Musical Instruments of India


Ravi Shankar's TanpuraIndian Music Experience Museum

The abundance of musical instruments in Indian music is testament to its creative diversity. The Indian Music Experience Museum has over a hundred musical instruments in its collection. A selection of these from Indian classical and folk music is presented here.

Musical Instruments Classification SystemIndian Music Experience Museum

Classification of Musical Instruments

Over 2000 years ago, Bharata, in the Natya Shastra, classified instruments as tata (stringed instrument), sushira (wind instrument), avanaddha (percussion instrument) or ghana (solid instrument). Every one of the myriad instruments invented since then fits into one of these four timeless categories.

Mysore VeenaIndian Music Experience Museum


Stringed instruments or Chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound when the strings are vibrated. 

Rudra VeenaIndian Music Experience Museum

Rudra Veena

The Rudra Veena, also called Been, is a melodic instrument of Indian origin, associated with Dhrupad sub-genre of Hindustani classical music. It evolved in the 12th /13th centuries from an older string instrument called the Laghu Kinnari Veena.

For almost 400 years, it dominated Hindustani music as an accompaniment to vocal music, as well as in solo performances. The instrument now retains a small presence in Hindustani music, and enjoys a relatively larger following in Europe.

Rudra VeenaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Rudra Veena has two large resonators made of hollow gourds, attached to the long tubular body of the instrument. The beautiful carvings on the resonators make it look grand and elegant.

SarangiIndian Music Experience Museum


The Sarangi is an instrument of Indian origin, with folk variants widely performed in several parts of India and Pakistan. The Sarangi family is valued for its closeness to the human voice, and hence has been primarily an accompanist to vocal music.

The Sarangi entered classical music around the 17th century, and soon became a standard accompanist to Khayal and semi-classical genres of vocal music. From the 19th century, it began losing its accompanist role to the Harmonium. By the middle of the 20th century, it reclaimed its importance as a solo instrument, and acquired an enthusiastic international following.

TausIndian Music Experience Museum


The Taus is a peacock-shaped bowed instrument from Punjab. This instrument, also called Mayuri Veena, gets its name from the Persian word for peacock. It is said that the instrument was a creation of the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, who wrote poetry in Persian language and therefore named the instrument in the same language.

It is known for its deep, mellow sound. The body of the instrument is made of rosewood and has a wooden resonator and shaft made separately and later joined together.

The Taus is used as an accompaniment for Sikh devotional music, Shabad-Kirtan, where the verses from the holy book of the Sikhs Guru Granth Sahib, are sung.

RawanHatthaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Ravanhatha, an ancient melodic bowed string instrument of the Thori and Nayak Bhopas from Rajasthan, is one the earliest instruments played with a bow and is also credited as a precursor to the violin.

The Ravanhatha has two main strings and a variable number of supporting strings, with a body of bamboo. The bow has bells attached to it. Legend has it that King Ravan created this instrument.

GotuvadyaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Gotuvadyam, also known as Chitravina, is a twenty-one stringed fretless instrument, used in Karnatik music. Sakha Rama Rao, a Karnatik musician who lived between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, redesigned the ancient Chitravina instrument as a fretless Veena with its set of seven strings. He coined the term Gotuvadyam, which means an instrument played with a slide.

The instrument, predominently made of jackwood, has six melody strings, three secondary drone strings and eleven or twelve sympathetic strings that run parallel to and below the melody strings.

GotuvadyaIndian Music Experience Museum

Cylindrical Slide

A cylindrical slide made of ebony wood or bison horn is held in the left hand, which is glided over the main strings.

It is played by plucking the melody strings. Drone strings are activated using the little finger.

PenaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Pena is a string instrument from Manipur which has a parched coconut shell belly. This stringed instrument can be played either while standing or seated, or while dancing.

The Pena is an integral part of all the religious festivals of Manipur like the Lai Haraoba festival, which is a ritualistic festival of the Meiteis, an ethnic group native to the state of Manipur.

A Pena artiste was considered a healer of ailments and therefore, accompanied the kings who went on voyages. Pena is commonly used in folk theatre music, traditional music and dance forms.

PenaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Pena consists of a bow with an arched iron rod that has jingle bells and bamboo handle attached, which provides rhythmic accompaniment.

Zakir Hussain's TablaIndian Music Experience Museum


Percussion instruments or Membranophones produce rhythmic melody when one or both faces of the instrument are struck.

HudakIndian Music Experience Museum


The Hudak and Udkka, as referred to generally, is a two-headed percussion instrument from Himachal Pradesh. Varied tones can be brought out by pressing or releasing the strings, which are tied between the two sides.

This small drum is held in the armpit while playing it. Made of wood in an hourglass shape, it is covered by goat skin on both sides.

ChendaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Chenda is a cylindrical percussion instrument used widely in Kerala, Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. In the ancient times, the Chenda was used to make important announcements by the officials of the king and also for war declaration.

