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Music of india

Music of india


Throughout the ages, man has sought to express the stirrings of his soul, the search for something beyond the mundane through the medium of the arts.

The evolution of poetry, painting and other visual arts has been preserved on stone, leaves and paper but music being auditory, no such evidence exists. As such it is not possible to listen today to the music of the ancient times.

Inspite of such a variety of cultural interactions, our music has remained essentially melodic. In melody, one note follows the other, making for a continued unity of effect, whereas in harmony musical sounds are superimposed on one another. Our classical music has retained its melodic quality.

Today we recognise two systems of classical music: the Hindustani and the Carnatic. Carnatic music is confined to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The classical music of the rest of the country goes under the name, Hindustani Classical Music. Of course. there are some areas in Karnataka and Andhra where the Hindustani Classical system is also practiced. Karnataka has given us in the recent past some very distinguished musicians of the Hindustani style.

It is generally believed that the music of India was more or less uniform before the 13th century. Later it bifurcated into the two musical systems.

The present Indian music has grown from ancient times. Almost every tribe or people have lent their own share in this growth. What therefore, we now call a raga might have started as a tribal or folk tune.


It is usual to begin the history of Indian music with the melodic patterns of vedic chanting. The oldest music, which possessed a grammar was the vedic. Of course, the Rig-Veda is said to be the oldest: nearly 5000 years old. The psalms of the Rig-Veda were called the richas. TheYajur Veda was also a religious chant. But actual music in Northern or Southern India, of those bygone days could not have only been of this kind. There were non-Aryan people with their own art. For instance, Santhal music from the Eastern region of India may have been passed down from them. While the differences are obvious, there is no doubt that such music of the people contributed to the formation of what we now call Hindustani Classical Music.

Natya Shastra of Bharata is another important landmark in the history of Indian music. It is supposed to have been written sometime between the 2nd century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. Some scholars are even doubtful whether it is the work of one author and the work might well have been a compendium – at least, the version which is available to us. The Natya Shastra is a comprehensive work mainly dealing with dramaturgy. But a few chapters of this deal with music. Therein we get information on scales, melodic forms, tala and musical instruments. The then contemporary music recognized two standard scales. These were called gramas. The word grama is itself perhaps derivable from the idea of group or sect: a village, for instance. This probably lead to a set of svaras or notes being calledgrama. This could roughly be translated as scales. There were then two gramas prevalent. One was called the Shadja grama, the other one was the Madhyama grama. The difference between the two was only in one note, the panchama. To speak more accurately. we say that the panchama in madhyama grama was one sruti lower than the panchama in shadja grama.


The sruti thus is the unit of measure or small difference between the various consecutive pitches within a grama or a scale. For all practical purposes they are said to be twenty two. This is only as far as practical enumeration is concerned. just as we would say that there are seven notes in an octave or saptak – from Sa to upper Sa. But in reality the number of srutis employed in Indian music is infinite.

Getting back to gramas in Bharata’s time, there were two, with seven notes each. Bharata also mentions two other note: these were the antara gandhara and kakali nishada.


Now, from each grama subsidiary scales are derived. These are called moorcchanas. The notes are played or sung in a descending manner. There are seven basic notes in a scale, hence there can be seven moorcchanas. There were two gramas and each had seven standard notes and two auxiliary ones, as was mentioned. Since each note could give a moorcchana, numerous such subsidiary scales could be obtained. It is possible to show that there could be sixty-four moorcchanas derivable from two gramas. The process gave different tonal orders within which could be grouped or from which could be evolved, all known classical melodies of those days. This condition remained for many centuries. In approximately the 13th century A.D. Sarangadeva – whose forefathers hailed from Kashmir – settled in South India and wrote his monumental Sangeeta Ratankara. He also described technical terms such as gramas and moorcchanas. The standard scales were still the same. But whereas Bharata mentions two auxiliary svaras, the number and definition of these were very different in medieval times.

The whole scheme, what is often called the modal music, seems so strange to us now. But there is no doubting the fact that it was a very highly advanced and a scientific one.

From about the 11th century, music from Central and West Asia began to influence our music tradition. Gradually this influence took a deeper root and many changes took place. Of these, an important one is the disappearance of gramas and moorcchanas.

Sometime around about the 15th century, this process of change became manifest, the grama system became obsolete. The concept of mela or thata takes its place. In this there is only one standard scale. All known notes are referred to a common note Sa.

By about the 18th century even the standard or shuddha svara in Hindustani music becomes different. The following is the current one, accepted from the 18th century.

Sa re ga ma pa dha ni

This is the mela aaroh of the modern raga Bilaval. Besides these seven shuddha notes or svaras there are five variants, making in all twelve notes to a saptak.

Sa re re ga ga ma ma pa dha dha ni ni

There are, of course, finer variations: these are the shrutis, It is better, therefore, to call these 12 tonal regions rather than notes.


All known ragas are grouped within this twelve tone scale. Indeed. it was a Carnatic musicologist – Venkatmukhi of the 17th century, who gave a system of 72 melas formed out of these twelve tones. Later on, in the 20th century, Pt. Bhatkhande, chose 10 out of the 72 to classify Hindustani ragas.

So far we have been speaking of scales: the grama, moorcchana and mela. These are obviously concepts developed after melodies were born. No folk singer thinks of a grama or a mela. The tribal and folk songs existed and still exist without a conscious grammar. It is the musicologist who later classifies melodies or ragas into scales.

We shall now turn our attention to the melodic structures. Again it is to the Vedas that we must turn for the first codified melody. In theNatya Shastra of Bharata are found descriptions of melodic forms called jati. How they were sung or played, we have no idea; but some salient points can be called from Natya Shastra and later commentaries. Every one of these jatis could be put in some moorcchana or the other. They were distinguished by characteristics like the graha (starting note) nyasa (note on which a phrase stops). the range of notes – from low pitch to high – and so on. Many scholars are of the opinion that the concept of raga which is so basic to our music, was born and developed out of jati. The major work dealing with the raga is the Brihaddesi of Matanga. The work is dated around the 6th century, A.D. By this time, the idea of the raga as a melodic scheme had become clear and well defined. Matanga was from the southern areas of India, to be specific he was from Carnatic. This shows that up to this era, at least, the grammar of Indian music was more or less one throughout the country. Secondly, what he deals with is desi music. That is why he had titled the work Brihaddesi.

A characteristic contribution of India to musical rhythm is the tala. Tala is a cyclic arrangement of time units. The basic units of time division are laghu, guru, and pluta. These are actually derived from poetic prosody. Laghu comprises one syllable,guru two, and plutathree. There are also larger units. Bharata’s Natya Shastra gives details of construction of tala out of various time units, how they should be played and so on. Later authors developed a scheme of 108 talas. Besides some ancient talas new ones, as for example, Firdost, seem to have entered Hindustani music. The most important aspect of playing the tala in the Hindustani system has been the development of the ideas of theka. This technique is characteristic of Hindustani music. A theka is the definition of a tala by the stroke of a tabla. Each stroke on the drum has a name called a bol or syllable. For instance, dha, ta, ghe. etc.

