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Indian Musical Instruments: Stringed Instruments

Tata vadya, gintang, gontam, fifli, tuntune, ek tara, baul, dehatatva, khamak, chonka, jamidika, buang, tamboora, sitar, sarode, tanpoora, juari, tumburu, tumbi, moorcchana paddhati, villadi vadyam, gejjai, damaru, munja, vana veena, saptatantri veena, vipanchi, yazh, veenai, makara, santoor, qanoon, rabab, tritantri, tuila, alapini, gottuvadyam, memerajan, kinnari, rubaiya, yali, chikari, dhole, kamaicha and dilruba...

By: Dr. B. Chaitanya Deva

Last Updated On: Wednesday, March 14, 2007



The Cultural Perspective



Wind Instruments

Stringed Instruments


Tata vadya are so many in number and variety that it is futile to search for their beginning and sometimes even classification becomes complicated. Today there are in the world harps, lyres, psalteries, dulcimers, zithers and lutes and in each class there are so many varieties; methods of playing these are also numerous. It is therefore only natural to suppose that stringed instruments might have grown out of many kinds of tools and contraptions. There are various theories about this but none entirely comprehensive nor completely accepted. Some have traced the source to the hunting bow, some to ground harps, some to bamboo zithers and thus the search and discussions have gone on. The hunting bow is an ancient and familiar tool and many harps are believed to have really evolved out of this. The ground harp, a primitive instrument, is a pit in the ground covered with animal hide; a flexible wooden pole is planted by the side of the pit and from the free end of this a rope is tensed into the leather, thus bending the pole like half a bow and the rope like a bow string; this rope is plucked. The instrument, known as the ground harp, has so far not been observed in India. The bamboo zither is a small length of bamboo; its skin is spliced into two thin strips of bamboo and striking these strings with a small stick. In our country this instrument, which might be the mother of all zithers, is known as the gintang (Assam), the ronza gontam (Andhra) and by other names. The evolution of chordophones has thus come by so many devious paths and ways that we need not here inter into the complicated maze.

There are three major classes of stringed instruments. One group of these is not used for creating a melody or a raga but is employed as drones and rhythmic adjuncts. Another family we which may term polychords, comprise harps, lyres, dulcimers and similar instruments on which melody can be played but wherein there exists a one-string-for-one-tone relation. Then there is the largest genus: that of monochords; that is, one string is sufficient for playing the whole melody. Be it noted that there may be more than one string on the instrument; but every one of them can be used to produce a melody independently pf the other strings. Monochords may again by fretless, fretted, with a short or long 'neck' plucked or howed. Thus the types available to us are innumerable; so we shall study some of the more important specimens. If these are compared to the sushira vadya, a kind of resemblance and parallelism makes themselves evident. The harmonica and the pan pipes (fifli) are like the polychords where a reed or tune is necessary for every note. Analogous to the monochord is a flute or a shehnai where an entire melody can be got out of one length or column of air.

The string drones: tuntune, ek tar, tambooraOf the drone class one common example is the tuntune or tun tina. This is an instrument found particularly in south-central and western India and is a companion of mendicants and beggars. It has a small body: a hollow wooden cylinder of nearly twenty-five centimeters height and fifteen to twenty centimeters in diameter, with the bottom of the vessel closed by parchment. A bamboo piece of nearly seventy-five centimeters length is nailed or screwed to a side of the body on the outside. The top of this bamboo arm bears a single peg and between the peg and the leather bottom passes a single string which can be tightened or loosened by twisting the peg. The singer holds the tuntune in the hand and plucks the string with his forefinger, to give the base note and a kind of rhythm. A very common musical situation in which the tuntune is found in the tamasha play and pavada balled singing of Maharashtra.

