Indian Musical Instruments

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It is not known when exactly the early musical instruments came into existence in India but they find mention in several ancient texts like the ‘Upanishads’, ‘Samhitas’, Valmiki’s ‘Ramayana’, ‘Bhagwad Gita’ and the Sangam classics. Many of the instruments mentioned in these texts date back to 5000 B.C. It is widely believed that the earliest known Indian instruments evolved from the ‘Dhanuryantram’ (bow and arrow) used by primitive tribes for hunting, as also to signal the advent of enemies. Descriptions in the ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ of the reverberating sounds of Rama’s bow ‘Sharang’ and Arjun’s bow ‘Gandeeva’, which are said to have demoralized the enemy camp, lend colour to this inference. It is believed that this particular sound later inspired the design and shape of the bowed instruments used by primitive tribes. Various types of crude drums and other musical instruments have been discovered from prehistoric excavations indicating that the use of music and musical instruments was quite prevalent during pre-historic times. Excavations at the Indus Valley sites have revealed many kinds of musical instruments. These were mainly made of bamboo, bone and animal skins and bear close resemblance to modern Veena and Mridangam. Many Greco-Buddhist sculptures belonging to the period 5th century B.C. to 2nd century A.D. also depict a wealth of string, wind and percussion instruments.


Classification of Musical Instruments:


The classification of Indian musical instruments or ‘vadya’ is quite similar to the Western system of classification. According to Bharatha’s ‘Natya Shastra’, there are four classes of instruments: ‘Tata’ or ‘Tantu’ (stringed), ‘Avanaddha’ (percussion or drums), ‘Ghana’ (bells, cymbals and gongs), and ‘Sushira’ (wind). While some variations in classifications have been proposed over the centuries, the system of Bharatha has survived till date. Accordingly the instruments are divided as follows: ‘Ghana Vadya’ (‘Idiophones’), ‘Avanaddha Vadya’ (‘Membranophones’), ‘Sushira Vadya’ (‘Aerophones’) and ‘Tata Vadya’ (‘Chordophones’).

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