Of all living creatures in the world, man has his vital and mental energy vastly in excess of his need, which urges him to work in various lines of creation for its own sake […] Life is perpetually creative because it contains in itself that surplus which ever overflows the boundaries of the immediate time and space.
Rabindranath Tagore in The Religion of an Artist *
For ten years this exhibition celebrated the sources of inspiration shared by Indian and Western artists; and at the same time, it traced the role of migrants from India via Surinam through songs, memorabilia, and documentary film footage.
Concept and research: Ludwig Pesch (www.aiume.org) in collaboration with museum staff and Architectenbureau Jowa (www.jowa.nl).
This exhibition was one of the five themes in the exhibition “Round and About India”: Wanderings
Storytellers and actors brought their stories to every corner of India. Today their narrative boxes, scrolls and performances are increasingly being replaced by modern mediums, but they have not yet disappeared.
India is a country of stories and storytellers. Opportunities abound in the exhibition Round and About India to watch and listen to narratives about people, ideas and objects. Every item has a tale, every person has something to tell. Whether it is festivals and processions, commerce and history, gods and heroes, pilgrimages and wanderings.
In this exhibition these stories are the central features of performances in dance, theatre and music.
On display until 2017
Visit the Tropenmuseum
This museum is one of Amsterdam hidden treasures. Located off city centre in a beautiful old building in East Amsterdam (Amsterdam Oost), Tropenmuseum often remains forgotten, like an old collection of post stamps. However, if you are interested in other cultures, other countries and distant lands – do no miss it.
Amsterdam Tropenmuseum exhibit is modern, fascinating on many levels and inspiring. […] Modern and intelligent presentation makes the visit pleasant to a larger public, including children. | More information: www.amsterdam.info/museums/tropenmuseum
Some notes on Rabindranath Tagore and his role in fostering “sympathy of the East and West” during his visit to The Netherlands in fall 1920
In his poetry, for which he received the Nobel Prize for Literature as Asia’s first awardee in 1913, Tagore uses musical instruments as metaphors for self-realization and transcendence; notably the vina (or “veena”, often translated as “harp”) and the flute. In a letter to Frederik van Eeden, his Dutch translator, he wrote:
“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. I am sure you have seen me in my book and I shall never be able to make myself seen to you when we meet; for the body of the lamp is dark, it has no expression, only its flame has the language.” (signed in London, 9 August 1913) 
This recurring motif may excuse the amusing blunder by a cartoon character (the alter ego of the museum’s former Curator for South Asia), who hails Tagore as “India’s greatest flautist”! 
In an earlier letter to Van Eeden, written seven years before visiting the Netherlands, Tagore wrote:
“Still I cannot deny that this award of the Nobel Prize has been a great thing. It is the handshake of sympathy of the East and West across the water – it has proclaimed the oneness of humanity.” (signed in Shanti Niketan, 12 December 1913) 
In 1920 Tagore spoke before packed houses including the “free congregation”: the humanistic and cosmopolitan “Vrije Gemeente” whose highly placed members had built a magnificent church at the Weteringschans in Amsterdam. (It now houses Amsterdam’s prime pop venue, known as “Paradiso”.)
Tagore’s lecture tour made a lasting impression on countless listeners:
“Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and the Dutch writer, psychiatrist and Utopist Frederik van Eeden (1860-1932) exchanged correspondence between 1913 and 1928, and met in Amsterdam in 1920. When Van Eeden discovered Tagore’s poetry in 1913, he experienced a feeling of profound recognition and went on to translate a considerable amount of Tagore’s poetic work into Dutch, starting with Gitanjali [Wijzangen]. Van Eeden’s translations became very popular in the Netherlands, also among composers.” 
Van Eeden’s father (the elder Frederick van Eeden) was in fact the co-founder of what later became the Tropenmuseum, established as the “Colonial Museum” in nearby Haarlem in 1864. The grand building in Amsterdam dates from 1923. 
 Learn more about Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Frederik van Eeden (1860-1932) and the spread of Tagore’s educational ideas through Noto Soeroto in “Tagore in The Netherlands” by Liesbeth Meyer: www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pMeyer.html
(visited 14 March 2016)
 For the record: it is a well known fact that Tagore did not play any musical instrument other than the drone:
“I practiced my songs with my tamburā resting on my shoulder.” (My Boyhood Days, p. 38,Calcutta: Visva-Bharati 1997).
Later he was depicted as playing a similar string instrument, namely as a participant in his own music dramas (see the detail from Abanindranath Tagore’s painting reproduced here). So if you visit the exhibition and watch its audiovisual contents, kindly ignore this blunder by an over-enthusiastic museum team member. Here you may enjoy the rare and instructive media contents supplied by many contributors including the Embassy of India in The Hague.
