Musical Instruments in India

Chordophones (string instruments)

Aerophones (wind instruments)



Agappai kinnari
Instrument consisting of a bamboo stem attached to a half-cut coconut shell. This was covered with skin. One or two strings ran over the bamboo finger-board.

Ancient Naga Vina
A stringed instrument with frets made in the shape of a serpent.

Ancient sarangi
An earlier model of the sarangi.

A popular Russian guitar with a triangula body, a long neck with frets and three gut strings.

This is called "Taus" in North India. In shape and construction it is the same as the sitar but has a peacock-like resonator and the instrument is played with a bow. The frets are movable. The body and stem are painted like that of a peacock. Underneath the frets there are a number of sympathetic strings. There is a parchment belly over which the bridge is placed. While the right hand handles the bow, the forefinger and the middle finger of the left hand are used to stop the strings on the frets. The instrument is held in an oblique position - the neck resting on the left shoulder and the legs of the peacock resting on the ground and played. On account of the peacock-like resonator, the instrument is also called "Mayuri".

Bambooline is a Phillippine model of violin made of bamboo.

A plucked string instrument with frets.

Burmese violin
This is a Burmese instrument belonging to the bowed variety.

Conical tambura
An experimental tambura developed by the Development for Musical Instruments, Madras. The resonator is made of five thin planks of wood.

A fretted bowed stringed instrument.

Dotar is the same as ektar in shape, but two strings tuned to the same pitch are used. It is a drone instrument.

Eka Raga Mela Vina
It means a vina on which only one mela (That) or main raga can be played. It arose from the yazh.

Ektar is the medicants' drone. A round stick of about 4 feet length and less than 2" in diameter forms the finger-board. One end of this stick is provided with a tuning peg and the other end is passed through a hollow gourd resonator. It has an open string, one end of which is fastened to a nail fixed on to the projection of the stick beyond the resonator. From here, the string passes over a crude wooden bridge placed on the gourd and then fastened to the peg at the top. To increase the richness of tone, a silken or woollen thread is placed between the bridge and the string. The instrument is held either in the right hand or the left hand and the fore-finger is used to pluck the string.

A fretted bowed stringed instrument.

This is a stringed instrument shaped just like a tambura. Its length is shorter than that of the tambura. It has a rest at the left end. The four strings are tuned to correct pitch and delightful rhythms are played on the instrument with two thin sticks. The sticks strike all the four strings simultaneously. There is a sculpture of the gettuvadyam in Hale Alur, in Mysore State.

Gotu vadyam
One of the concert instruments of South India belonging to the stringed group. It is also known as Mahanataka Vina. Gotuvadyam is just the veena minus the frets and the waxy ledge. It is played by gliding a piece of cylindrical wood over the strings. The compass of the gotuvadyam extends over four octaves.

Guitar veena
An experimental veena shaped in guitar model developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras.

An ancient Vedic instrument similar to the harp with strings of different lengths. It is also similar to the Yazh.

Kashmiri sitar
This is a stringed instrument used exclusively as an accompaniment to singing, in Kashmir.

One of the oldest stringed instruments named after the inventor Kinnara, one of the musicians of heaven. It is represented on many old Indian sculptures and paintings. The finger board consists of a round stick of bamboo and upon this are fixed 12 frets of bone with a resinous substance. Beneath the finger board are 3 gourd resonators, the middle one being larger than the other two. Strings passing over the frets are used for playing music and also there are strings used for drone purposes.

This is a most primitive instrument found among the Savaras, one of the oldest ethnic populations, and the Pulayans and Kanikars of Kerala.

Laghu Gotu Vadyam
A miniature size of Gotuvadyam designed and developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras.

Laghu veena
A miniature size of veena designed and developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras.

Matchya yazh-cum-veena
An experimental fish-shaped stringed instrument, two in one - harp and veena with sitar model frets fixed, developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras.

A descendant of the lute but smaller and with a nearly straight neck and is played with a plectrum of tortoise shell or some other flexible material.