In any language one can have an epic, a sonnet, a lyric, a short story and so on. Similarly, given a raga and a tala, various musical forms have been created. Right from ancient times, musical forms can be divided into two broad categories. These were the anibaddhaand the nibaddha sangeeta. The first may be called the open or free form and the second as the closed or bound form.

Anibaddha sangeeta is one which is not restricted by meaningful words and tala. It is a free improvisation. The finest form is the alap.

Of the nibaddha variety, there are many. The earliest about which some knowledge is available is the prabandha giti. Indeed,prabandha is often used as a generic term to indicate any nibaddha song or musical composition. We have little evidence of these closed forms, except that they were set to definite ragas and talas. Of all known prabandhas those of Jayadeva are the best known. This poet lived in Bengal in the 12th century and composed his Gita Govinda, a Sanskrit work with songs and verses. The songs are ashtapadis: that is, each song has eight couplets. Today, the songs have spread throughout the country and each region has its own style. As a matter of fact, singers have taken the liberty of giving the prabandhas their own tunes. In the face of this, it is impossible to determine the original tunes of the ashtapadis.


The popularity of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda is due to many reasons. The first, naturally is the intrinsic poetic beauty of the work almost unequalled. It also lent itself to dance and any conceivable style of music. Again, it was in Sanskrit, thus transcending many linguistic barriers. Besides all this, the greatest significant force sustaining it is bhakti. Bhakti or adoration is as old as man. It really is a state of mind beseeching the Lord.

While the Godhead takes on many forms to the bhakta, as Shiva or as Parabrahma – the Bhagavata, as the story of the ten avatarasof Sri Vishnu, has captured the Indian mind. Round this were woven songs and hymns, preachings and psalms of these two travelled in waves to North India to give us singer saints like Jayadeva ,Chaitanya, Sankardeva, Kabir, Tulsi, Meera, Tukaram, Eknath, Narsi and Nanak. This bhakti movement engulfed all religions and classes including the sufis. It has given us numerous devotional forms such asabhangas, kirtans, bhajans, baul songs.

The next great formal aspect in Nibaddha Sangeet is met within the Dhrupad. It is believed to have been a further elaboration of theprabandha structure. While it might have had an impetus for popularity even by the 14th century, it finds a blossoming period from 15th century onwards to about the 18th century. During these centuries we meet the most respected and renowned singers and patrons of this form. There was Man Singh Tomar, the Maharaja of Gwalior. It was he who was mainly responsible for the enormous vogue of dhrupad. There were Baiju, Bakshu and others. Swami Haridasa a hermit of Brindavan was not only a dhrupadiya, but one of the most central figures in the Bhakti cult in the Northern areas of India. By tradition he was the guru of Tansen, one of the best known dhrupad singers and one of the nine jewels of Emperor Akbar’s court.

In structure dhrupad has two parts, the anibaddha section and the sanchari dhrupad proper. The first is free alap. The dhrupad proper is a song in four parts: the asthayee, the antara, the Sanchari and the abhoga.

The essential quality of the dhrupadic approach is its sombre atmosphere and emphasis on rhythm.

There were four schools or vanis of singing the dhrupad. The Gauhar vani developed the raga or unadorned melodic figures. The Dagarvani emphasized melodic curves and graces. The Khandar vani specialised in quick ornamentation of the notes. Nauhar vani was known for its broad musical leaps and jumps. These vanis ‘are now indistinguishable.

The dhrupad is even now highly respected and can be heard on the concert platform but more often in temples of North India. Thedhrupad has somewhat receded to the background and is not so popular with the masses. The Been and Pakhawaj which were closely associated with the dhrupad also do not find much patronage these days.


Today the pride of place in classical Hindustani Music is occupied by the Khyal. We are really not sure about the beginning of the Khyal. The word is alien and means ‘imagination’. And as you will find when you hear it is more lyrical than the dhrupad. But whether the musical form itself is foreign. is a matter of doubt. Some scholars are of the opinion that in fact, it has its roots in the ancient Indian roopaka alaps. It is also said that Amir Khusrou of the 13th century gave it an impetus. Sultan Mohammed Sharkhi of the 15th century is credited with encouraging this form. However, it attained its maturity at the hands of Niyamat Khan Sadarang and Adarang of the 18th century.

As sung today, the khyal has two varieties: the slow or vilambit khyal and the fast or drut khyal. In form both are similar, they have two sections – the asthayee and the antara. The vilambit is sung in slow tempo and the drut at a faster speed. In technique. the exposition is less grave than the dhrupad. There are more delicate gamkas and ornamentations.

Both types of khyals have two sections. The asthayee and the antara. The asthayee mostly confines itself to the low and middle octaves. The antara generally moves in the middle and upper octaves. Together asthayee and antara make one song, a composition, or bandish, ‘cheez’ as it is called. As a total work it reveals the essence of the raga in which it is set.

Comparable to the vanis of the dhrupads, we have gharanas, in the khyal. These are schools of singing founded or developed by various individuals or patrons such as kings or noblemen.

The oldest of these is the Gwalior gharana. The father of this school was one Nathan Peerbaksh, who settled down in Gwalior, and hence the name. He had two grandsons Haddu Khan and Hassu Khan who lived in the 19th century and were regarded as great masters of this style. The qualities of this gharana are an open voice clear enunciation of words, a comprehensive attention to raga. svara andtala. Some of the prominent musicians of this gharana are Krishna Rao Shankar Pandit, Raja Bhaiya Poonchwale etc.

The Agra Gharana is said to have been founded by one Khuda Baksh of Agra. He had studied with Nathan Peerbaksh of Gwalior, but developed his own style. Here again the voice is open and clear, a speciality of this gharana is its bol taan: that is, a fast or mediumlayakari passage using the bols or words of the song. The song itself is rendered in medium tempo. Of the most well known musicians of this gharana in recent times are Vilayat Hussain Khan and Fayyaz Khan.


The Jaipur Atroli gharana is said to take off directly from dhrupad. It is associated with Alladiya Khan of the 19th-20th century. The khyal is always in medium speed. The words are pronounced clearly and in an open and clear voice. The distinguishing characters are the passages which are primarily based on alankars – that is. repetitive melodic motifs – and an almost metronomic insistence of tala division. Some of the prominent musicians of recent times are Mallikarjun Mansur, Kishori Amonkar etc.

Finally we come to the Rampur Saheswan gharana. Since the earlier singers came from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, this school has come to be called so. The slow and fast Khayals usually are followed by a Tarana. The style is very lyrical and full of finer tonal embroidery. Nisar Hussain Khan, Rashid Khan are the two prominent musicians of recent times belonging to this gharana.


