythes, afbeeldingen en een uit de Indiase oudheid overgeleverde verhandeling over het muziektheater geven een indruk hoe geliefd de fluit was. Zo weten we dat ze al lang als een volwaardig muziekinstrument werd ingezet. Naar gelang de streek wordt ze anders aangeduid, bijvoorbeeld als kuzhal in het Tamil (spreek uit als “kulal” of “kural”); en als bansuri in Noord-India. In gedichten, liederen, dans en film komen ook benamingen voor als venu en murali, waarmee gelijk wordt verwezen naar Krishna, de herder en fluitspeler “met de donkere huid”.

Art: Arun VC >>

De vroege Tamil en Sanskrit dichtkunst beschrijft het ontstaan van de eerste fluit, zonder toedoen van de mens: doordat zwarte hommels hun nesten bouwen in bamboebossen laten ze gaten achter in de stengels. Die gaten komen in grootte overeen met de blaas- en vingeropeningen van de huidige bamboe dwarsfluit. De wind zorgt dan voor het laten klinken van natuurlijke tonen. Ook het melodieuze gezang van vogels in al zijn nuances vormt een inspiratiebron voor de nauw met de natuur verbonden mens. Dit alles bevordert een muzikale symbiose die op veel plaatsen steeds opnieuw ontstaat.

Het verrast daarom niet dat Pannalal Ghosh, de pionier van de Hindoestaanse fluitmuziek, in zijn jeugd werd beïnvloed door tribale musici van het noord-oostelijke Santal-volk.

Bij Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), die te midden van Santal-dorpen zijn wereldberoemde school Santiniketan stichtte, komen we het ‘Oneindige Wezen’ tegen als fluitspeler: de ‘muziek van de schoonheid en de liefde’ lokt ons weg uit onze egocentrische beperking.1

Voor velen kom ik over als dom en onhandig. Soms beschouw ik me als een fluit die niet kan praten maar zingt dankzij je adem“.2

Hier plaatst zich de dichter, pedagoog en invloedrijke geleerde in een lange traditie, die barrières van taal en godsdienst weet te slechten dankzij de muziek. Zo laat Tagore ons de rol van de bamboefluit voelen als het meest ‘democratische’ van alle muziekinstrumenten.


L Pesch flute

Ludwig Pesch specialiseerde zich op de Zuid-Indiase bamboe dwarsfluit, toen hij studeerde bij Ramachandra Shastry aan de Kalakshetra kunstacademie in Chennai. Samen met zijn leraar gaf hij concerten bij talrijke gelegenheden.

In samenwerking met twee universiteiten ontwikkelde hij e-learning cursussen ( Voor muziekliefhebbers en docenten heeft hij een handboek geschreven, The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music. Voor het Concertgebouw Amsterdam heeft hij teksten bijgedragen naar aanleiding van het India Festival in Amsterdam in 2008 (b.v. “Wat is een raga” gepubliceerd in Preludium).

Hij ontwikkelt programma’s waardoor elementen uit de Indiase muziek voor iedereen toegankelijk worden – voor elke leeftijdsgroep, zowel met als zonder muzikale ervaring.

Nederlandse vertaling: Mieke Beumer

  1. Bron: ‘Meine Erinnerungen an Einstein’ (1931) in Das Goldene Boot, Winkler Weltliteratur, Blaue Reihe, 2005[]
  2. “Very often I think and feel that I am like a flute – the flute that cannot talk but when the breath is upon it, can sing” schreef Rabindranath Tagore uit London aan zijn vertaler, de Nederlandse schrijver Frederik van Eeden, London op 9 augustus 1913[]

How prehistoric societies were transformed by the sound of music

Amidst lively debates within and beyond India, 1 these perspectives on our shared legacy make interesting reading:

  • Savithri Rajan who believed that Tyagaraja, like these other great men, was always meditating, but his medium of expression was nādam, “sound”. 2
  • In the introduction to his unfinished yet voluminous magnum opus Karunamirtha Sagaram, titled “The dignity and Origin of music”, Abraham Pandither 3 entices readers to embark on a virtual journey through time and space; a discovery of nature that for him would have gone hand in hand with musical evolution if not advanced civilization itself.
  • A summary of findings by archaeologists titled “How prehistoric societies were transformed by the sound of music“. 4

Learn more

Read excerpts from Abraham Pandither’s work (Karunamirtha Sagaram, 1918 ed., pp. 4-5)

The devotees who worshiped the deity in such a manner, found Him, according to the several conceptions, either as a King, or as a parent, or as a Guru, or as a timely helper, or as one who relieved them from all difficulties, or as a loving son, or is the loving bride-groom, and gave vent to the feelings in singing His praises; some worshipped by prostrating themselves before Him; some prayed to Him to deliver them from all their troubles; some prayed for the gift of obtaining whatever they desired; some bewailed their fate owing to separation from the deity; some, who realized His presence in themselves, danced for joy; many who desired His presence sent messengers for enquiry; others, filled with love, praised Him fervently. They described His several virtues and told the others about them by means of verse. They deplored their own unworthiness; conscious of their own faults, they implored pardon; some, owing to intense love, were so taken up with the contemplation of His image that they completely forgot this world and their food. […] 

p. 5 

In the same manner, little children, playing in the streets, rolled the leaves of the Poovarasu tree [“Indian tulip” or “umbrella tree”], made the kind of reed out of the thinner end and produced music by blowing through it finding that the sound was in proportion to the size and the mouthpiece, they played together three or four such reeds and felt elated when they found a certain kind of harmony existing between them. Then they may reeds out of the stems of the leaves of the pumpkin and attached rolled up leaves to them and were delighted to find that the sound was either dull of bright in proportion to the length of the rolled up leaves. Of these, those those who had a special ear for Music when they advanced in age, made reeds of horns, conches and bamboo, and later on of wood, gold, silver and brass of various shapes. In the same way, they made progress in stringed instruments. They found that Music could be produced by tying the bent ends of a stick together, either by a rope or a string. They proceeded to bend big bamboos in the form of a bow by means of leather thongs, tied bells to them to keep time, and sang those particular songs used on the occasions of using  bows. Finding by that strings, either metallic or of catgut, sound better when passing through the medium of a vessel full of air or a box or a dried Sorakkai [bottle gourd] with its contents scooped out, made instruments like the […], adjusted the strings to suit their voices and send the praises of the deity. […] From these beginnings, music with its new with its few fundamental rules, is making progress. 