Matchya veena
A fish-shaped stringed instrument of plucked variety having 3 played strings and 5 frets of guts to indicate svarathanas.

This is a stringed instrument of the plucked group and has 14 frets and two strings. The strings are plucked by a plectrum. This instrument is played in the temples in Malabar.

Narayana veena
An experimental stringed instrument, three in one, i.e. harp, gotuvadyam and tambura, developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras, taking the koto of Japan as a model.

Pancha vadyam
An experimental composite instrument (5 in one - dotar, gotuvadyam, violin, swaramandala and santoor), designed and developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras.

Phono violin
An older type of European violin used in earlier times.

Pradarsana vina
A plucked fretless stringed instrument.

This is a plucked variety of stringed instruments of North India and this instrument is very popular in Kashmir.

Ravanastram is believed to be the earliest of bowed instruments consisting of a bamboo stick as body to which two wooden pegs are fixed for tuning the strings and a half hollowed coconut shell as belly covered with a dried skin. The bow having a string of horse hair and belts attached to it is used as a fiddle stick.

RedCedar Splinters Veena
An experimental veena, the bowl or Kudam made of splinters of redcedar wood, entirely different from the traditionally manufactured veena, developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras. The gourd on the left side is directly connected to the stem which amplifies the sound and thus becomes the second resonator.

Rudra Veena
A string instrument with two large gourds.

A stringed instrument belonging to the bowed variety used in Kashmir as an accompaniment to the singing.

A stringed instrument of Persian origin having 100 strings of wire and is played with two sticks. It was also called "Katyayana Veena" or "Satatantri Veena".

A fretless stringed instrument played with a bow, used in Hindustani music.

Saraswati Veena
An ancient stringed instrument which is referred to in ancient literature and found in the sculptures. It is believed that sage Narada used this instrument. It is also known as Kachchapi Veena. It is made of bamboo stick and two gourd resonators. Bone frets are fixed to indicate the svarasthanas. It is held on the shoulder and played.

A popular plucked stringed instrument in Northern India. It is also called Sarrawat. It is referred to as Gajamukha Veena in the ancient literature. The belly is made from one block of wood hollowed, covered by a parchment and has a fretless finger board.

A Burmese instrument which arose from the Indian yazh.

The sitar is the invention of Amir Shusru, the famous poet and singer attached to the Court of Sultan Alauddin Khilju of Delhi (1295-1315). This is the most popular instrument in Northern India. The sitar is a lute-like instrument with a long fretted neck and a resonating gourd. It is plucked by the index finger of the left hand fitted with a plectrum made of wire. Sitars generally have 6 or 7 main playing strings which run above the frets, and an additional 12 or more sympathetic strings which give the instrument a shimmering echo when played. The frets herein are movable and can be adjusted according to the scale selected to be played upon. The sitar is also called as satar and sundari.

A stringed drone instrument.

The resonator and the stem are hollowed out of a piece of wood. There is a parchment belly. Upon this is the bridge over which the silken strings pass. There are frets of guts to indicate the svarasthanas. The head is carved down into the shape of a parrot. The tuning pegs are fixed to the neck. The strings are plucked by a horn plectrum. On acccount of the peculiar construction of the instrument, its range and scope are limited. Although popularly called swarabat, the correct name is swaragat.

Swaramandala is an ancient instrument. The resonator is of wood and is trapezoid or quadrilateral in shape. It has a number of parallel strings. The strings are tied to the attachment and after passing over a bridge are tied to the pegs on the other side. The pitch is adjusted by turning the pegs. A key is used to turn the pegs. The strings are tuned to the required scale.

A drone instrument with four to eight strings and only two basic notes of differing octaves. It has a gourd at the bottom and is played vertically.

An instrument belonging to the variety of Idiophones, made of iron tubes of different sizes for different notes and octaves.

An assamese fold instrument made of wood. The belly is covered with snake's skin. It has 4 main strings.

A stringed drone instrument.

Tuntina Tambura
An experimental tambura in the shape of Tuntina, developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras.