Thumri and Tappa are popular types heard in concerts. The thumri is very lyrical in its structure and presentation. These forms are termed as ‘semi’ or ‘light’ classical. Thumri is a love song and hence the textual beauty is very important. This is closely coordinated with the musical rendition. And keeping in mind its mood a thumri is usually set to ragas like Khamaj, Kaphi, Bhairavi and so on and the musical grammar is not strictly adered to. There are two styles of thumri singing: the Poorab or Banaras which is fairly slow and staid and the Punjab style which is more mercurial. Rasoolan Devi, Siddheshwari Devi are prominent musicians of this style.

The Tappa consists of the song uttered in fast note patterns. It is a difficult composition and needs much practice. Both the Thumriand Tappa require special training as do the Dhrupad and Khyal forms of singing. Ragas in which Tappa compositions are set remain same as in Thumri style. Pt. L.K. Pandit, Malini Rajurkar are names who specialize this form of singing.

The history of the system of music that prevailed in India from ancient times, goes back to the Vedas. The Indian musical system shows to what heights the genius of man could soar in quest of new forms of musical expression. Apart from its entertainment value, music was cherished and practised for its quality of lifting mankind to a nobler plane, enabling the soul to attain eternal bliss. The perfect tone system and the extensive raga and tala systems of Indian music, make it comparable with any other sophisticated musical system of the world.

The earliest treatise we have on music is the Natya Sastra of Bharata. Other treatises on music after Bharata, such as the Brihaddesi of Matanga, Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sharangadeva, Sangeet Sudhakara of Haripala, Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya, etc., provide us a fund of information about the different aspects of music and its development during the different periods.

The ancient Tamils of South India had also developed an highly evolved system of music with its solfa methods, concordant and discordant notes, scales and modes, etc. A number of instruments were also used to accompany song and dance. The Tamil classic of the 2nd century A.D. titled the Silappadhikaram contains a vivid description of the music of that period. The Tolkappiyam, Kalladam and the contributions of the Saivite and Vaishnavite saints of the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. also serve as resource material for studying musical history.

The course of the evolution of Indian music saw the emergence of two different sub systems as Hindustani and Carnatic music. In Haripala’s “Sangeeta Sudhakara”, written in the 14th century A.D., the terms Carnatic and Hindustani are found for the first time. The two distinct styles, Hindustani and Carnatic came into vogue after the advent of the Muslims, particularly during the reign of the Mughal Emperors of Delhi. Both the systems of music received their nourishment from the same original source. Whereas the Indian music of the Northern part of India assimilated some features of the music of the Persian and Arabic musicians who adorned the courts of the Mughal rulers of Delhi, the music of the South continued to develop along its own original lines. But the fundamental aspects of both the systems of the North and South have been the same.

It is said, that South Indian Music, as known today, flourished in Deogiri the capital city of the Yadavas in the middle ages, and that after the invasion and plunder of the city by the Muslims, the entire cultural life of the city took shelter in the Carnatic Empire of Vijayanagar under the reign of Krishnadevaraya. Thereafter, the music of South India came to be known as Carnatic Music.

The advent of Purandaradasa, in the year 1484, marked a very important landmark in the development of Carnatic music. He effected such a thorough systematisation and refinement in the art, that, up to the present day, it has remained the same. He has been justly termed as “Carnatic Sangeeta Pitamaha”. He was not merely a composer but a Lakshanakara of the highest calibre. The system of South Indian Music, as we have it now, is entirely his gift to posterity. He introduced the Malavagowla scale as the basic scale for music instruction. He also framed graded exercises, forming part of the series of lessons to beginners of music. This system prevails even today in the teaching of music. The Svaravalis, Janta varisas, the Suladi Sapta tala alankaras and gitams, composed by Purandaradasa, form the basis for mastery in the art. Among the compositional types, he has to his credit numerous lakshya gitams and lakshna gitams, tana varnams, tillanas, suladis, ugabhogas, vritta namas and kirtanas. His kirtanas are popularly referred to as Dasara Padas or Devarnamas.

Moving into the 17th century, the history of Carnatic music saw the epoch-making scheme of the 72 Melakartas, introduced by Venkatamakhi and laid down in his monumental work Chaturdandi Prakasika in the year 1620 A.D. The Melakarta scheme is a highly comprehensive and systematic formula which includes within its fold all the modes used in ancient as well as modern systems of music of the different parts of the world. The scheme opened out new vistas of raga creation and later composers like Tyagaraja invented many a beautiful raga by following it.

In the field of practical music, South India had a succession of brilliant and prolific composers who enriched the art with thousands of compositions. After Purandaradasa, Tallapakam Annamacharya Narayana Tirtha, Bhadra-chalam Ramdasa and Kshetranja made contributions to the wealth of compositions

The birth of the Musical Trinity – Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri – at Tiruvarur between the years 1750 to 1850 A.D. ushered in an era of dynamic development in Carnatic music. The Trinity were not only contemporaries among themselves but, also contemporaries of great composers of Western Music, as Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner and Haydn. It was the ‘Golden Age’ of music throughout the world. Carnatic music reached its pinnacle of artistic excellence during this period.

A galaxy of composers in the post-Trinity period kept the banner of Carnatic music flying high. Vina Kuppayyar, Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer, Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar, Mysore Sadasiva Rao, Mysore Vasudevathar and Papanasam Sivan are only a few names to be mentioned here.

The Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini, written by Subbarama Dikshithar in the year 1904, serves as an authority for information regarding the music, musicians and composers of the previous centuries.

Many of the musicians and composers of the South were closely acquainted with the Hindustani system of music also and wherever permissible, adopted Hindustani ragas for their compositions. The ragas Yaman Kalyan, Hamir Kalyan, Malkaunsa, Brindavani Sarang, Jaijaivanti, etc. were adopted in their compositions by the Musical Trinity. Raga Kaphi, Kanada, Khamaj, Paraj, Purvi, Bhairav, etc. bear a very close resemblance to their counterparts in the Hindustani system of music.

