Indian Musical Instruments


The Chenda is a traditional percussion instrument widely in Kerala, South India. It is also used in certain regions of southern Karnataka. Chenda is usually considered to be an asura vaadyam.
Chenda is often used as an accompaniment instrument in Hindu religious arts and temple art forms in Kerala. Chenda is used widely in art forms like Kathakali, Koodiyattam theyyam, thira etc.. and many other ritual art forms of Kerala. It is also used in Yakshagana popular in Karnataka. A typical chenda is crafted out of a cylindrical wooden log, and has a length of about 2 feet and a diameter of about 1 foot. Both side of it is covered with Hyde (usually cow Hyde). Chenda is hung on drummer's neck so that it hangs vertically facing the upper portion of the covered skin. The instrument is played using 2 sticks. Sometimes one stick and hand is also used to make different tones.


The Dholak is a classical North Indian percussion instrument. The dholak has a simple leather covering on the right-hand side. The left-hand membrane has a special bulky attachment on the inner part. This coating is a mixture of clay and sand (dholak masala) which lowers the pitch and provides a well-defined tone.

The Dholak is a main instrument used in Indian film music.


Idakka is a percussion instrument from Kerala, south India. This instrument is very much similar to the damaru, which is found throughout the rest of India. The main difference of Idakka from damaru is that this instrument is played with a stick. The left hand is used for tightening and loosening the thread wound round the middle. Like the damaru the pitch of idakkai can be adjusted by squeezing the thread tied to the middle. It is slung over the left shoulder and the right side is beaten with a stick. Varying the tension of the thread produces variations in pitch. Simple melodies extending over one octave can be played in this instrument. The Edakkai is one of the five instruments that constitute the panchavadhyam (the combination of five instruments) of Kerala.



The Ghatom is an earthen percussion instrument, used in South India widely used as an accompaniment in Carnatic music along with the mridangam. It is nothing but an earthenware potspecially made for the purpose. The artist uses hands, wrists, fingers and nails to hit the outer surface of the walls of the ghatom. A different pitch is obtained by hitting on the open portion of the instrument. The artist sometimes uses his belly as well to make a different tone. Instruments of different pitch are made used to accompany singers with different base notes.


The mridangam is also a widely used percussion instrument from South India. It is the main rhythmic accompaniment in the Carnatic music. The instrument has two openings at both ends covered with layers of animal skin specially tuned for the purpose. A black spot is applied to one side. The pitch of the instrument vaies with different singers. Separate instruments are used for male and female singers.


Also tamburu (South India) is a long-necked Indian musical intrument used to generate keynotes. The instrument is hollow, and it has four or five strings, which are plucked one after another in a rhythmic pattern to create a resonance. Hindustani classical music tanpuras come in different sizes. Male singers pitch their tonic note (Sa) to C#, female artists usually a 5th higher. The male instrument has an open string length of about one metre, the female is less in lengt and is set too ¾ metres.. For ragas that omit the fifth, the first string will be tuned down to the natural fourth: 4881 or Ma sa sa Sa. With a five-string instrument, the seventh or NI (natural minor or major 7th) is added: PA NI sa sa SA (57881). Both the instrument and how it is played look very simple, though in fact it takes a lot of experience and a very good ear to tune and play the tanpura. The special overtone-rich sound is achieved by applying the principle of jivari, which creates a rich buzzing sound in which particular harmonics will ring out clearly.


The sarangi is a bowed string instrument of India which is close to the western violin family instruments. It is commonly used in Indian Hindustani classical music. The istrument is capable to generate human like tone such as gamakas (shakes) and meend (sliding movements). Sarangi music is said to be vocal music.


The santoor is a hammered instrument made of walnut wood, mostly with seventy strings. The special-shaped mallets are lightweight and are held between the index and middle fingers. A santoor has two sets of bridges, providing a range of three octaves.

The sound chamber is also made of walnut wood and the bridges are made of local wood and painted dark like ebony. The strings are made of steel.



The sarod was modified by Amir Khusru in the 13th century and was given its present form. Ustad Allaudin Khan also changed the shape to improve the tonal quality. Dr. Lalmani Misra opines in his Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya that sarod is an amalgamation of ancient vichitra Veena, medieval Rabab and modern Sursingar.


The sitar is said to be the most popular Indian instrument in the rest of the world. It is a Hindustani classical stringed instrument, which utilizes special strings along with regular strings and a resonating chamber to produce a very distinctive sound. The sitar has been ubiquitous in Hindustani classical music since the Middle Ages. Pandit Ravi Shankar is having full credits relating the popularity of this instrument.


Veena (also vina) is a plucked stringed instrument widely used in Carnatic music. The instrument is having capability to elaborate almost all ragas. Veena designs have been highly evolved over the past few centuries. Currently the most popular design is known as the Saraswati veena (common veena). This has twenty-four frets, four main strings which pass over the string frets and are fixed to the pegs of the neck, and three supporting strings, which goes over an arched bridge made of brass and are used as side strings for rhythmic accompaniment. The veena is often played by sitting and holding the instrument in ones lap . The veena's main body is placed on the floor, partially supported by the right thigh.


Nadaswaram, or Nagaswaram, is one of the most popular auspicious classical music instruments of south India. This is also the world's loudest non-brass acoustic instrument. It is a wind instrument much similar to the shehnai. Nadaswaram is having a much larger, hardwood body and a large flaring bell made of wood or metal.

In India the nadaswaram is considered to be very auspicious, and it is the key instrument which is played in almost all Hindu marriages and temples in South India. The instrument is usually played in pairs, and accompanied by a pair of drums called thakil.

Some of the greatest early exponents of the nadaswaram include Thiruvavadudurai Rajaratnam Pillai and Sangita Kalanidi Thiruvizhimizhalai Subrahmanya Pillai. In more recent times Namagiripettai Krishnan, Karukurichi Arunachalam and Sheik Chinna Moulana are well known nagaswaram artists.


The pullanguzhal, one of the oldest musical instruments, is a flute made of bamboo with one blowing hole and eight finger holes. It is associated with the Hindu god Krishna, who is often depicted playing it. This kind of flute is mainly used in South India, and also called Venu. Being a player of theis kind of flute Krishna is reffered to as Venugopala. The north Indian variety of flute is called bansuri.



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