Vamsee Struthi, Vamsee Sruthi Dandi, Sruthi Dandi
The above three instruments are the improvised designs of the existing drone, tambura, designed and developed by the Developemtn Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras. The materials used for these instruments are bamboo, wood, bamboo and wood, respectively and the machine heads are used for tuning purpose in the place of wooden heads.

Vedic Lute
An ancient stringed instrument referred to in the ancient literature of the Vedic period, used as an accompaniment to the chanting of samagana.

A stringed instrument used solo or as accompaniment in Carnatic music. It has a fretted fingerboard, two gourds, and is played horizontally.

Vichitra Bin
A stringed plucked instrument, without frets.

Vichitra Veena
A stringed instrument used in Hindustani music. This is the rudra veena but without frets and is played like a gotuvadyam of the South.

This violin is an experimental one, the body of which consists of only two pieces - bottom and top, different from the traditionally-made violin with several joints. It is named as Bharat violin, developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras.

Violin (Carnatic)
Identical to the Western violin, the Carnatic violin was imported into Indian classical music possibly in the late 18th century. The adaptation of this instrument to the culture is so complete that most Indians would naturally assume that the instrument is indigenous. The violin is placed firmly between the foot and the chest of the performer. This enables rapid hand movements that are necessary for the innumerable slides, oscillations, grace notes and other types of note-ornamentations that are so intrinsic to and typical of Carnatic music.

Walking Stick Guitar
A guitar in the shape of a walking stick which was brought into existence in the early 19th century. The prototype was made in the Centre with the help of the picture available in the book "Musical Instruments Through the Ages" by Alexander Buchner.

Walking Stick Violin
A violin in the shape of a walking stick which was in existence in the early 19th century. The prototype was made in the Centre with the help of the picture available in the book "Musical Instruments Through the Ages" by Alexander Buchner.

The yazh is an ancient Dravidian instrument, somewhat like a harp. It was named for the fact that the tip of stem of this instrument was carved into the head of the animal yaali (vyala in Sanskrit). The yazh was an open-stringed polyphonous instrument, with a wooden boat-shaped skin-covered resonator and an ebony stem. It was tuned by either pegs or rings of gut moved up and down the string. It is not used today but pictures of it are found in Thirumayam in Tamil Nadu, probably of the 8th century A.D. There are many reference to it in Tamil literature. This instrument was displaced by the veena in the middle ages. The following are some varieties of yazh, the prototypes made by the craftsmen of the Centre with the help of pictures taken from the sculptures and the material available in the ancient literature.

  • Adi Yazh
  • Makara Yazh - 17 strings.
  • Maruththuva Yazh
  • Matchya Yazh
  • Peri Yazh - literally, big yazh. It had 21 strings.
  • Sagoda Yazh - 16 strings.
  • Seeri Yazh
  • Sengottu Yazh - 7 strings.
  • Vil Yazh - it means bow string. It was essentially a bow with strings of different lengths.


A wind instrument with a cylindrical tube.

Composite pitch pipe
An experimental pitch selector, designed and developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras, wherein six different sruthi reeds are fixed.

Chinese Flute
A flute in which there is a special hole between the mouth-hole and the first-finger hole, which is covered with a thin membraneous tissue from a plant. When the flute is blown, the tissue vibrates and gives a pleasant reed-like sound.

Wind instrument with a cylindrical tube body. It is a drone instrument.

A brass wind instrument.

The flute, known as Murali or Venu in Sanskrit and Kuzhal in Tamil, is the most universally found wind instrument and occupies a dignified place in Indian music. Usually made of bamboo with six to eight holes (plus the blowing hole), it is played with the tips and middle sections of the fingers. Grace notes and gamakas are played by passing the fingers over the open holes or by using cross-fingering techniques. Flute playing is included among the Chatush-Shasti Kalas.

This is a wind instrument consisting of brass tubes and used during temple festivals.

Kombu or horn is called "Sringa" in the North. It is about 4 feet in length and consists of three brass tubes fitting into one another. The end piece is connected by a rod or cord to give stability. It gives a very shrill note and is used in temple processions and public amusements. It is used in martial music and also for signals.