There are musical forms belonging to Nibadha and Anibadha Sangeeta, that is, Kalpita sangeeta and Manodharma sangeeta or improvised music. All these forms are generally classified under different heads, as Sacred music, Art music, etc. The several forms under these heads possess distinctive characteristics of their own. The ancient musical forms like Prabandhas, etc. gradually gave away to the different musicals forms that are in use in present day music, though the basic elements of the ancient Prabandhas are still retained in the modern forms. The following musical forms offer interesting study:


Gitam is the simplest type of composition. Taught to beginners of music, the gitam is very simple in construction, with an easy and melodious flow of music. The music of this form is a simple melodic extension of the raga in which it is composed. The tempo is uniform. It has no sections dividing one part of the song from the other. It is sung without repetition from the beginning to the end. There are no intricate variations in the music. The theme of the song is usually devotional, though there are a few gitas in praise of musical luminaries and Acharyas. A notable feature of the gitam is the existence of gitalankara phrases like a iya, a iyam, va iya, etc., called matrika padas, reminiscent of similar syllables occuring in Sama gana. Gitas have been composed in Sanskrit, Kannada and Bhandira bhasha. Purandaradasa’s introductory gitas in praise of Ganesha, Maheswara and Vishnu, collectively referred to as Pillari gitas, form the very first set of gitas taught to the students of music. As distinguished from the type of gitas described above, known as Lakshya gitas or Samanya gitas, which, as the name itself suggests, describe the Lakshanas of the raga in which they are composed. Paidala Gurumurti Sastry was a prolific composer of gitas after Purandaradasa. Venkatamakhi too has composed many Lakshana gitas.


Very much like the gitam in musical structure and arrangement, the Suladis are of a higher standard than the gitam. The Suladi is a talamalika, the sections being in different talas. The sahitya syllables are fewer than in the gitas and there is a profusion of vowel extensions. The theme is devotional. Suladis are composed in different tempos vilambita, madhya and druta. Purandaradasa has composed many Suladis.


This is learnt after a course in gitams. More complicated than the gitas, the Svarajati paves the way for the learning of the Varnams. It consists of three sections, called Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam. The theme is either devotional, heroic or amorous. It originated as a dance form with jatis (tala, solfa syllables like taka tari kita naka tatin gina tam) tagged on. But later, Syama Sastri, one among the Musical Trinity, composed svarajatis without jatis, which are brilliant concert pieces, noted for their musical value.


Very similar to the svarajati in musical structure, this form- Jatisvaram-has no sahitya or words. The piece is sung with solfa syllables only. It is noted for its rhythmical excellence and the jati pattern used in it. This is a musical form belonging to the realm of dance music. In some Jatisvarams, the Pallavi and Anupallavi are sung to jatis and the Charanas are sung to a mixture of svaras and jatis. There are also Ragamalika Jatisvarams.


The Varnam is a musical form in Carnatic Music. Whereas musical forms like the Kirtana, Kriti, Javali, Tillana, etc. have their similar counterparts in Hindustani Music, the Varnam does not find a counterpart. The Varnam is a beautiful creation of musical craftsmanship of a high order, combining in itself all the characteristic features of the raga in which it is composed. This form is aptly called a Varnam, since many of the svara group patterns called ‘Varnas’ in ancient music, are dexterously interwoven in its texture. Practice in Varnam singing helps a musician to attain mastery in presentation and command over raga, tala and bhava. The vocalist gets a good training for the voice and the instrumentalist a good mastery over technique. Very few words and profusion of vowels mark the sahitya of this form. The theme of the piece is either bhakti (devotion) or sringara (love).

There are two types of varnams, one called the Tana Varnam and the other called the Pada Varnam. While the former is a musical/concert form, the latter is purely a dance form. There are two angas or sections in a varnam, known as the Purvanga constituting the pallavi, anupallavi and the muktayi svaras, and the Uttaranga or the Ettukadai, comprising the charanam and the charana svaras. The pada varnam has sahityarn or words for all the angas unlike the tana varnam which has sahityam only for the pallavi, anupallavi and charanam.

Varnams have been composed in all the major ragas and most of the minor ragas, in all the principal talas. Pachchimiriyam Adiyappayya, Sonti Venkatsubbayya, Syama Sastri, Swati Tirunal, Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer, Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar and Mysore Vasudevachar were prominent composers of Varnams.


The Kirtanam had its birth about the latter half of the 14th century. It is valued for the devotional content of the sahitya. Clothed in simple music, the kirtanam abounds in Bhakti bhava. It is suited for congregational singing as well as individual presentation. The Talapakam composers of the 15th century were the first to compose kirtanas with the sections, pallavi, anupallavi and charanas. Usually there are more than two charanas the music of all of them being the same. Composed in all the important traditional ragas and set to simple talas, the kirtanas offer soul-stirring music of the highest form of devotion. Bhadrachalam Ramadasa and Tyagaraja were prolific composers of Kirtanams.


The Kriti is a development from the Kirtana. It is an highly evolved musical form. The highest limit of aesthetic excellence is reached in the Kriti composition. The raga bhava is brought out in all the rich and varied colours in this form. It was only after the emergence of the kriti as a musical form, that a definite style in musical compositions became a possibility. The pallavi, anupallavi and charanam are the minimum and essential angas of a kriti. The pallavi is sung first, followed by the anupallavi and ends with the pallavi. The charanam is sung next and linked with the pallavi before ending. The Carnatic music world owes its debt of gratitude to the Musical trinity for having made such a monumental contribution in the field of nibaddha sangeeta, in the form of kritis. There are kritis in all the existing ragas and in all the principal talas. The kriti as a musical form has many features in common with the Dhrupad of Hindustani music. Muthuswamy Dikshitar has composed many kritis in the Dhrupad style.

Besides the essential angas, many decorative angas are also appended to kritis for embellishment. They are (a) Chittasvaras or a set of solfa passages, sung at the end of the anupallavi and charanam, (b) Svara-sahitya – an appropriate sahitya is supplied for the chittasvara, (c) Madhyamakala sahitya – an integral part of the kriti, (d) Solkattu svara – resembling the chittasvara, this has jatis along with svaras, (e) Sangati – variations on a musical theme, developed step by step, (f) Gamaka – the dhatu is flooded with gamakas, (g) Svarakshara dhatu matu alankara, where the svara and the sahitya are identical, (h) Manu-pravala beauty – words of two or three languages figure in the sahitya of a kriti, (i) Prosodical beauties like Prasa, Anuprasa, Yati and Yamaka also figure mainly in many of the Kritis.


Padas are scholarly compositions in Telegu and Tamil. Though they are composed mainly as dance forms, they are also sung in concerts, on account of their musical excellence and aesthetic appeal. A padam also has the sections, pallavi, anupallavi and charana. The music is slow-moving and dignified. There is a natural flow of music and, sustained balance between the words and the music is maintained throughout. The theme is madhura bhakti, portrayed as bahir sringara and antar bhakti. The characters nayaka, nayika and sakhi represent respectively the Lord (Paramatma), the Devotees (jeevatma) and the Guru, who leads the devotee on to the path of mukti (liberation) by his sage counsel. Various rasas are depicted in all their delicate shades, through suitable ragas which reflect such rasas. All the nava rasas are portrayed in padas, though sringara is the main theme.

The pada, when sung, presents an epitome of the raga in which it is composed. Ragas specially noted for evoking typical rasa bhavas, such as Anandabhairavi, Sahana, Nilambari, Ahiri, Ghanta, Mukhari, Huseni, Surati, Sourashtram and Punnagavarali, to mention only a few are specially chosen for padas. Kshetrajana is the most prolific composer of padas.


