India is a phenomenal country upholding the spirit of music from ancient times. Several music maestros have adorned the Indian subcontinent with their exclusive talents and skills. They have instilled a sense of pride and grandeur within the people residing in the country. But their success and fame are largely dependent on the harmony and the rhythmic beats of the Indian musical instruments accompanying them in their musical journey.
The musical instruments enhance the sweetness and melody of the songs sung by the artists. The instruments are designed to create rhythmic patterns which govern the song composition and the beats. In India music is divided into two main streams – Hindustani prevalent in North India and Carnatic of South India. Both possess a unique characteristic of their own influenced by the rulers and dynasties dominating the region. Being an ardent lover of music and having trained in the musical world for almost 14 years since I was 4 years old, I would like to share the 10 most popular traditional Indian musical instruments with my readers.
Traditional Indian Musical Instruments
Sitar is one of the most common and widely used Indian musical instruments. It is prevalent mostly in North India. The instrument is gourd-shaped at the bottom which acts as the resonator supported by a long neck. The neck consists of 7 cords, 20 metal frets, and 13 strings below the frets. The frets are leveraged to adjust the musical notes whereas the sympathetic strings are used to tune the notes.
The musical notes are part of the Ragas in Indian music. There is a wide variety of Ragas, each with its set of patterns and rules as defined by the School of Indian music. The instruments need to be tuned to the notes of the Ragas coupled with Tala or the rhythmic beats.
The famous Indian Sitar maestros are Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Debu Chowdhury, and many more. These legends have spread the fame of Sitar worldwide through their amazing performances in various musical events and shows.
The flute is one of the melodious Indian musical instruments famous in both north and south Indian states. The instrument had been played by musicians from ancient times. It is shaped like a cylinder with holes in between. The holes are significant in varying the sound pitch. They alter the sound frequency to create different melodious tunes.
The musicians hold the flute horizontally slightly inclined downwards with both their hands. They control the notes and the tunes by alternately covering the holes with their fingers. The flutes are available in different sizes.
The prominent Flute masters of India are Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Pandit Pannalal Ghosh. They have been entertaining the audience in India as well as abroad with their excellent musical skills. The popularity of Flute recitals has attained substantial importance due to the excellent contribution by the musical maestros.
Shehnai is one of the popular Indian musical instruments prevalent mostly in the northern part of India. The instrument is considered auspicious, played mostly as a customary tradition during marriages and any religious occasions. Its wonderful tune creates an enchanting atmosphere, mesmerizing the audience with its melodious sound.
The instrument is cone-shaped at the front with a long tapering end. Similar to the flute, Shenai also has holes to control the sound frequency and musical notes. The musicians hold the instrument in front blowing air through the tapered end, covering the holes alternately with their fingers.
Indians will cherish the memory of Ustad Bismillah Khan as the legend of Shehnai expert. He had been phenomenal in gifting some of the masterpieces of Shehnai recitals. The people of India are indebted to him for his immense contribution to Indian music.
Mridangam is one of the renowned Indian musical instruments of the southern part of India. Normally the instrument is played along with the vocal, dance, and orchestral recitals. The rhythmic beats are entertaining and captivating, prompting you to tap your feet in delight.
Mridangam is made of wood in the shape of a barrel-like drum. The right side of the drum is comparatively smaller than the left side. Both sides are covered with a thin skinny layer. The musician uses both their hands to play the drum. The fingers are used exclusively to tap and create the beats.
India’s leading Mridangam experts are Palghat Mani Iyer and Patri Satish Kumar. These maestros are phenomenal in accompanying leading vocalists and musicians in different recitals in various parts of the world.
Sarod is one the sweetest Indian musical instruments played majorly in northern India and some parts of southern India. Both solo and duet sarod recitals are prominent in India. The tunes are quite soothing to the ears.
The instrument is made of wood and the shape is somewhat similar to the sitar. The bottom part is shaped like a gourd and is coated with metal, acting as the resonator. In continuation with the bottom part, the elongated part consists of 25 strings of which 15 of them are sympathetic strings. Unlike sitar, sarod does not have frets. The musicians use a triangle-shaped plectrum to pluck the strings.
The renowned sarod maestros are Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Brij Narayan, Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta, and Zarin Daruwalla.
Tabla is the most popular musical instrument in India. It has been phenomenal in several dance performances, shows and even movies. Many prominent classical Indian dancers have executed their spectacular skills be it solo or in dance dramas, at the beats of Tabla. Indian vocalists prefer being accompanied by Tabla in almost all their recitals.
The instrument is made of wood and has 2 parts. There are strings attached to both for tuning and aligning with the musical notes. A small hammer is used by the musicians to hit slowly the rims of both parts to create the right cord. Each part has a round black spot in the middle. The musicians use the fingers of both hands to strike the top of the table and execute the magical beats.
The famous table players of India who earned International recognition are Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Bickram Ghosh. They have brought in extensive innovations in the world of table entertaining audiences for years.
Pakhawaj is similar to Mridangam, the difference being in the tunes and the sound of the musical notes. It is normally played in duet recitals or accompany as a musical extravaganza with vocal recitals.
The instrument is shaped like a barrel with 2 skin layered sides. There are cylindrical blocks placed over the body on which leather strings are attached throughout the length. The strings and the blocks are adjusted by the musicians for tuning.
The famous Pakhawaj players of India are Pandit Tota Ram Sharma and his esteemed student Pandit Mohan Shyam Sharma.
Harmonium is one of the oldest traditional Indian musical instruments, predominantly used by the majority of musicians and vocalists as the first step toward their music curriculum. It essentially resembles a keyboard. The instrument is seldom played solo, usually accompanied by other musical instruments or played by the vocalists. It is popular both in North and South India.
The instrument consists of keys to play the musical notes and bellows for driving the air frequency. It is rectangular shaped with the keys resembling that of a piano. The keys are played with the right hand and the bellows are adjusted with the left hand.
Veena is a plucked string Indian musical instrument mostly prevalent in South India. It has similarities with the sitar and sarod in having the frets and the strings to tune in the musical cords. The Veena is termed as an auspicious instrument since as per Hindu mythology Goddess Saraswati plays the instrument and carries it in her hand.
The instrument is made of wood with two dome-shaped structures at both ends. The left dome is smaller than the right dome. The left hand is used to strike the strings and frets for achieving the correct musical tones. The right hand is used to pluck the strings with a triangular piece.
The well-known Veena players of India are Asad Ali Khan and Jayanthi Kumaresh.
Click to know about the Popular Folk Dances of India
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