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Art © Arun VC
  1. increasingly so pertaining to religious (or caste) affiliation, ownership or cultural appropriation[]
  2. “Savithri Rajan believes that Tyagaraja, like these other great men, was always meditating, but his medium of expression was nādam, ‘sound’ – he was an aspirant who followed nādopāsana, the approach or worship by way of sound. She points out that Tyagaraja composed a song beginning with the word nādopāsana saying there is nothing higher than worship via sound, music is the best vehicle because Brahman is nādam – divine sound – which is the omnipresent, omniscient power, ‘call it Power with a capital ‘P’, call it God, call it Christ, call it Krsna, call it Rāma.'” – Excerpt from: Tyagaraja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Jackson (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1994), pp. 174-175
    A longer excerpt titled “The greatest, most beautiful thing is compassion expressed through music” is found here:[]
  3. “Abraham Pandithar (1859-1919) was a Renaissance Man whose achievements, whether in traditional medicine, education, music, agriculture or photography, simply defy easy definition.” – Learn more:[]
  4. Frontline Magazine & Deutsche Welle on 20 June 2023, Learn more:[]

The tambura (tanpura)


The tambura – also known as tanpura – has long served as India’s most important accompaniment. It accompanies vocal and instrumental performers as well as dance musicians. It has embellished the salons of nobles, merchants and courtisans long before its arrival on the modern concert stage.

Its present form with four strings has been known since the 17th century. It combines the properties of two types of instruments, namely the ancient zither (veena or been) and the present long-necked lute (Sarasvati veena, sitar). Its function and manner of playing distinguishes the tambura from similar instruments used in neighbouring countries. This is because Indian musicians have used a fundamental note since about the 13th century.

Hundreds of melody types – known as raga (lit.’colours’) – have since been created, rediscovered and analysed. They all arise from a fundamental note, known as ‘sadja’, which is articulated as ‘Sa’ during a lesson or vocal performance.

The fundamental note is continuously sounded as the tambura’s ‘supporting’ or ‘base’ note (the bourdon or drone of western music). It is freely chosen in accordance with the vocal or instrumental range of the main performer.

With these basic elements composers, musicians and dancers are able to evoke any conceivable mood or aesthetic experience (rasa). This requires no more than a few additional notes, usually arranged in a particular sequence by which they are readily recognised by discerning listeners. The notes heard in any given raga are drawn from among the proverbial ‘seven notes’ (saptasvara). A competent musician also knows which notes need to be modified by means of embellishments (gamaka) and subtle shades achieved by intonation (sruti).

Text: Ludwig Pesch | Nederlands | Deutsch | Art: Arun VC

Listen to this tambura, played by Ludwig Pesch
Tanjore-style Carnatic tambura.JPG
Photo (C) Martin Spaink Wikimedia

Die Tambura


Das wichtigste Begleitinstrument Indiens zierte die Salons von Fürsten, Kaufleuten und Kurtisanen. Seit dem frühen 20. Jahrhundert beflügelt der Klangreichtum gerade dieses Instruments die Fantasie eines neu entstehenden Konzertpublikums. Seither ist die aktive Teilnahme von Rasika genannten Musikliebhabern nicht mehr aus dem Musikleben Indiens wegzudenken.

Die Tambura (Tānpūra in Nordindien) hat meist vier Saiten. Ihre heutige Form ist seit dem 17. Jahrhundert bekannt und vereinigt Merkmale der indischen Zither (Vīnā oder Bīn) mit denen der Langhalslaute.

Von ähnlichen Instrumenten benachbarter Regionen (Tanbur) unterscheidet es sich sowohl durch seine Funktion als durch seine Spielweise. Spätestens seit dem 13. Jahrhundert bedienen indische Musiker sich nämlich eines Grundtons “Sa”, den sie – je nach Stimmlage oder Soloinstrument – frei wählen können.

Als Halteton (Bordun) bildet “Sa” den Ausgangspunkt für melodische Gestalten, die man mit “Färbung des Geistes” (Rāga), also Gefühlsausdruck, bezeichnet. Ein reicher Fundus recht unterschiedlicher Ragas ermöglicht es, jede nur denkbare Stimmung (Rasa) auszudrücken. 

Auf dieser scheinbar einfachen Grundlage entwickelten sich 72 Tonleitern als Orientierung für Komponisten, Musiker und Tänzer. Zudem schafft die Tambura ein geeignetes Umfeld, in dem der musikalische und poetische Ausdruck vieler Epochen und Kulturen zu einem Ganzen zusammenwachsen – und doch immer persönlich – bleiben konnte.

Text: Ludwig Pesch | English | Nederlands
Zeichnung: Arun VC

Hörbeispiel: die hier abgebildete Tambura, gespielt von Ludwig Pesch
Tanjore-style Carnatic tambura.JPG
Photo (C) Martin Spaink Wikimedia