A javali is a composition belonging to the sphere of light classical music. Sung both in concert programmes and dance concerts, the javalis are popular because of the attractive melodies in which they are composed. In contrast to the padas which portray divine love, javalis are songs which are sensuous in concept and spirit. They are generally set in madhyama kala. In these forms also, the nayaka, nayika and sakhi figure is the theme, but, there is no dual interpretation of the sahitya. The catchy and lilting tunes of the javalis enhance their appeal. Desya ragas like Paraj, Kaphi, Behag, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, etc. have also been used in these compositions. Javalis are composed in Telugu, Kannada and Tamil. This form resembles the Thumris of Hindustani Music.


The Tillana, corresponding to the Tarana of Hindustani music, is a short and crisp form. It is mainly a dance form, but on account of its brisk and attractive music, it sometimes finds a place in music concerts as a conclusion piece. It usually begins with jatis.

The name Tillana is constituted of the rhythmic syllables, ti la na. It is the liveliest of musical forms. This form is said to have had its birth in the 18th century. The sahitya of a tillana may be in Sanskrit, Telugu or Tamil. The presence of rhythmical solfa syllables alongwith a sprinkling of sahitya enhance the beauty of the form of the Tillana. The music is of comparatively slow tempo in Tillanas meant for dance purposes. The pallavi and anupallavi consists of jatis and the charana has sahitya, jatis and svaras. Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar, Pallavi Seshayyar and Swati Tirunal are some of the prominent composers of Tillanas.


This is the most important branch of creative music. It is in this branch of manodharma sangeeta, that the musician has ample opportunities of displaying his or her creative talents, imaginative skill, and musical intelligence. The term Pallavi is coined from the initial syllables of the three words: Padam, meaning words; Layam, meaning time and Vinyasam, meaning variations. The words chosen for a Pallavi may be either in Sanskrit, Telugu or Tamil and may be on any theme, though the devotional is always preferred. Neither the sahitya nor the music is precomposed. The singer has the choice to choose the sahitya, the raga and the tala. The two parts Prathamangam and Dvityangam are divided by the period of a short pause, called Padagarbham. The sahityam is repeated again and again, as the musical variations develop and proceed in stages of increasing complexity. The Khyal of Hindustani music has very much in common with the Pallavi of Carnatic music. Kalpana svaras are sung to the Pallavi after the different stages of development, including the Sangatis, Anuloma and Pratiloma (singing the theme in double and quadruple speeds and vice-versa) are sung. Sometimes the kalpana svaras are sung in different ragas to present a Ragamalika Pallavi.

‘Niraval ‘ literally means filling up by adjustments. In musical parlance, it refers to the art of singing the sahitya within the rhythmical setting, with improvisations in the musical theme. A suitable line of the sahitya from a kriti is chosen and musical improvisation is done within each cycle of the tala. Niraval is a must in Pallavis and an option in Kritis.


This is a branch of raga alapana. It is raga alapana in Madhyamakala or medium speed. There is perceptible rhythm in this. The rhythmical flow of music, flowing in fascinating patterns, makes tanam singing the most captivating part of raga exposition. The word ‘Anantam ‘ is dexterously used to merge with the musical patterns.

To sum up; the outstanding feature of Carnatic music is its raga system, in the concept of which, the ideal or ‘absolute music’ is reached, and the highly developed and intricate tala system, which has made it extremely scientific and systematic and unique in all respects. Though clear cut demarcations in the style of musical presentation, similar to the gharanas of Hindustani music are not seen in Carnatic music, yet, we do come across different styles in rendering compositions.

Cultural traditions from various regions of the country reflect the rich diversity of Regional Music of India. Each region has its own particular style.

Tribal and folk music is not taught in the same way that Indian classical music is taught.  There is no formal period of apprenticeship where the student is able to devote their entire life to learning the music, the economics of rural life does not permit this sort of thing.  The musical practitioners must still attend to their normal duties of hunting, agriculture or whatever their chosen profession is.

Music in the villages is learnt from childhood, the music is heard and imbibed along with numerous public activities that allow the villagers to practice and hone their skills.

The music is an indispensable component of functions such as weddings, engagements, and births.  There is a plethora of songs for such occasions.  There are also many songs associated with planting and harvesting.  In these activities the villagers routinely sing of their hopes, fears and aspirations.

Musical instruments are often different from those found in classical music.  Although instruments like the tabla may sometimes be found it is more likely that cruder drums such as daf, dholak, or nal are used.  The sitar and sarod which are so common in the classical genre are absent in the folk music.  One often finds instruments such as the ektar, dotar, rabab, and santur.  Quite often they are not called by these names, but may be named according to their local dialect.  There are also instruments which are used only in particular folk styles in particular regions.  These instruments are innumerable.

The instruments of classical music are crafted by artisans whose only job is the fabrication of musical instruments.  In contrast the folk instruments are commonly crafted by the musicians themselves.

It is very common to find folk instruments that have been fabricated of commonly available materials.  Skin, bamboo, coconut shells, and pots are but a few commonly available materials used to make musical instruments.

Rasiya Geet, Uttar Pradesh

The rich tradition of singing Rasiya Geet flourished in Braj which is the sacred land of Lord Krishna’s charming leelas from time immemorial. This is not confined to any particular festival, but is closely woven into the very fabric of daily life and day to day chores of its people. ‘Rasiya’ word is derived from the word rasa (emotion) because rasiya means that which is filled with rasa or emotion. It reflects the personality of the singer as well as the nature of the song.

Pankhida, Rajasthan

Sung by the peasants of Rajasthan while doing work in the fields, the peasants sing and speak while playing algoza and manjira. The literal meaning of the word ‘Pankhida’ is lover.

Lotia, Rajasthan

‘Lotia’ is sung in the chaitra month during the festival – ‘Lotia’. Women bring lotas (a vessel to fill water) and kalash (a vessel considered to be auspicious to fill water during worship) filled with water from ponds and wells. They decorate them with flowers and come home.

Pandavani, Chhattisgarh

In Pandavani, tales from Mahabharata are sung as a ballad and one or two episodes are chosen for the night’s performance. The main singer continuously sits throughout the performance and with powerful singing and symbolic gestures he assumes all the characters of the episode one after another.

Shakunakhar – Mangalgeet, Kumaon

Numberless songs are sung on auspicious occasions in the foothills of Himalaya. Shakunakhar are sung during religious ceremonies of baby-shower, child-birth, Chhati (a ritual done on the sixth day from the birth of a child) Ganesh pooja etc. These songs are sung by only ladies, without any instrument.

In Shakunakhar on each auspicious occasion prayer for good health and long life is made ……..

