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The Hindu Gift To World Music: Classical Music Instruments

November 24, 2015

Very few cultures in human race are gifted with rare acumen of producing, creating soulful music. Hindus are one such a gifted and unique species which is why it’s no wonder India is home to 2 genres of Desi Classical Music – the Hindustani stream of the north and Carnatic classical of south India (apart from native classical dance forms which merit a separate write-up in their own right).

The aim of this post is to make a brief, if not complete, record of Hindu contribution to world music.

India’s native classical instruments comprising the Stringed ones (like Sitar and Veena), Percussion (drums such as Mridangam and Tabla) and Wind (like the Bansuri) command a special place in global music stage, with Sitar and Tabla adapted by a wide range of western music followers. An array of other instruments vastly remain unpopular, although thriving in local scene, with the music tradition dying a slow death in some cases as in rural/folk country.

Hindus revere musical instruments which find place in ritual worship by way of ‘puja’ (service), the highest respects, tributes, mankind can ever give these finest creations of God who gifted us the basic ‘Sapta Swaras’ (the seven notes of scale) that form the core of all sounds/tunes and beats (raags and taals) in universe. Simply everything is contained in ‘Sapta swaras.’ There is no sound or vibration that is out of scope of ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ne’ right?

We Hindus believe, Veena is the instrument of the very goddess of learning/knowledge/wisdom Mother Saraswathi. If Saraswathi reigns supreme, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth/fortunes and Shakthi, the goddess of power & strength shall follow suit.

Lord Ganesha is the master of drums.

India thus is this divine home where we view everything – including inanimate objects like music instruments as life. This compilation is limited but there is scope for additions in future:

All pictures are Google Images only.

Our traditional instruments have less and less number of learners, teachers (gurus) and followers these days which is a big concern. This precarious situation endangers the transition of our native music system to next generation. The music scene in Chennai, the gateway to Indian culture, is vibrant. Chennai is home to classical Carnatic attracting thousands of classical music exponents and disciples from around the world during the famous December Music Season (Margazhi). But of late, even here we see vocal music gaining an overwhelming predominance over instrumental music which is kind of sad. Very few youngsters take to Indian instruments nowadays and interest is waning.

In Hindu culture, music translates to spirituality. Music is essentially a form of ‘bhakthi.’ Bhakthi and Music intertwine in search of the ultimate bliss: Nirvana. Thus the ‘Divine Being’ ‘revels in soulful music.’ Meera reached upto her eternal love Krishna through music.


Bansuri, the flute, is also the instrument of Lord Krishna, played in India for eons. The western flute version differs slightly from original desi version.  Called ‘Pullankuzhal’ in tamil, the south Indian flute is also a tad different from the northern Indian bansuri. Thus there is not a thing that Hindus did not discover or invent in an ancient civilization that pre-existed the current one.

The amazing north-south sync in the Indian classical music versions north & south of Tropic of Cancer is what is brilliant: The Sitar of north’s equivalent in the south is Veena. The Mridangam from down under finds a mate in Tabla up north. The Nadaswaram played in south Indian weddings is substituted with Shehnai or Shenoy without which there is no north Indian wedding.

‘Shenoy’ Nagar, incidentally, is my postcode (Chennai 600030)  🙂

‘Yaazh’ (as proncounced in ‘Yaazhpaanam’ a Tamil city in Sri Lanka) is a unique ancient Thamizh stringed musical instrument. ‘Jalatharangam’ also specific to India is a play with water creating a rare musical vibration that no other instrument is capable of evoking:

Pranaams to Hindustani/Carnatic Classical & Folk Musiclore of India!

What prompted me to write up this post is, how computerized synchronization is KILLING traditional native classical instruments of India in such an obscene fashion. Donkeys and Horses cannot become one class (with no disrespect to donkeys sincerely).  The fine nuances of Indian classical instruments cannot be 100% perfected or attuned to mechanically.  I was once a Veena player myself and therefore I can vouch safe, ‘the gamakas’ of Veena simply cannot be reproduced by computer notes as is famously claimed. Art is dying, artisans are dying because of mechanical or perhaps electronic synthesis of our musical reverberations even if it can be argued that this is one more step in human evolution.

There is also attempt from some ‘quarters’ (read Pakistan) to ‘own’ up the native Hindu instruments claiming them as their own, in recent times. It’s perhaps in interest of India to patent these instruments which are ancient Hindu heritage. Never did such a thought cross my mind before but if we are to remain lax on these issues, just like Tejo Mahalaya became Taj Mahal and we are today living with it, a day might dawn when everything Hindu could be claimed as islamic, NOT EVEN BY PAKISTANIS BUT BY LEFTISTS & INDIAN MEDIA in the first place….

The deliberate, steady and systematic designs and manipulations to trivialize, devalue, discredit and even disinherit (us of) and usurp anything and everything Hindu by gene, culture & heritage is highly alarming. Aryabhatta was indeed the world’s first astronomer. Sushrutha was the world’s first plastic surgeon unquestioningly. Bhaskara did give the world Calculus and Trigonometry and Hindus did invent the Zero concept. Ayurveda to Yoga and Meditation techniques, there is not a field ancient Hindus did not touch or pioneer in. Everything ground to a standstill by 8th century AD. Why.

For the firs time would like to close the post with a Poll and a request to anyone who chances upon this post: PLEASE ENROLL YOUR KIDS IN CLASSICAL INDIAN INSTRUMENTS TRAINING rather than aspire for Dance competitions in tv channels. You will be rendering yeoman service to Mother India.

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