A close relative of the tun tina is the gopi yantra, also sometimes called the ek tara, of Bengal and Orissa. This is an instrument seen invariably in the hands of bauls who are a type of itinerant musicians who sing of the guru and the Eternal Lover and are deeply dedicated to Vaishnavite bhakti and sufi ways of expression. They go from village to village with their baul or dehatatva songs on their lips to the twang of the gopi yantra, the khamak and a small conical drum, the bayan. The gopi yantra, like the tun tina, has a wooden resonator with a leather bottom; but the bowl, though almost cylindrical, is wider at the base and narrower at its upper end. Unlike the tuntune, the string is not attached to one bamboo rod and a peg, but a bamboo fork whose prongs are nailed to the outside of the resonator; usually there is a peg at the top. The single string goes from the top of this holder between the forks to the leather bottom. This instrument is a little more versatile than its cousin, as it can produce finer sound effects to suit the rhythm of the song and the jig. The bowl is held under one arm and the palm of this hand holds also the fork. White the string is plucked by one hand with a plectrum, the fork is pressed and released thus altering the tension of the string and the leather base, and hence their pitch and quality. A very beautiful vamping is the effect.

Premtal or chonkaThe premtal (Hindi), the khamak (Bengali), the chonka (Marathi) and the jamidika (Telugu) are all of a class of instruments similar in some respects to the tuntune and the gopi yantra. There is an important constructional difference which will become evident as we describe it. Functionally also this group is only a rhythmic one in contrast to the other two instruments which are used essentially as drones to give the basic tone to the melody. The more primitive kind has a bottle gourd resonator, but wooden cylinders are also common. Like the tun tina and the gopi yantra there is leather bottom through which a gut string of about sixty centimeters passes out through the vessel. Here the resemblance ends, for there is neither a bamboo rod nor a bamboo fork to hold this gut. To play it, the musician holds the body of the instrument under the arm and free end of the gut in the first of the same arm; this free end has a wooden block with which to hold the gut tense. With a wooden plectrum in the other hand he plucks the string and as he does so jerks the hand holding it a little, almost unnoticeably. The result is a weird tonal and rhythmic effect which can hold you for hours. These instruments are used by snake charmers and balled singers.

BuangThe Santals of Orissa have a rhythmic chordophone which they call as buang. The size of this instrument varies, but usually it is about a meter long and consists of a bamboo tube, a resonator and a rope. The sound fox is really an egg shaped bamboo basket pasted over with paper; any old paper like newsprint to colored tissue paper cut into beautiful strips. This covering not only makes the basket more effective in reinforcing the sound but gives it a charming shape and color. The basket is merely tied below the bamboo tube more or less centrally. From the two openings of the tube curved wooden pieces-often bent branches of a tree cut to a few centimeters-are inserted, one at each end. A hempen rope is tied across these curved protrusions, and the instrument is ready. Generally two or more buangs are played in a group dance, though there does not seem to be any restriction on the number. The dancer just holds the bamboo tube in one hand, pulls and lets go the rope, giving a boom boom sound. The buang is an extremely primitive and simple instrument but the attachment of basket and other features may well have been the progenitors of pumpkin and wooden resonators of more developed zithers.

We now come to the drones of greater sophistication, the crowing glory of which is the tamboora. The major classes are the ek tar family and the tamboori group which are only the cruder prototypes of tamboora. The ek tar, called the eka nada in some languages, is a single stringed instrument as its name implies. The resonator is a flat dried pumpkin and the danda or the hollow rod holding the string is inserted into it. This is an important fact that has to be carefully borne in mind for it is the beginning of the flute forms like the sitar, the sarode and the Saraswati veena. It will be recalled that in the buang the basket was below the danda; such an attachment leads on to the zithers like the Rudra veena, vichitra veena and similar instruments. Coming back to the ek tar, the danda projects a little from the bottom side of the gourd. On the projection there is a small hook from which the metal string passes over the body and is twisted round a peg at the distal end of the bamboo tube. A tiny thin bridge of wood or bamboo is placed on the resonator under the string. The ek tar is plucked with a to and fro movement of the forefinger. The instrument is a companion to the beggar and the bhajan singers. The word ek tar is often a misnomer, because there are many folk drones like the ram sagar of Gujarat, for instance, which have two strings but yet are called ek taras. The appellation in a few cases might lead to little confusion; for example the gopi yantra which is structurally very different from the instrument described is also known as ek tar, as it has one string.

