The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Hagop Kevorkian Fund Special Exhibitions Gallery

August 5, 2014 - January 11, 2015

Ostad Elahi (1895–1974) was a renowned Persian musician, thinker, and jurist whose transformative work in the art of tanbur—an ancient, long-necked lute—paralleled his innovative approach to the quest for truth and self-knowledge. Beginning August 5 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition will document the interdependent, mutually transformative relationship between player and instrument through a presentation of nearly forty rare instruments and works of art from the Elahi collection, the Musée de la Musique, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum. The exhibition will include rare tanburs that belonged to Ostad Elahi and his father, who was also a great tanbur player; a number of Ostad's personal possessions, such as his judicial robes and a selection of manuscripts; as well as symbolic items that provide greater insights into his disciplined approach to life.

Small-bodied, long-necked plucked stringed instruments have been used in central and western Asia since the third millennium B.C. They appeared first in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and in their long history have been used for both secular and sacred music in regions ranging from Egypt and Greece to central and western Asia and India. The tanbur became a sacred, venerated instrument used by dervishes in the mystical order of the Ahl-e Haqq ("Fervents of Truth"), founded in the late 14th century. The members of the order are primarily from western Iran and Iraq and use the instrument for contemplation, meditation, and sacred chants.

Nour Ali Elahi, later known as Ostad Elahi, was raised in western Iran and learned tanbur from his father, Hadj Nematollah, a charismatic mystic and poet who attracted tanbur players from as far as Turkey and India. As a young child, because his hands were so small, Ostad played a tanbur built from a wooden ladle, eventually graduating to the larger instrument. Under his father's tutelage and influenced by the players who came to hear his father's teaching, Ostad rapidly absorbed multiple musical styles and playing techniques, becoming a consummate master of the tanbur by the age of nine.

The exhibition is featured on the Museum's website at, and is presented under the patronage of UNESCO.

The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi


The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi
September 6, 2014 | 6pm
Tanbur Workshop
November 15, 2014 | 10:30am
Echoes from Beyond: The Art of Ostad Elahi
November 15, 2014 | 2pm
Sunday at the MET
November 16, 2014 | 3pm