Shakuna de, Shakuna de

Kaj ye Ati Neeko So Rangeelo

Patlo Anchli Kamloo Ko Phool……

Barhamasa, Kumaon

This regional music from Kumaon is describing the twelve months of an year, each with its specific qualities. In one of the songs the Ghughuti bird symbolizes the onset of chait month. A girl in her in laws place asks this bird not to speak because she is disturbed with the memories of her mother (Ija) and she is feeling sad.

Mando, Goa

Goan regional music is a treasury of the traditional music of the Indian subcontinent. Mando, the finest creation of Goan song is a slow verse and refrain composition dealing with love, tragedy and both social injustice and political resistance during Portuguese presence in Goa.

Alha, Uttar Pradesh

Alha, typical ballad of Bundelkhand narrates the heroic deeds of Alha and Udal, the two warrior brothers who served Raja Parmal of Majoba. This is the most popular regional music of Bundelkhand which is popular elsewhere in the country as well.

The Alha is full of tales of feudal chivalry, which have appeal to common men. It highlights the high principles of morality, chivalry and nobility prevalent in those times.

Hori, Uttar Pradesh

The history of Hori, its evolution and tradition is quite ancient. It is based on the love pranks of ‘Radha-Krishna’. Hori singing is basically associated with the festival of Holi only. In India tradition of singing Hori during spring season and while celebrating Holi has been continuing since ancient times……. ‘Braj mein Hari Hori Machayi………. .

Sohar, Uttar Pradesh

Social ceremonies have, at times, served as a potent factor for intermingling of different cultures. North India has a strong tradition of singing ‘Sohar’ songs when a son is born in a family. This has influenced the muslim culture and a form of ‘Sohar’ song gained currency in the muslim families living in some regions of Uttar Pradesh. ‘Sohar’ songs unmistakably point to the mingling of two cultures.

Chhakri, Kashmir

Chhakri is a group song which is the most popular form of Kashmir’s folk music.

It is sung to the accompaniment of the noot (earthen pot) rababs, sarangi and tumbaknari (an earthen pot with high neck).

Laman, Himachal Pradesh

In Laman a group of girls sing a stanza and a group of boys give reply in the song. This continues for hours. Interesting is that the girls singing on one of the peaks of the hill seldom see the faces of the boys singing on another peak. In between is the hill which echoes their love song. Most of these songs are sung especially in Kullu Valley.

Kajri, Uttar Pradesh

Kajri is a folk song sung by women, from Uttar Pradesh and adjacent region, during rainy season. On the third day in the second half of the bhadra, women sing Kajri songs all through the night, while dancing in a semi-circle.


Originally, Qawwalis were sung in praise of God. In India Qawwali was brought from Persia around thirteenth century and Sufis enlisted its services to spread their message. Amir Khusro (1254-1325) a Sufi and an innovator contributed to the evolution of Qawwali. It is a mode of singing rather than a form of composition. In performance Qawwali presents a fascinating, interchanging use of the solo and choral modalities.

Tappa, Punjab

Tappa is a form of semi classical vocal music inspired by the folk songs of camel riders in the Punjab area. Tappa, in Punjabi and Pashto language, is set in ragas generally used for the semi classical forms. It is characterized by jumpy and flashy tonal movements with rhythmic and rapid notes.

Powada, Maharashtra

Powada is the traditional folk art from Maharashtra. The word Powada itself means “the narration of a story in glorious terms”. The narratives are always odes in praise of an individual hero or an incident or place. The chief narrator is known as the Shahir who plays the duff to keep the rhythm.The tempo is fast and controlled by the main singer who is supported by others in chorus.

The earliest notable Powada was the Afzal Khanacha Vadh (The Killing of Afzal Khan) (1659) by Agnidas which recorded Shivaji’s encounter with Afzal Khan.

Teej Songs, Rajasthan

Teej is celebrated with great involvement by women of Rajasthan. This is a festival celebrated on the third day after the new moon or amavasya of shraavana month. The theme of the songs sung during this festival revolve around the union of Shiva and Parvati, the magic of monsoon, greenery, peacock dance etc. One of the song is ………..

Aakha Teej Aayi Re,

Savan ki Kudti ke Male Mor

Manda De Re..……..

Burrakatha, Andhra Pradesh

Burrakatha is a highly dramatic form of ballad.  A bottle shaped drum (tambura) is played by the main performer while reciting a story. The ballad singers, like stage actor, wear make up and a highly stylised costume.

Bhakha, Jammu and Kashmir

The Bhakha form of folk music is popular in Jammu region. Bhakha is sung by the villagers when harvesting is done. It is considered to be the regional music with most melodic and harmonious elements. It is sung to the accompaniment of instruments like harmonium.

Bhuta song, Kerala

The basis of Bhuta song is rooted in superstitions. Some communities of Kerala do Bhuta rituals to send away the evil ghost and spirits. This ritual is accompanied with vigorous dancing and the music has a piercing and eerie character.

Daskathia, Odisha

Daskathia is a form of ballad singing prevalent in Odisha. Daskathia is a name derived from a unique musical instrument called “Kathi” or  “ Ram Tali”, wooden clappers used during the presentation. The performance is a form of worship and offering on behalf of the “Das”, the devotee.

Bihu songs, Assam

Bihu songs (bihu geet) are the most distinctive type of folk songs of Assam, both for their literary content and for their musical mode. Bihu songs are blessings for a happy new year and the dance is associated with an ancient fertility cult. It is Bihu time when an opportunity is there for marriageable young men and women to exchange their feelings and even to choose their partners. The joyfulness is reflected in song like………

‘Mikir bore sangot koo koo kuliye binale

Bojai bore rahe koo koo kuliye binale’

Sana Lamok, Manipur

Manipur’s hills and valley-both are fond of music and dance. Sana Lamok is sung at the time of coronation ceremony by the Maaiba (priest). It may also be sung to welcome the king. It is sung to evoke the spirit of Pakhangba, the presiding deity. There is a belief that this song is potent with magical powers.

Songs of Lai Haraoba Festival, Manipur

The meaning of Lai Haraoba is the festival of gods and goddesess. It is performed for the Umang-Lai (forest deity). Ougri Hangen, song of creation and Heijing Hirao a ritualistic song is sung on the last day of Lai Haraoba festival.

Saikuti Zai (songs of Saikuti), Mizoram

Mizo are traditionally known as a ‘singing tribe’. The regional folk songs of Mizoram constitute the richest heritage of Mizos. Saikuti, a poetess of Mizoram composed songs in praise of warriors, brave hunters, young men aspiring to be great warriors and hunters etc.

Chai hia (songs of the Chai Dance), Mizoram

As per Mizo custom during the Chapchar Kut festival not only singing, dance should also continue throughout the festival. Special occasion for singing and dancing is called ‘chai’ and songs are known as ‘chai hia’ (chai songs).