The next stage in the development of the drone may be seen in the tamboori, common instrument with wandering mendicants in the south. This small stringed instrument is about a meter in length and hence it is portable. The resonance box is made of wood and is spherical in shape having an upper covering made out of a plain flat plank. This hollow body has a small neck which continues as a short danda; the danda terminates in a scroll with the motif of a snake's hood. Passing from the lower end of the resonator vessel, over a bridge on it, to the pegs near the scroll are four strings of metal which are constantly strummed to accompany the singer.

The tamboori evolves into the concert tamboora or tanpoora which is perhaps unequalled in richness by any other instrument; the number of overtones generated from each string and the combination of these are so great that the sound equality almost defies analysis. It is this luxuriance of tone that gives a background for any number of consonances and dissonances with the voice or other instruments in a concert. Yet the structure of the tamboora is simple. The sound 'box; is large pumpkin of about ninety centimeters in girth; this fruit with a particularly hard shell is grown extensively in Maharashtra, near Pandharpur, though a certain amount was imported from African countries like Zanzibar (Zaire). The fruit is allowed to dry, usually by hanging it well above a smoky fire for some years so that it gets sufficiently seasoned. It is then cut to the required shape and the desiccated inner pulp removed. The cut open part is now covered with a thin plank of wood and the resonator is ready. A wooden neck-a very short one-is fixed and to this is attached a long hollow fingerboard or dandi (danda). The total length of a low pitched tamboora used by men may be roughly one hundred and fifty centimeters; the high pitched one used by women is much smaller. There are four metallic strings in the instrument and these are plucked with the fingers to provide the drone; no melody is played on the tamboora. The northern and southern varieties differ a little, the kind we have just described is the north Indian tamboora. The one used in the south is smaller in size and does not use a pumpkin but has a bowl made entirely of wood, instead. Whatever be the regional variety the bridge of the instrument is of a particular interest. This is wide, unlike those seen in the sarangi, the sarode or the violin and is made of ivory, stag horn, camel bone or hard wood; it has also a spherical curvature. But the most important element is the small cotton, wool or silk thread inserted between the bridge and the strings. This thread, known as the jeevan or juari, has a special place and only when it is there and drawn correctly does the string emit its rich sound; otherwise the tone is dull. Perhaps this wide bridge and the juari, in ancient times called the jeeva or 'that which gives life' to the sound, is one of the best gifts to the world of instrument making. The jeeva has been known in India foe at least a thousand years now and was a bamboo slip in its infancy, employed mainly in the eka tantri (not ek tar).

From the foregone descriptions it may be possible to conclude that the evolution of the tamboora can be traced to simple folk drones. But textual and archaeological evidences which are datable or not profuse nor are they always reliable. In many cases musicological writing lacks the support of scientifically discussable material. For instance, the tamboora is invariably connected with the sages Tumburu and Narada, both mythological character; and even if they were historical figures, nothing of their history is known. Having linked these names with the word tamboora, it is natural that the evolution of the instrument is traced to times beyond known history. It is probably that the lute got its name from the words tumbi or tumbi phala, referring to a pumpkin. The present form of the tamboora, may have emerged in about the sixteenth century and has not changed much except for the addition of strings and the manner of tuning.

We now enter into the study of melodic stringed instruments which is an extensive field as also one which has had an indelible influence on the course of Indian music. It may not therefore be out of place to a say a few words on this, though we may not go into the detailed controversial technicalities of the subject. For our purpose it will be enough, to take note of two of the very major genuses of tata vadya. The first may be called the polychords and the other monochords, which were briefly discussed at the beginning of this chapter. Because of the basic differences in structure and in the musical potentialities of each class, two fundamentally different tonal systems were developed in India. Each had its own terms of reference, though during the process of historical change the two musicologies often got mixed up and textual studies lead to much controversial confusion. Since the polychords had one-string-one-note correspondence, theories of music based on discrete tones and shifts of musical scales as was possible with harps were developed. This was called the moorcchana paddhati or the system of modal shifts. On the other hand, instruments like the eka tantri, the sarode, the sitar, etc. had a one string-multi-note relationship. The process of fretting reduced all tonal measurements to their positions on the string. This naturally led to another system founded on fret positions and to a theory known as the mela paddhati (the method of scales). The former practice of musical scales held away till about the fifteenth century; but in due course the latter gained ground and eventually replaced the other. The theory of scales and ragas we now follow both in Hindustani and Karnatak music rests on the mela paddhati which is turn depends on the fingerboard instruments or monochords.