A woodwind, with a conical tube and mouthpiece.

Called "Punji" in the North. Used mostly by snake-charmers and jugglers and sometimes by mendicants. The instrument consists of bottle gourd, into the bulbous end of which are inserted two canes- their interior ends being cut so as to form reeds. One pipe gives the drone note while the other is pierced with finger-holes for playing music. Wind is blown through the hole pierced on the top of the neck of the gourd. The parts of the instrument are fastened together by means of black wax. Magudi is called "Bhujanga swaram" in the Kamikagamam. Sculptures of performers on the Bhujanga Swaram can be seen in the temples at Rameswaram and Tirukkazhukundram in Tamil Nadu.

Mukha vina
A woodwind instrument with a conical tube body and provided with a mouthpiece.

A long conical-tubed wind instrument usually made of ebony, commonly seen in wedding orchestras in the South. It is played with a mouth-piece, holding the instrument horizontally in front of the musician.

A brass wind instrument.

Nedunkuzhal is an instrument made of bamboo used by the shepherds. A mouth piece is inserted at about the centre of the tube. The part of the pipe below the mouth piece is the tune pipe. This part has 8 finger holes and the upper part has 7 holes and this part is the drone pipe. The air blown inside by the performer feeds both the tune pipe and the drone pipe.

A wind instrument made of a cylindrical ebony tube body. It is used as a drone.

Reeded wind instrument.

Reed Dulcimer
A reeded wind instrument.

Shepherd's Flute
Another type of shepherd's flute, also called the beak flute.

Single Reed Pitch Pipe
A pitch pipe intended for a selected pitch with a single sruthi reed fixed.

Snake Nagaswaram
A nagaswaram in the shape of a snake, developed by the Development Centre for Musical Instruments, Madras, as an experimental piece.

Sankhu (Conch)
The most ancient wind instrument known to man. It is represented in the Amaravathi and Sanchi sculptures (3rd century B.C.). It is held very sacred and reference to it is found in all the literature of India. It is one of the attributes of Sri Vishnu. The conch used by Sri Krishna was called "Panchajanya". The conch is blown through a small hole made in the spiral. It is used in temples, religious ceremonies and processions. Its tone has a distinctive quality of its own and can be heard at long distance.

Sarattai vadyam
To make this instrument, a half-coconut shell was smoothened on its inner surface. The hollow part of the shell was covered with the left palm and the shell was struck with two metallic rings held in the fingers of the right hand. This instrument provided rhythmic accompaniment in folk music.

A woodwind instrument used in Hindustani music. It has a conical tube body and a mouthpiece.

Sruthi Box
An instrument used for drone purposes. It is shaped like an accordion with air being pushed through an enclosed space to produce sound. More recently, electronic sruthi boxes have been developed.

Stone Nadaswaram
A variety of nadaswaram made of soapstone.

A brass wind instrument.

A brass wind instrument.

A drone instrument with a body in the shape of a cylindrical tube.


Bhangam, Ubhangam, and Mondai
These three instruments belong to the percussion group, are made of clay, and are referred to in ancient Tamil literature.

A conical drum.

Bhumi dundubhi
An ancient Vedic instrument consisting of a pit dug in the ground and covered with a stretched skin. It was played standing by several people bearing long sticks.

Brahma talam
Metallic cymbals used in temple rituals.

An hour-glass shaped drum with a string tied to the center and a knot at the other end of the string. When the drum is rattled, the knotted end strikes the two faces alternately.

Chandra Pirai
Chandra Pirai (of the shape of the moon) is a percussion instrument used in Mariamman temples and in temples of village deities. A thin parchment is strained over the iron ring of the arm. The instrument is tied over the forehead of a person and played with a stick. The instrument is also called Chandra mandalam, the Telegu name for the drum, and is used in the temple of Kalahasti. Sometimes skilled performers provide a rhythmical accompaniment with this instrument in nagaswaram concerts. Playing on this instrument is an item in the Sarva Vadyam ritual of temples.

This is a percussion instrument of Kerala and is used in Kathakali dance. It is also used in the temple rituals.