Basanti/ Basant Geet, Garhwal

Basant or spring season is welcomed in a unique manner in Garhwal. Land is filled with different colourful flowers. On Basant Panchmi floor designs are made with the rice flour and the green oats bundles are used to put impressions with cowdung. Swings are tied on the trees and folk songs are sung. One of the Basanti songs is : -

‘Seeri Panchami Mau ki

Paili Haryali Jau ki’

Ghasiyari Geet, Garhwal

Young women of mountains have to go in far off forests to get grass for their cattle. They go to the forest dancing and singing in groups. Alongwith entertainment emphasis is laid on the importance of labour in the Ghasiyari Geet.

‘Bajli Teri Jhanwar Jham Jham O ho…………..

Sukar ke Biah, Bhojpuri Song

Bhojpuri songs portray a lively picture of common folk. They give expression to the innermost feelings of simple hearts. Village folks have their own interpretations of nature, planets and constellations. The story of Shukra and Brihaspat is sung even today – how Shukra forgets the wedding ornament and comes back to take it, where he finds his mother drinking rice water, which is poor man’s food. On asking mother about this, his mother answers that she dosen’t know whether Shukra’s would be wife will even give her rice water or not. Shukra decides to remain unmarried.

Villu Pattu, “Bow Song”, Tamil Nadu

Villu Pattu is a popular folk music of Tamil Nadu. The lead singer also plays the role of the main performer. He also handles the dominating instrument which is bow shaped. The songs revolve around theological themes and the conquest of good over evil is emphasised.

Ammanaivari, Tamil Nadu

Ammanaivari are songs sung in praise of Chola monarch. Ammanai is a wooden ball and the women folk sing appropriate songs while playing the ball. This game of Ammanai is still current in Tamil Nadu.

India is the inheritor of one of the most ancient and evolved music systems in the world. The continuity of the musical traditions of India is established through a study of musical texts and numerous visual references one finds of musical instruments in painting and sculpture from prehistoric times to the present day.

The earliest evidence of music activity is found on the walls of cave paintings at Bhimbetka and in several parts of Madhya Pradesh, which were occupied by man approximately 10,000 years ago. Much later, in the excavations of the Harappan Civilization also, evidence is available of dance and music activity.

Musical instruments are the tangible and material representation of music which is an auditory art. A study of these helps in tracing the evolution of music and also explains many aspects of the material culture of the group of people to which these instruments belong. For instance, the hair used for making the bow, the wood or clay used for making the drum, or the hide of animals used in the instruments, all these tell us about the flora and fauna of a particular region.

The Tamil word for instrument-Karuvi is found in Sangam literature of the 2nd to 6th century A.D., the literal meaning of which is “tool”. This is extended to mean instrument in the context of music.

Very ancient instruments may be seen as an extension of the human body and we find even today, sticks and clappers. Dried fruit rattles, the Kaniyani Danda of Oraons or the dried berries or shells tied to the waist are used for producing rhythm, even today.

The hand was referred to as the Hasta Veena, where the hands and fingers are used to show the notation system of vedic chanting, coordinating sound with mudra-hand gesture.

In the Natya Shastra, compiled by Bharat Muni dated 200 B.C.-200 A.D., musical instruments have been divided into four main categories on the basis of how sound is produced.

(i) The Tata Vadya or Chordophones- Stringed instruments

(ii) The Sushira Vadya or Aerophones- Wind instruments

(iii) The Avanaddha Vadya or Membranophones- Percussion instruments

(iv) The Ghana Vadya or Idiophones- Solid instruments which do not require tuning.

Tata Vadya – Stringed Instruments

The tata vadya is a category of instruments in which sound is produced by the vibration of a string or chord. These vibrations are caused by plucking or by bowing on the string which has been pulled taut. The length of the vibrating string or wire, the degree to which it has been tightened, determines the pitch of the note and also to some extent the duration of the sound.

The tata vadya are divided into two broad categories-the plucked and the bowed, and further subdivided into the fretted and non-fretted variety.

The oldest evidence of stringed instruments in our land, however, are harps in the shape of the hunters bow. They had a varying number of parallel strings made of fibre or gut. There used to be one string for each note, plucked either with the fingers or with the plectrum called the kona. Veena was the generic term for stringed instruments referred to in texts: and we have the ekatantri, the sata-tantri veena, etc. The Chitra had seven strings and the Vipanchi nine; the first was played with the fingers and the second with a plectrum.

Representation of these can be found in many sculptures and murals of olden days, as for example, in the Bharhut and Sanchi Stupa, the reliefs of Amaravati and so on. Mention of. Yazh are found in old Tamil texts from the 2nd century A.D. The playing of such instruments was an important part of ritual and ceremonies. As the priests and performers sang, their wives played on instruments.

Another class is of the dulcimer type, where a number of strings are stretched on a box of wood. The best known of these was the sata-tantri veena-the hundred stringed veena. A close relative of this is the Santoor, a very popular instrument still played in Kashmir and other parts of India.

A later development of stringed instruments are the fingerboard variety, which were most suited to Raga Sangeet and many of the prevalent instruments of the concert platform, whether fretted or non-fretted, bowed or plucked fall into this category. The great advantage of these instruments is the richness of tone production and continuity of sound. In the finger-board instruments all the required notes are produced on one chord (string or wire) by altering the length of the wire either by pressing it with a finger or a piece of metal or wood. This increase or decrease in the length of the vibrator wire is responsible for the changes in pitches of notes-swaras.

Bowed instruments are usually used as an accompaniment to vocal music and are referred to as Geetanuga. They are divided into two broad categories-the upright and the inverted. In the first category the fingerboard is held straight up as in the case of Sarangi and in the second category, that is, in the inverted variety, the board or resonator is held towards the shoulder and the fingerboard dandi is held across the arm of the player as in the case of the Ravanhastaveena, the Banam, the Violin.



The Kamaicha is a bowed lute played by the manganiars of west Rajasthan. The whole instrument is one piece of wood, the spherical bowl extending into a neck and fingerboard; the resonator is covered with leather and the upper portion with wood. There are four main strings and a number of subsidiary ones passing over a thin bridge.

The kamaicha links the sub-continent to Western Asia and Africa and is considered by some scholars to be the oldest instrument, with the exception of the Ravana Hatta or Ravana Hasta Veena.

The variety of upright bowed instruments are generally seen in the northern areas of ttie country. In these there are again two varieties, the fretted and the non-fretted.

(a) Different parts of a stringed instrument


The resonator- Toomba of most stringed instruments is either made of wood or from a specially grown gourd.

Over this Toomba there is a plate of wood known as the Tabli. The resonator is attached to the fingerboard-the Danda at the top end of which are inserted the pegs-the Khoontis, for tuning the instrument.

On the Tabli there is a bridge made of ivory or bone. The main strings pass over the bridge, some instruments also have a number of sympathetic strings below the main strings. They are called the Tarab. When these strings vibrate, they add resonance to the sound.