The polychords, also called veena-with or without prefixes or suffixes-are the most ancient stringed instruments known in India. But no universally accepted theory of their origin has so far been formulated. The most popular hypothesis is that bow shaped polychords, known as harps in English could be traced to the hunter's bow. It is believed that the twang of the bowstring might have given an idea of its musical use to primitive man. Naturally, this being only a single string, it may have served initially only as a drone and rhythmic keeper, as an in the case of the buang described earlier. By attaching a set of parallel strings to the same bow different notes were obtained, thus producing a harp.

Villadi vadyamThe villadi vadyam found in Tamil Nadu and Kerala is an example of a bow shaped instrument; the name indicates this, for villu in Tamil and Malayalam means a bow and adi is to strike. In other words, it is a struck bow. The vadyam is very simple and is made of a bow, nearby two to three meters long. The bowstring is a hemp or leather strap. This villu is kept on an inverted earthen pot which serves as a (detachable) sound amplifier. The bowstring bears a few sets of bells which jingle as it is struck. The villadi vadyam is an accompaniment to certain kinds of ballads known as the villu pattu. The principal singer sits near the vadyam with the instrument in front of him. As he sings the song he beats the rhythm on the rope with two heavy sticks. With the resonance of the mud pot and tinkling of the gejjai, the tala is exciting. There is also a chorus which keeps him company in song and rhythm, giving time with clappers, cymbals and the udukkai.

There are two kinds of polychords being discussed: they are the harps and the lyres. A harp can be visualized as a bow with a number of strings all running parallel to the bowstring; this, of course, does not commit us to thinking that they organized from the bow, for what we are talking of is the shape and construction. The lyre, on the other hand, is differently made. Here also the body of the instrument is 'bow shaped'; but the 'bowstring' is replaced by a rod known as the cross bar. From this cross bar and perpendicular to it, run a series of strings fixed at one end to the crossbar, and at the other end to the 'blow'. The harp and the lyre so made are poor in the volume and the quality of sound; it therefore becomes necessary to add a sound box to augment these. In the most primitive stage the bow is held near the mouth of the player and struck. The hollow cavity in the partially opened mouth acted as a reinforcer as in some African instruments. The placement of a temporary sound amplifier is the next step, as was seen in the villadi vadyam wherein the bow was kept temporarily on an inverted clay pot. A permanent resonator than replaces the temporary one: gourds are tied to the dandi or the bow rod, or inserted into the pumpkin. A further sophistication is achieved by fabricating a wooden bowl, instead of using a natural gourd, and covering this with leather or even wood. We will later see almost every type in Indian harps, zither and lutes.

Lyres, perhaps, never existed in our country. So far no description or illustration has come to light, except, for a solitary example found in the Indus hieroglyphs. In one of them, a diagram more or less resembling a lyre has been found; but it is still a matter of conjecture whether it is a drawing of a lyre at all.

A prehistoric harp, from an Indus valley sealHarps, however, have been traced to these prehistoric times. There are a few seals and inscriptions in which bows with three or four 'strings' have been drawn and these are in all probability bow or arched harps. In any case, the drawings are so stylized that we are not able to from a definite or detailed idea of the construction or tuning of these instruments.

