Percussion Instruments or Drums

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Avanaddha Vadya (Membranophones or Percussion Instruments or Drums) are percussion instruments that have one or two faces covered with hide or skin. These include ‘Tabla’, ‘Pakhawaj’, ‘Mridangam’, ‘Chenda’, ‘Dhol’, ‘Dholak’, ‘Ghatam’, ‘Dugitaranag’, ‘Dhap’, ‘Tavil’, ‘Damroo’, ‘Dafri’, ‘Dumbak’, ‘Marvas’, ‘Edakka’, ‘Kanjira’, ‘Pung’, ‘Yaihung’, ‘Uddukai’ and ‘Nagara’. The most ancient of the Indian drums is the ‘Bhumi Dundubhi’, the so-called earth-drum.




Tabla is the overall term used for two drums that are played as accompaniment to North Indian music and dance. The right hand, high-pitched drum, which is smaller in size is called ‘Tabla’, while the left hand drum is called ‘Bayan’ or ‘Dagga’. Tabla is a rhythm instrument and accompanies vocal forms like ‘khayal’ and ‘ghazal’ and instruments like Sitar and Sarod. It is also a popular accompaniment to dance forms like Kathak. Tabla is capable of producing great sound modulations, and has in the recent times raised itself to the position of being recognised as a solo instrument. Amir Khusro is credited with the creation and development of modern tabla. However, the precursor of tabla was available in ancient India as early as the 3rd century B.C. as is evident from a 2200-year old motif on the stone-wall at Bhoja Caves in Maharashtra that shows a woman playing an instrument similar to tabla. Ahmed Jan Thirakawa, Anokhey Lal, Kanthe Maharaj, Kishen Maharaj, Santaprasad, Shankar Ghosh, Ustad Alla Rakha and his son Ustad Zakir Hussain are some of the most important contributors towards the development of the tabla. Dr Aban Mistry is considered as India’s first woman tabla maestro.



Mridangam is the most commonly used drum in the South Indian classical music. It is used as accompaniment mainly to the vocal and instrumental performances, and most often the temple music. It is barrel-shaped with drumheads at both of its open ends. Palghat Mani Iyer, Balamurali Krishna, Guruvayur Dorai and T.K. Murthy are the leading exponents of Mridangam.



Pakhawaj is considered to be the oldest percussion instrument. It finds mention in several ancient texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata, ‘Griha Sutras’ and the ‘Natya Shastra’. Abul Fazl described Pakhawaj in his ‘Ain-i-Akbari’ as “the most important percussion instrument used in the accompaniment of Dhrupad”. Pahkawaj is similar in shape to Mridangam and is used mainly in the North. It is a double-headed drum whose right side is called ‘madee’ and the left side is called ‘nar’. Various types of sounds are produced by striking different parts of the drum on each side. It is termed as the ‘King of Drums’ in the Hindustani music due to its majestic appearance and resounding sound quality. Presently, Pakhawaj is being played either in solo or in ‘Jugalbandi’ with other musical instruments. Baldev Sahai, Pandit Jagannath Mishra, Pandit Mohan Shyam Sharma, Pandit Ramashish Pathak are some of the legendary pakhawaj players. Arjun Shejwal is one of the popular contemporary Pakhawaj players.



Dholak is a simple and universally popular drum found all over India. It is a double-sided cylindrical drum, bored out of solid wood and having variable pitch.




Damaru is a small sacred drum of India, which is shaped like an hourglass and has two small beads attached to a string that wind around the middle of the instrument. It is held in the right hand and rolled from side to side to produce sound. This instrument is associated with Lord Shiva.


Gopichand :


‘Gopichand’ (‘Gopiyantra’ or ‘Khamak’) or the ‘Indian Plucked Drum’ is used by religious mendicants for accompanying pastoral songs. It is a favourite instrument of the ‘bauls’ of Bengal.




Pung is a long bodied drum with both ends covered in skin. It plays an important role in Manipuri dancing when it is played by men and women, either in a sitting or standing position.



Nagara is a very large hemispherical drum with a metallic shell, which is beaten by two curved sticks. In olden days it stood at the entrance of a city, palace or at any important gateway and was mainly used to attract the attention of people prior to making any announcements.

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