A gong, with circular plates of metal struck with a light stick.

Chinese drums
Drums of snake skin.

A conical drum.

An hour-glass shaped drum with a string tied to the center and a knot at the other end of the string. When the drum is rattled, the knotted end strikes the two faces alternately.

Daph or dep is a circular drum and is stretched with buffalo hide over the frame on one side.

Dasari tappattai
A single-faced open drum with a skin stretched over one side.

An hour-glass shaped drum. It is played by striking with a stick.

A horizontal drum played on the sides with both hands.

A barrel-shaped drum.

A red ceramic pot played with the hands, the mouth of the instrument against the abdomen of the artist.
A pot made from a mix of clay and metal shavings, the Ghatam ("ghu-tum") is one of the most ancient percussion instruments from south India. The position of the pot's narrow opening is held against the player's body and may be changed to alter the quality of the sound. Occasionally, performers even like to toss and catch the instrument while playing!
Two main kinds of ghatams exist: characterized by very thick walls or light walls. The thick wall ghatam is considered having a nicer sound than the other, but is more difficult to play. The pots are tuned to the tonic of the musician, so a ghatam player can have up to 50 different ghatam to perfectly suit the pitch of the vocalist. The percussionist uses the flat, the knuckles and the sides of both hands to hit the walls of the ghatam but he also uses his belly to cover the mouth of the pot, generating controlled tuning and even notes in the lower octave. The ghatam is the main percussion instrument of Carnatic music along with mridangam. It is one of the ancient time-keeping instruments of South India and even finds mention in the Ramayana. It is also used by the rural folk in their concerts of folk music.

Gummati is a kind of pot drum used in the districts of Andhra Pradesh by the rural folk to provide a rhythmic accompaniment during the singing of the ballads. The instrument is held in a horizontal position and played.

An hour-glass shaped drum.

A pair of metallic cymbal used in Kathakali plays.

Jalatarangam cups
Porcelain (previously metallic, gave rise to gamelan) drums struck with cane and bamboo sticks. In ancient times it was called udaka vadyam (water-instrument).

A pair of small metallic cymbals.

This is a drum with a slightly barrel-shaped or bucket-shaped resonator and open at one end. The closed end is covered with a thin parchment. At its centre is tied a string which goes through the inside of the instrument. This is tied to a stick at the other end. This drum is used as an accompaniment while singing ballads.

Kanaka tappattai
A single-faced open drum with skin stretched over a circular ring of thin strips of bamboo.

Two small pieces, used along with the kanjhari which is being used as an Upatala vadya in the present day South Indian music concerts, are believed to be the earlier shapes of kanjhari. The kanjhari is a percussion instrument with a skin stretched over one side of a cylinder.

A single-faced open drum with skin stretched over one side and small cymbals woven into the frame, similar to a tambourine.

Kavana maddalam
A miniature mridangam used during the palanquin dance.

A barrel-shaped drum.

Kidikittu vadyam
This instrument consists of a pair of conical drums made of jackwood. This is used in the folk dance and nagaswaram concerts in Tamil Nadu. It is played with two sticks. Kirikatti and kinikitti are the other names of this instrument.

This is a pot drum. Skin is stretched over the mouth of the pot and this skin is held tight by an iron ring through which it is attached and this is fixed to the pot by cord and ropes passing all round the pot.

A conical drum.

Kuzhi talam
Metallic cymbals, smaller than the Brahma talam.

The Jew's harp. It is used for percussion and played with the mouth and fingers.

A South Indian barrel-shaped percussion instrument played horizontally with the hands. The drums are stretched skin with a central circle of black paste that gives a different playing surface. It is used in most Carnatic concerts as accompaniment to both vocal and instrumental performances. Also called sangita maddalam.
The mridangam ("mri-dung-gam") is a barrel-shaped percussion instrument made from a hollowed-out block of wood with a drumhead on each end. It has two apertures of different size: one, very small, that will generate high pitched sounds and another, wider, for low pitched sounds. The right head is smaller than the left and is tuned to the main note, or "do." The drumheads are fashioned from overlapping layers of skin, stretched with leather straps that run along the sides of the body. Each head produces a different tone. The pitch is adjusted by moving small wooden cylinders between the drum and the leather straps to increase or decrease tension on the heads. A patch of iron filings is place on the higher drum; a patch of rice flour on the lower. The player can produce an array of different sounds using various finger-striking techniques.