The word veena seems to have been first used in the Vedas. In the Asvamedha sacrifice they used the veena as an accompaniment to chant and the veda extol it as; "This, the veena is variety the embodiment of beauty and Prosperity". Evidently it was also played particularly at dawn, for there is an anecdote in the rigveda which goes thus: Once the demons imprisoned the sage Kanva in a dark room and blindfolded him. The condition for his release was that without using his eyes in any manner he should be able to tell the coming of dawn. Hours passed and then the sage heard the gentle should of the veena and he knew that day had dawned. He told his captors-without, of course revealing the source of his information-and he was set free. There are numerous poetic descriptions of the instrument in all our literatures. In the Ramayana, Hanuman visits the seraglio of Ravana in his search for Sita. There, at midnight, he sees many musicians asleep. The poet likens one of the women veena players embracing her instrument to a cluster of lotus stalk clinging to a boat, in a river. Then there is the famous story of Prince Udayana who charmed Princess Vasavadatta by the music of his veena and, in the course of wandering, even a wild elephant. Like the damaru with Siva and the flute with Krishna, the veena has also certain iconographic and occult significances. One of them is again in relation to Siva in the form of Dakshinmoorty who is very often referred to the Veenadhara Dakshinmoorty. He is frequently shown holding a fretless veena with a single gourd, resting on his chest and teaching the Wise Ones like Sanaka. Above all, the vena is the instrument of Goddess Saraswati. She is the Goddess of all muses and is the veena pustaka dharini: one who holds the divine source of sound and wisdom. No picture, icon or poem of her is therefore complete without the veena and the pustaka (book). But even she has not the capacity to fathom the depths and extend of the ocean of Nada, the Primordial Magnitude of the ocean of Nada. Being afraid of drowning, she holds the gourd (of the veena) to her chest (as a float)." Any comment on this grandeur would be banal.

The best known of the vedic veenas was the vana or maha veena (the great veena) of one hundred strings of munja (grass) and was played with two bamboo pieces. There were ten holes in the danda of the instrument and from each emerged ten strings, thus totalling a hundred. Thirty-three of these were fixed by the adhvaryu (an officiating priest) and an equal number each by the hota (the sacrificial priest who chanted the rig veda) and the udgata (the priest who chanted the sama veda). The final hundredth one was tied by the yajamana (the house-holder) who was the patron of the sacrifice. The udgata seated himself on a high seat asandi (a raised seat), and the others on grass mats during the yajna ritual and chanted the mantras. In later literature this instrument is generally equated with the sata tantri veena which means the "veena with hundred strings". Some are of the opinion that the vana veena might have been the prototype of the Kashmiri santoor which will be described later.

It would not have escaped the reader's notice that the strings of these early tata vadya were not of metal but were made of spun grass (munja). Animal sinew was also used for similar purposes and these have been replaced by metal wires in most cases. It may recalled that the Tamil word for tata vadya was narampu karuvi, and narampu means animal gut. There is a delightful story of Kanakapura (the City of Gold) in the Birhat katha sarit sagara, in which the Prince asks Bindumati the reason why so noble a lady as she had become a fisher woman. Bindumati, the fisher girl and wife of Saktideva says, "But listen, I shall tell you why I have become a fisher girl. In a former life I was the daughter of the spirits of the air, while now I am cursed to a sojourn in the realms of mortals. But once when I was still a spirit, I used my teeth to bite off a piece of sinew to make the string for my lute (veena). This caused me to be born in a dwelling of fishers! Just because my mouth touched the dry sinew of a cow I have fallen so low now. What fate is there is store for one who eats the flesh of cows?" Now a days metal strings have by and large displaced guts and grass. This is particularly so in instruments which are plucked and also those in which the wire is deflected sideways as in the sitar and the veena. But in bowed instruments such as the sarangi, animal sinews have not yet lost their preference.

Reverting to the subject of harps, ancient music and musicology relied much onto of them: one was with seven strings and the other with nine. There might have been regional and structural types, because one often notices a mix up of names and instruments: for instance the harp with seven strings had more than one name-the chitra, the parivadini, and the saptatantri veena. Since detailed information about these is lacking, it is difficult to say whether they were the same instrument but known by various names. Chitra was the best known and is referred to in the Ramayana on many occasions. The nine stringed harp was the vipanchi which, besides having more strings than the chitra, was different in another way. While the seven-stringed veena was plucked with the fingers, the nine stringed one was played with a small wooden piece called the kona. Like the chitra, the vipanchi also finds a place in the epics.

