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North India Dances
North India Music
Musical Instruments
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Musical Instruments of North India

The flute, nagaswaram, veena, gottuvadhyam, thavil, mridangam and the plain drum are some of the ancient musical instruments of India. The sitar, tabla and violin come late than the other musical instruments. Except for the Veena, which is neatly fretted, all the instruments are negotiated by the method of trial and error. Their handling depends on the ingenuity and dexterity of the player. The Veena, gottuvadhyam, sitar and sarod, the stringed instruments are from Afghanistan.

The Sitar is a musical instrument which was invented by the Amir Khusrau, a courtier of Allauddin Khilji in the 13th century. The name Sitar was derived from Persian ‘Sehtar’ which means ‘three strings’ which the instrument originally had. But the modern Sitar has seven strings fastened to the pegs on the neck and the

North India Musical Instruments

sides. Sixteen to twenty two frets are secured to the finger-board by pieces of gut. There are also 11 to 12 sympathetic strings below the frets, running parallel to the main strings. The instrument is played by means of a wire plectrum worn on the forefinger of the right hand. This musical instrument was helpful in bringing up the western people towards the Indian Classical music.


Sarod has secured an important place in Hindustani Classical Music for its deep and rich tone and a distinctive sound. This musical instrument descended from the Rabab of the Middle East. Some believed that this instrument might have originated from the Greco-Buddhist area of Gandhar (modern Afghanistan). Sarod is a fretless instrument with sympathetic strings. The modern Sarod is made of wood with one end being rounded and covered with parchment. There are six main metallic strings fastened to pegs at the neck of the instrument. It is played with a plectrum held in the right hand while the fingers of the left hand are used to play the notes.

Santoor, which originated from the Vedic Vana Veena, belongs to the Kashmir Valley that is neither seen nor played anywhere else. But today, Santoor is played with all Indian ragas and is very popular with the film musicians. The Vana Veena also had strings and was played with sticks. The modern Santoor is made of a trapezoid wooden box and has thirty bridges and a set of four strings of metal, tuned to the same note and stretches over each pair of bridges. It is played with a pair of flat wooden pieces curved at the striking ends.


Sarangi is another stringed instrument, popular mainly as a folk instrument and appeared first probably in the late 17th century. The ability to play all types of gamakas gave it prominent place in the Hindustani Classical Music. The tone of the Sarangi is like the human vocal chord. The player places the instrument on the lap and plays it with a horse – hair bow in the right hand and fingers and nails of the left hand. It is made by hollowing out a single block of wood and covered by parchment and has four strings. Four tuning pegs are fixed to the hollow head and a bridge is placed on the hide-covered belly in the middle.


Shehnai, said to be of Persian origin, is considered to be an auspicious instrument that belongs to the category of wind instruments. It is a one-reed instrument with six holes that yields soft and melodious sound. Shehnai is made up of a smooth dark-grained black wood, whose tube narrows on the top and widens towards the bottom affixed in a cup. All the tunes of full tone, half tone and sharp notes can be played on this instrument through breath control. The notes are continuous and is generally used in classical and light classical music.


There are various stringed instruments in the Indian Classical music, but the Violin has been recently introduced in it. In fact, Violin is the only western musical instrument which has been absorbed completely into the Indian classical music. It is said that about a century ago, Varahappaya, a Minister of the Maratha rulers of Tanjore, explored Violin to enrich Indian Classical Music. The strings of the Violin are tuned to different notes in comparison to the western style. The light tone of the steel string and the deep, almost human tone of the fourth string embellishes the peculiarities of Carnatic music.


Nagaswaram, a popular wind instrument, was well known in the 15th and 16th centuries and formed an integral part of the temples. It is believed that this instrument evolved from the snake charmer’s Pungi. It consists of a wooden mouthpiece into which the player blows the air. This air under pressure is released from the lower end of the gourd through two bamboo or metal pipes. These tubes have a valve that controls the flow of air through the pipes and have holes that control the melody. Nagaswaram often attains a wild beauty and softness and brings out the subtle graces of the Carnatic music.


Flute, commonly known as the Bansuri, is the wind instrument of ancient India and was very common with Lord Krishna and the religious music of the Buddhists. The frescoes of Ajanta and Ellora depicts that this flute was also accompanied in the vocal and instrumental music. It is made of cylindrical bamboo pipe of uniform bore that contains six holes for movement of the fingers and a bigger hole for blowing air.


The Vichitra Veena, a rare instrument of the North was introduced by Ustad Abdul Ajij Khan, a court musician at Indore. This instrument is of a recent origin and is played by a plectrum placed on the right hand finger. It has a broad stem and six main strings are fastened to wooden pegs fixed to the other end. The Southern Veena was introduced by Raghunatha Naik, a ruler of Tanjore. This Veena consists of twenty four fixed frets and the body is hollowed out of a block of wood.


Ghatam is one of the ancient percussion instruments, often heard in Carnatic Music concerts. Ghatam is a mud pot carefully kneaded and uniformly fired. The mouth of the Ghatam is open and is played with two hands, wrists, fingers and nails. The mouth is pressed against the stomach so that when strokes are given, the air inside is set in vibration and gives a deep tone. The player can produce various volumes and tonal colors by giving the finger strokes at the neck, center and bottom of outer surface.


Tabla, is evolved from the oldest percussion instrument, the damru of Lord Shiva. It is believed that Tabla was invented by the Amir Khusrau, a courtier of Allauddin Khilji in the 13th century. It is derived from a kind of Arabian drum called Tabla. In the hands of a master, Tabla is capable of producing all patterns of rhythms with well-established time cycles (talas). There are two pieces of Tabla which are generally tuned one octave apart. One is Dayan or the Tabla made of black wood and other is Bayan or the Duggi made of wood, clay or copper. Both are hollowed from inside and covered with skin fastened to leather straps which are stretched over the body of the drums by means of leather braces. These straps are pulled to raise or lower the pitch.


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