A conical drum with a huge semi-spherical resonator.

A kind of pot drum with skin covering one side.

Nattuva talam
A pair of metallic cymbals in which one plate is of steel or iron and the other is of bronze.

Om Bell (Pranava Ghanta)
A bell made of panchalohas presented by the famous South Indian cinema actor and musician late Sri. V. Nagaiah.

This is a pair of cylindrical drums. It is played with two sticks.

A barrel-shaped drum.

This three faced drum is a rare variety of the instruments belonging to the percussion group.

A gong. A circular plate of metal is struck with a light stick.

A gong of a circular plate of metal struck with the stick of the calotropis plant.

Sanna udal
An hour-glass shaped drum.

Suddha maddalam
A barrel-shaped drum longer than the mridangam, used exclusively in temple rituals and Kathakali plays. Its right face has more black paste than the mridangam, resulting in a deep, resonant tone.

Surya Pirai
Surya Pirai (of the shape of the Sun) is a percussion instrument used in Maiamma temples and in temmples of village deities. This is also called Surya Mandalam. A thin parchment is strained over the iron ring of the instrument. The ring is connected to a handle with an extended arm. The instrument is tied over the forehead of a person and played with a stick. It is used in the temple of Kalahasti and also played as an item in the Sarva Vadyam ritual of temples.

Tabla and Baya
These two instruments take place of the mridangam in northern and central India. Played horizontally with the fingers and hands, the pair together generate a wide tonal range and harmonic qualities. The tabla's head corresponds to the right head of the mridangam and the baya's head to the left of the same. The shell of these one-faced drums is either wood, metal or clay. Sometimes the baya also is provided with a permanent fixture of the black paste. In such cases, the black ring instead of being in the centre in the tabla will be found on the edge. Some bayas are provided with tuning blocks. Although these have been played as a solo instrument, their primary role, in both the classical and popular music genres, consists of accompanying a melodic instrument.

Metallic cymbals, smaller than the Brahma talam.

A single-faced open drum with skin stretched over one side.

Tanti Panai
This is a pot drum with a metallic string inside, used by the rural folk. A piece of goat skin is strained over the mouth of the pot. At the centre of the skin is a small hold through which the metallic ring in the centre of a button projects inside. To this ring the string inside is tied. The string passes through the centre of the pot inside and emerges out of the back through a small circular aperture. Emerging from this aperture, the string passes over the top of the pot through holes drilled in the centre of the three square pieces of wood and ends ultimately in a peg. The peg is inserted into a bigger piece of wood. This piece of wood supporting the peg is kept in position by being tied to a cotton thread passing around the neck of the pot. The wooden pieces on the outer surface of the pot are all kept in position by the tension of the string. By turning the peg, the pitch of the string can be adjusted to the required sruthi or tonic note of the performer. This is a compound musical instrument serving the double purpose of a drone accompaniment and rhythmic accompaniment.

A single-faced open drum with a circular plate of resonant wood stretched over the frame.

A horizontal two-faced drum with hempen hoops at the ends.

A drum with an hour-glass or mortar shaped body.

A Kashmiri folk percussion instrument. A drum with mud (pot) body, the bottom covered by skin and the mouth kept open.

This is the hour-glass shaped drum laced with twine. A thin parchment is strained over the two faces. Right along the middle, passing over the twine threads, is a thick tape, the squeeze of which tightens the braces, resulting in the sharpening of the tone. The shell is of brass, wood or clay. It is used in all Mariamman temples and in the temples of the village deities. The instrument is played with the fingers of the right hand.

Drum with two heads. The milky juice of a plant is rubbed over the center of the right head, and when this head is stroked, it gives a characteristic tone.

A drum made of bronze.


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