Saptatantri veenaThough at the most primitive stage the harp had perhaps only the stretched string across the blow, in more developed from it was fitted with resonators and a proper bow like or straight stick to hold the strings. One very important fact we cannot help noticing is that in India none of these veenas had any pegs. The gut or metal string passing out of the resonator was tied to a leather strap which in its turn was wound round the string holder. The leather winding was moved slightly up or down this holder to after the tension and hence the pitch of the string. It must be conceded that this process was very efficiently worked out, as an extremely sensitive and complicated theory of tuning was practiced in ancient music and this depended almost entirely on harps. The resonator or sound amplifier might have been gourd which later on might have given place to a boat-shaped wooden dowl, wholly or partly covered with skin or even a wooden plank. This body was called the ambhana or doni. Projecting out of this was the curved or straight wooden holder, the danda, onto which were tied the strings as described. A possible reconstruction of the ancient harp is given here.

There is a beautiful analogy, in the rig veda, between the God-made veena, the human body, and the man-made one. "Just as the Godly veena has a head, a stomach, a tongue, fibres, tone, touch, and skin the man made wooden veena also has such organs. The head of the veena is the gourd, the hollow of the ambhana is the stomach, the act of playing is the tongue, the strings are it tendons, the music its speech, and as the human body is covered with skin so is the veena."

YazhIn the article 'Musical Instruments - Introduction' we discussed the Aryan and the non-Aryan socio-cultural bases of our civilization. So far the general opinion has been that the Dravidian (and naturally the pre-Dravidian) was different from the Aryan and there had been a later fusion; however, there are some very great men of insight who hold that to posit the existence of such cultural complexes is wrong and that the whole of India was populated by one people. The question of cultural contributions becomes more entangled when we come to the music of the land, for we are faced with even greater mist and fog of ignorance. By the time the first texts were written and visual depictions chiseled, an indistinguishable mixture of life patterns has already taken place, though we can still make out a multiplicity of bases. This was not only intra-national but inter-national as well because it is probable that some of the instruments we had, came to the Dravidian land from far off countries such as Egypt, Arabia and Greece. Setting aside these complications and with the above reservations in mind, Tamil literature of the very early period has to be tapped to obtain source information on a musical system which might have been separate from the Aryan. The major stringed instrument described here was the yazh. But was it different from the contemporary Aryan polychord veenas described earlier? In some literary examples the words yazh and veena are used in juxtaposition and are used in the same context. This has made some scholars think that the yazh and the veena were different. On the other hand yazh has also been termed as the veenai, for example the makara yazh which was also known as the makara veenai, and this lands us back in a hazy situation where we are not in a position to decide on the 'Aryan-ness' or otherwise of the ancient Tamil Instruments. This is more so when see that even the constructional details of the yazhs and the Sanskrit veenas were almost the same. Cultural aspects apart, many savants have studied old classics like the Pattu pattu, Silappadikaram, Manimekalai, Jivakachintamani as well as archaeological evidences and have given us fairly detailed accounts of these yazhs.

Most probably the vil yazh was the first of these narampu karuvis. An early writer, Kannanar, describes a hunter who made a bow out of the hollow branch of a kumizh tree, tied a hempen rope to it and to the accompaniment of this vil yazh roamed happily singing the kunrinji pann. (Panns were melodic forms analogous to ragas.) Later were invented the other harps with more narampus or guts. The senkotti yazh had a resonator which, most likely, was covered with a wooden plank end its kotu (comparable to the danda) seems to have been a straight tube instead of a curved one; it had seventeen strings. The sakota yazh bore fourteen strings of which four were tuned in the lower register, seven in the middle octave and three in the upper one. The peri yazh might have been a large sized harp with a boat-shaped pattar (an analogue of the ambhana) or resonator closed with leather and having twenty-one stings. The seeri yazh was probably a smaller version of the peri yazh. The makara yazh or the makara veenai had nineteen narampus. It was an instrument of the aristocracy, played in their mansions and seraglios. Tamil writers themselves have called it as a avanakkai veenai, meaning an instrument of the Yavanas who are usually taken to be Greeks. However, it is quite possible that it might have reference, as it often did in other parts of India, to any 'foreigner'. It may be noted that there was a Grecian harp with a very similar name: the magadis. This was, as the Greeks considered, a Lydian and an ancient instrument. Anacreon, a Lydian poet of the sixth century B.C. in his lyric says:

"O Leucasis, I play
Upon a Lydian harp,
A magade of twenty strings,
And thou art in thy youthful prime!"

