The kanjira, khanjira, khanjiri or ganjira, a South Indian frame drum, is an instrument of the tambourine family. As a folk and bhajan instrument, it has been used in India for many centuries. It was modified to a frame drum with a single pair of jingles by Manpoondia Pillai in the 1880s, who is credited with bringing the instrument to the classical stage. It is used primarily in concerts of Carnatic music (South Indian classical music) as a supporting instrument for the mridangam.
Similar to the Western tambourine, it consists of a circular frame made of the wood of the jackfruit tree, between 7 and 9 inches in width and 2 to 4 inches in depth. It is covered on one side with a drumhead made of monitor lizard skin (specifically the Bengal monitor, Varanus bengalensis, now an endangered species in India), while the other side is left open. The traditional lizard skin is prohibited worldwide due to protection of species regulations. Even well-known Kanjira players, however, attest the alternative goat skin great advantages. After playing for a while, the goat skin gets more and more flexible and offers a wider range of possible modulations. frame has a single slit which contain three to four small metal discs (often old coins) that jingle when the kanjira is played.
The kanjira is a relatively difficult Indian drum to play, especially in South Indian Carnatic music, for reasons including the complexity of the percussion patterns used in Indian music. It is normally played with the palm and fingers of the right hand, while the left hand supports 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, it has a very high pitched sound. To get a good bass sound, the performer reduces the tension of the drumhead by sprinkling water on the inside of the instrument. This process may have to be repeated during a concert to maintain a good sound. However, 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.
◆ Bharghava Halambi