 More information is found in the English Abstract by Rokus de Groot for his article titled “Van Eeden en Tagore. Ethiek en muziek” in Tijdschrift van de Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis, D. 49ste, Afl. 2de (1999), pp. 98-147. The abstract and article (in Dutch) are found here: www.jstor.org
 In 1923 the building on the corner of Mauritskade and Linnaeusstraat was completed and the collections from Haarlem could be moved to Amsterdam. On 9 October 1926 Queen Wilhelmina officially opened the new Colonial Institute. The history of the Tropenmuseum is outlined here (in English): www.geheugenvannederland.nl/?/en/instellingen/tropenmuseum
Listen to “Tagore: Unlocking Cages” from the series of podcasts by BBC 4 titled “Incarnations: India in 50 Lives”. Sunil Khilnani tells the story of the Bengali writer and thinker Rabindranath Tagore. The series is found here: http://bbc.in/1KVh4Cf
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).
The creation of art, music, painting and dance elevates man from a mere being to a personal man. The personality of man, according to Tagore, is “conscious of its inexhaustible abundance; it has the paradox in it that it is more than itself; it is more than as it is seen, as it is known, as it is used. And this consciousness of the infinite, in the personal man, ever strives to make its expressions immortal and to make the whole world its own.”
The flute has played a key role in India’s artistic life since antiquity. This is evident from writings on dance-drama, mythology, sculptures and paintings. Its playing technique must have been highly developed for a very long time. Different names are used for it, for instance kuzhal (pronounced like “kulal” or “kural”) in Tamil speaking regions; and bansuri in northern India. In poetry, song lyrics, classical dance items and films, words like venu and murali evoke its association with Krishna, the ‘dark skinned’ cowherd and flute player.
Early Tamil and Sanskrit poets describe the creation of the original bamboo flute. This did not even require any human intervention: it is an easily observed fact that bumble bees make holes in bamboo stems (Sanskrit vamsha) for their nests. These openings later invite the wind to create ever changing tunes in bamboo groves like those found in some parts of the Western Ghats. Here, and in the hills of North-East India, grow the varieties of bamboo preferred by flute makers.
The nest holes made by some insects have indeed the same size as the blowing and finger holes still seen in most bamboo flutes. Any human being living close to nature is bound to be inspired by such phenomena while making music, dancing or telling stories. As expressed in song lyrics, these sounds are remembered as enchanting experiences and therefore regarded as a gift from heaven. Listening to the nuances of bird song has further contributed to a musical symbiosis that emerges time again in different places. The symbolism associated with the seven notes – and also the rāgas derived from them – still echoes such deeply rooted sentiments.
It hardly surprises, therefore, that Pannalal Ghosh, the pioneer of Hindustani flute music, was influenced by tribal musicians belonging to the Santal people.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), India’s first Nobel laureate, established his Santiniketan school and Viswa-BharatiUniversity amidst Santal villages. He compares the infinite Being to a flute player whose ‘music of beauty and love helps us to transcend our egotistic preoccupations’.*
The world famous poet, composer, pedagogue, painter and scholar is part of a tradition wherein barriers such as language and faith are best overcome with the help of music. His poetry also reminds us of the fact that the flute is the most ‘democratic’ of all instruments. * Source: My memories of Einstein (German ed. ’Meine Erinnerungen an Einstein’, 1931) in Das Goldene Boot, Winkler Weltliteratur, Blaue Reihe (2005) – WorldCat.org >>
Ludwig Pesch specialized in the Carnatic bamboo flute at Kalakshetra College under the guidance of Ramachandra Shastry (1906-1992) whom he accompanied on many occasions. More>>
Das wichtigste Begleitinstrument Indiens zierte die Salons von Fürsten, Kaufleuten und Kurtisanen bevor es vor über hundert Jahren im öffentlichen Konzertleben Einzug hielt. Mancherorts ist es auch als Tānpūra bekannt. Seine heutige Form mit meist vier Saiten ist seit dem 17. Jahrhundert bekannt. Es 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 des Grundtons ‘Sa’. Dieser wird je nach Stimmlage oder Soloinstrument frei gewählt. Als Halteton (Bordun) bildet er den Ausgangspunkt für melodische Gestalten, die man als Rāga (‘Färbung’)bezeichnet. Ein reicher Fundus recht unterschiedlicher Ragas ermöglicht es Komponisten wie Musikern, jede nur denkbare Stimmung (Rasa) auszudrücken.