It is, nevertheless, worth remembering that the Greeks hardly had any instruments of their own and the ones they did have were mostly imported from outside their land. The magadis perhaps went to them from Mesopotamia or Iron and harps were in general considered as having come from the Orient. Plato even condemned them as enthusing hedone-that is sensory pleasure. The makara yazh, then, might have traveled to south India either directly from west Asia or from that area via Greece. The makara veena seems to have reached Indonesia much before the tenth century A.D. as the Jalatund reliefs (East Java, 977 A.D.) shows a makara veena with a resonator having the face of a 'crocodile' (makara). Even in Indonesia this veena may have been confined to the ruling castes and may never have been in vogue among the lower classes. Tamil Nadu had also the adi yazh, the first yazh. Legends say that it was played to win over rakshasas or the evil ones during the first yuga, the krita yuga, the first era of the world. It was said to have one thousand strings arranged in five octaves with two hundred in each! How far this was a real instrument and how far the number 'one thousand' was a hyperbole we do not know. This adi yazh was perhaps the same as the perum kalam. The yazhs were certainly very popular and important instruments those days, comparable to the sitar today, as is evident from the innumerable references in Tamil literature. In the Silappadikaram, the chapter Kanalvari (Song of the Seashore) opens with the meeting of Madhavi, the courtesan, with Kovalan, the hero. "After worshipping with her hands, Madhavi removed the yazh, faultless in the pattar, the kotu and the strings, from its embroidered case, its body adorned with flowers, which looked like a beauteous bride with black eyes darkened with collyrium. And she began to produce its eight different sounds . . . in order to satisfy herself of their correctness. Her lustrous little fingers ornamented with ruby rings and manipulating the various strings resembled a hive of humming bees. Next she tested by ear the eight different melodies . . . Passing the instrument to Kovalan's outstretched hand, she said, "It is not my object to command. Please let me know the rhythm." He too began playing odes to the Kavari river and songs appropriate to the seashore (kanalvari) to the great delight of Madhavi."

Some harps seen in the ancient monuments of Bharhut and Budha Gaya have five strings. However, the more common ones bore seven as are depicted in the sculptures and reliefs at Pitalkhora near Ajanta (3rd century B.C.), Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh (2nd century B.C.) and Amaravati as well as Nagarjunakonda both in Andhra belonging to about the third century A.D. Strange as it is, no harps of any kind have been observed in Karnataka even from the earliest times, though archaeological evidence has shown them in the surrounding areas of Maharashtra, Andhra and to some extent in Tamil Nadu. One other interesting example is the inscription of harps on coins, the best known being the coin of Samudra Gupta. As the noted historian, Majumdar, puts it, "Brilliant both as general and statesman, Samudra Gupta also possessed many qualities of head and heart better suited to a life of peaceful pursuits. According to the Allahabad inscription he was not only a great patron of learning but was himself a great poet and a musician. His poetical compositions which earned him the title of 'king of poets' have not survived, but we have a striking testimony to his love of music. In one set of gold coins the great emperor is represented as seated crosslegged on a couch, playing on a veena . . . which rests on his keens. The royal figure on his unique type of coin was undoubtedly drawn from real life and testifies to his inordinate love of music." Again much of such sculpture so far indicated relate to Buddhist tradition which again may be significant in that the instruments might have traveled south along with Buddhist proseletysers, the armies of Buddhist kings and traders from the north. The majority of these scenes depict the life or the lives of the Bodhisatva. The Great Departure of Lord Gautama when he leaves the royal mansion in the dead of night in search of wisdom and understanding is a favourite with artists. The Nagarjunakonda reliefs, for instance, show this incident with much poignancy. Musicians and dancers are greatly fatigued and in deep slumber as Gautama departs. Harps, drums and flutes are lying idle on the ground or in the laps of women who are too sleepy to notice his going.

The harps described thus far belonged to a class of polychords which were bow shaped or arched, with a resonator and an arm (danda). There is another category which we may term as the box type. Here there is no special danda apart from the sound box. The strings are stretched on a wooden chest which acts both as a rest for them as well as a resonator. India has today two such instruments: the santoor and the savaramandal.

