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
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
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.