On the fingerboard of danda, in some instruments, metal frets are attached which are either permanently fixed or are movable. Some stringed instruments are plucked with the fingers or by using a small plectrum called the Kona, while in others, sound is produced by bowing, (See diagram A)

(b) Placement of Swaras

The line drawing shows placement of notes-the swaras-Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa on a 36″ length of wire, the frequency of vibration of each note is also shown in the picture. (See diagram B).

Sushira Vadya

In the Sushira Vadya group, sound is produced by blowing air into an hollow column. The pitch of the note is determined by controlling the air passage and the melody is played by using the fingers to open and close the in the instrument. The simplest of these instruments is the flute. Generally flutes are made of bamboo or wood and the Indian musician prefers these due to the tonal and musical attributes of these materials. However, there are references of flutes made of red sandalwood, black wood, cane, ivory, bronze, silver and gold also.

The diameter of the bamboo flutes is usually – about 1.9 cms; though, flutes with wider diameters. are also commonly, used. The musical text Sangeet Ratnakar written in the 13th. century by Sharangdev refers to 18 kinds of flutes. These categories are based on the distance between the blow hole and the first finger hole (see diagram).

Excavations of the Indus civilizations have shown bird whistles of clay, and seals which show wind and percussion instruments. Actual musical instruments are made of bamboo, wood, animal hide, etc. which perish when buried for any length of time, hence, flutes made of wood or bamboo have not survived the ravages of time and are not found in excavations of past civilizations.

There is reference in the Vedas to an instrument-the Venu which was used as an accompaniment to chanting and recitation. There is also mention of a kind of a flute called the Nadi. The flute has a variety of names like Venu, Vamsi, Bansuri, Murali and so on in the north, and Pullankuzhal, Pillankarovi and Kolalu in the south. The wind instruments are roughly divided into two categories on the basis of how sound is produced. They are:

- the flutes, and

- the reed instruments


Single or double flutes with only one hollow tube with finger holes for controlling the pitch of the note are very common in many parts of the country. Long horizontal flutes with a larger diameter are used to play slow passages such as Alap of the lower registers. Smaller and shorter flutes, sometimes held vertically, are used for Taans, the faster passages, and also for producing higher pitches of sound. The double flutes are mostly played by musicians of the tribal and rural areas and are rarely found on the concert platform. They resemble beak flutes which have a narrow aperture at one end. One finds references to these types of instruments in the sculptures of the first century in the Sanchi Stupa which shows a musician playing on a double flute.

Reed instruments


Reed instruments like the Shehnai, Nadaswaram, etc., have one or two reeds inserted in the hollow beak or tube of the instrument, these vibrate when air is blown into them. In this type of instrument the reeds are bound together with a gap between them before inserting into the body of the instrument. The body of the tube is conical in shape narrow at the blowing end and opening out gradually with a metallic bell at the farther end to enhance the volume of the sound. A set of spare reeds, an ivory or silver needle for adjusting and cleaning the reeds are also hung from the mouth piece of the instrument.

The Shehnai is a reed instrument in which there are seven holes along the tube which are used for playing the melody by opening and closing them with the fingers. It is known as a Mangal vadya and is usually played on all auspicious occasions in north India such as marriages, temple festivals, etc. The Shehnai is considered to have come to India from West Asia, there are other scholars who believe that this instrument travelled to China from India. It is now a popular instrument in concerts, the sound is very sweet and suited for playing Raga Sangeet. In the early fifties of this century, Ustad Bismillah Khan is credited for popularising this instrument. Today, Pt. Anant Lal, Pt. Daya Shankar are also noted Shehnai players.

Avanaddha Vadya

In the Avanaddha Vadya category of instruments, sound is produced by striking the animal skin which has been stretched across an earthern or metal pot or a wooden barrel or frame. The earliest references to such instruments have been found in the Vedas where there is mention of Bhumi Dundhubhi; this was a hollow pit dug in the ground and covered with the hide of a buffalo or ox which was stretched across the pit. The tail of the animal was used for striking the animal hide and thus sound was produced.

Drums have been divided into different categories on the basis of their shapes and structure as also the position and placement for playing. The main categories are-Oordhwaka, Ankya, Alingya and the waisted or the Damaru family of drums. (see diagrams).



The Oordhwaka drums are placed vertically before the musician and sound is produced by striking them with sticks or the fingers. Prominent among these are the Tabla pair and Chenda.


The Tabla pair is a set of two vertical Oordhwaka drums. The right side is called the Tabla and the left, the Bayan or Dagga. The Tabla has a wooden body with a covering of animal skin, this is held together with leather straps. Between the straps and the wooden body, oblong wooden blocks are placed. These are used for tuning the drums. There is a syahi paste applied in the centre of the animal skin, the tabla can be tuned accurately by striking the rims with a hammer. The body of the bayan is made of clay or metal and is covered with anil’J1al skin which also has syahi paste applied on it. Some musicians do not tune this drum to an accurate pitch.


The tabla pair is used as accompaniment to vocal and instrumental Hindustani music and with many dance forms of northern India. The complicated talas of the Hindustani music are played with great virtuosity on the tabla. Prominent musicians playing the tabla today are-Ustad Alia Rakha Khan and his son Zakir Hussain, Shafat Ahmed and Samata Prasad to name a few.


The Ankya drums are held horizontally before the musician and usually both sides are covered with animal hide. Sound is produced by striking both sides with sticks or fingers. Today, in this variety, the Mridangam, Pakhawaj, Khol, etc. are prominent. The musician may sit on the floor and play the instrument or hang it from the neck while dancing or standing. Seals which have been excavated of the Indus Civilization show figures of men playing the horizontal drums hung from the neck.


The third variety are the Alingya drums. These drums have the animal hide fixed to a wooden round frame and are embraced or held close to the body with one hand while the other hand is used for playing on the instrument. Under this category, the Duff, Dufflies, etc. are very popular.


Damaru types

Another prominent group of drums are the waisted or Damaru variety. The instruments in this category range from, the small Huddaka of Himachal Pradesh to the larger instrument known as Timila of the southern region. The former is struck with the hands while the latter is hung from the shoulders and played with sticks and fingers. These are also known as the hourglass variety of drums as their shape resembles an hourglass.

Ghana Vadya

The earliest instruments invented by man are said to be the Ghana Vadya. Once constructed, this variety of instrument do not need special tuning prior to playing. In early times these instruments were the extension of the human body such as sticks, clappers, rods, etc. and were also closely related to objects of utility in daily life such as pots and pans, jhanj, falams, etc. They are principally rhythmic in function and are best suited as accompaniment to folk and tribal music and dance.

Jhanj Player, Konarak, Orissa


In the Sun temple of Konarak, Orissa, we see this large sculpture nearly 8 f1. high of a lady playing the Jhanj.


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