This instrument is a cylindrical wooden drum with both ends covered with animal skin. It is suspended from the drummer’s neck and struck with two sticks. The body of the instrument is made of wood from jackfruit tree.

The Chenda is used as an accompaniment for Kathakali, Yakshagana and Koodiyattam dance-theatre forms.

MizauIndian Music Experience Museum


The Mizhavu or Mizhav is a percussion instrument from Kerala. This is a big copper drum, with the mouth of the instrument covered by skin. This instrument is primarily played by the Ambalavasi Nambiar community.

The Mizhavu is used to accompany ritualistic temple performances of Koodiyattam and Koothu.

MridangaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Mridangam, a percussion instrument from South India, is an indispensable rhythmic accompaniment in Karnatik classical music concerts. The tani avartanam, played by a mridangam artiste along with other percussionists, is the highlight of a Karnatik concert.

This instrument is placed horizontally on the lap of the artist. The two heads of the mridangam are connected by leather straps. When the straps are tightened, the pitch or shruti of the instrument increases, and when loosened, decreases the pitch.

ThavilIndian Music Experience Museum


The Thavil is a barrel-shaped percussion instrument, and is commonly used in folk music as well as in classical music with Nagaswaram in an ensemble known as 'Periya Melam' (big ensemble).

The body of the Thavil is made of jack wood. The right head is played by the right hand, wrist and fingers and the left head is struck with a stick held in the left hand. The instrument is hung using a strap from the shoulder of the player when played in open air performances. Usually the player wears thumb caps on the fingers of his right hand.

NagphaniIndian Music Experience Museum


Wind instruments or Aerophones produce a melodic sound when air is blown through the mouthpiece at one end of the instrument.

AlgozaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Algoja or Algoza is a wind instrument which is widely used in Rajasthani folk, Baloch and Punjabi music.

This instrument consists of two joined beak flutes, made of bamboo. One flute plays the melody and the other plays drone simultaneously.

This instrument is mostly used by the Bhil and Kalbelia tribal communities. The instrument can be tuned to any scale using beeswax.

PungiIndian Music Experience Museum


The Pungi, also called Tumbi or Nagasar, is a wind instrument, widely used by snake charmers in India and Pakistan for religious ceremonies.

This instrument, made of a small gourd, and with a length of one to two feet, consists of two reeds or bamboo tubes, one for melody and other for drone.

The Pungi was initially designed as an accompaniment to folk music in India. There are no pauses when the Pungi is played because of the technique of circular breathing employed while playing this instrument. Thus the Pungi creates a trance like sound.

NagaswaraIndian Music Experience Museum


The Nagaswaram is an ancient South Indian wind instrument. It is accorded a high status as a "Mangala Vadya" (auspicious instrument) and plays an important role in South Indian temple rituals.

It is made of black wood of a tree known as Aacha. The instrument has seven playing holes and five auxillary ones. The instrument ensemble with the Nagaswaram is called 'Pedda Melam' or 'Peria Melam' (big ensemble).

PepaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Pepa is a wind instrument, a hornpipe, used in Assamese traditional music.

It is made of buffalo horn tied together with two reed pieces at the narrow end with four finger holes and is blown through the reed.

It is a popular folk instrument, used during the Bihu festival in Assam.

GhantaIndian Music Experience Museum


Solid instruments, also called Idiophones, produce sound when the solid surface or the metallic body of the instrument is struck with a stick.

ChimtaIndian Music Experience Museum


The Chimta is a struck percussion instrument from Himalayas.

Originally a fire tong, it has evolved into a musical instrument by the permanent addition of small brass jingles. It has an iron ring fixed at the top.

It is popularly used in Punjabi folk music and Sikh religious music called Shabad.

JaltarangIndian Music Experience Museum


The Jaltarang is an Indian melodic solid instrument. It consists of a set of ceramic or metal bowls of varying sizes, tuned appropriately by filling in different quantities of water. The edges of the bowls are struck with beaters, one in each hand. This instrument is played solo or as part of an ensemble.

The Jaltarang is tuned by changing the quantity of water in the bowls.

MorsingIndian Music Experience Museum


The Morsing, also called Mukhchang or Moorchang, is a solid instrument, referred to as Jew’s Harp in Western countries.

The Morsing is supported between the teeth and the player strikes the metal tongue of the instrument to and fro.

It is usually played as an upapakkavadya , or a subsidiary percussion instrument along with the Mridangam and is also played in percussion ensembles.

GhatamIndian Music Experience Museum


The Ghatam, a solid instrument, is a narrow-mouthed clay pot. Chidambara Iyer of Polagam is credited for his pioneer work of developing the instrument as an accompaniment. Ghatams with strong and durable bodies are made at Panruti and Manamadurai.

The hands and the stomach of the player helps in bringing out various sound modulations in the instrument. Copper and iron fillings mixed with clay produce the sweet resonant tonal quality in the Ghatam.

The Ghatam plays an important role on the Karnatik music concert platform as an upapakkavadya or subsidiary instrument. They are also a part of instrument ensembles.

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