SantoorThe santoor is characteristic of the Kashmir valley and is neither seen nor played anywhere else. In the West it is known as the dulcimer or the cymbalon. Some scholars are of the opinion that this instrument can be traced to the vedic vana veena. It may be remembered that the vana had a hundred strings (of spun grass) and was probably played with sticks. This was later called the sata tantri veena-the veena with one hundred strings-which name, they say, got modified to santoor. Etymology apart, the modern santoor does have a large number of strings and it stuck with sticks. The instrument is made of a box of wood, trapezoid in shape. Over this there are thirty bridges, arranged in fifteen rows, two in each row. A set of four strings of metal tuned to the same note is stretched over each pair of bridges; thus the total number of wires is sixty. The musician sits with the santoor in front of him and strikes them with a pair of flat wooden pieces curved at the striking end. Kashmiri musicians commonly play maqams, somewhat like the Persian modes, on the dulcimer. However, it has also been used to play Indian ragas and is now much in demand with film musicians.

The other box polychord still found in our country is the svaramandal, the Indian psaltery. This like the santoor, is also a wooden box on which are mounted strings. In dimensions it is much smaller than its sister and has no bridges. There is only one string for each note, whereas the santoor has four tuned to one; and the strings pass over ledges, instead of bridges, onto tuning pins. They are plucked with fingers wearing metallic wire plectra. Today there are perhaps no more than three or four who can play ragas or even simple tunes on this instrument; but there are quite a number of Hindustani vocalists who strum it along with their singing to give a rich tonal background. This psaltery seems to be the ancient matta kokila which later on began to be called as the svaramandal. References to the svaramandal itself commence from about the fifteenth century A.D. and Hindi poets of later times often mention it; so does the Ain-i-Akbari. The polychord may also be the qanoon known to West Asia and to the Syrian as qithoro from about the eleventh century. Indeed the Ain-i-Akbari definitely states that the svaramandal is similar to the qanoon. "The Svaramandal is like the qanoon. It has twenty-one strings, some of steel, some of brass, and some of gut."

After a reign of more than three thousand years-from prehistoric times till about the tenth century A.D.-the polychords almost vanish from the Indian scene, except the santoor and the svaramandal. The monochords or fingerboard instruments like the kacchapi, the rabab, the sarode, the sitar, the Karnataka (Saraswati) veena which are lutes and the kinnari, the Rudra veena which are zithers take over and dominate the musical realm. An entire music and musicology are left behind, a system based on harps is given up and a new one founded on fingerboard veenas leading to our present practice grows, replacing the older music. This near revolution is one of the greatest mutations in our music history and is closely dependent on the evolution of instruments. The subject, though extremely fascinating, is outside the scope of this book.

As we scrutinize our music works and other literature, the same old problem raises its head and confronts us: that of lacunae in information, insufficient description and the question of reliability of sources. Such being the case, one can at best give some suggestions on missing links and point to major milestones in the evolution of our instruments, as best as the situation permits. And nothing can be as baffling as the avanaddha and the tata vadya. As might have been noticed in the former, in the case of strings also names are used indiscriminately and data are mixed up. There were veenas with one string (eka tantri), with two (nakuli), with three (tritantri) and so on. But very often we have no way of knowing whether such names were of harps, zithers or lutes; and many times translators (particularly into English) have not distinguished between the three categories of tata vadya. Much therefore has to be taken with reserve, especially where zithers and lutes are concerned.

Zithers are those instruments wherein there is a fingerboard with strings, fretted or fretless, and, most important, the resonator being fixed below it.

The gintang and its clan are perhaps the earliest zithers that we know of, though it bears neither frets nor resonators. It is from this primitive instrument, generally called a bamboo zither (and which has already been described), that it is possible to derive all sophisticated ones. This organological hypothesis need not be discussed further here and the reader will have to consult more technical reports to study this problem.

TuliaOne of the most simple instruments of this class is the tuila of Orissa. Even there it is fast disappearing and there are very few indeed who can play it. The body of the zither is just a bamboo stick along which is stretched a gut; there is neither a bridge nor a ledge (known as the nut) at the other end, nor is there a peg. Under the stick at the upper end of the tuila, there is a small half cut bottle gourd. The instrument is held diagonally across the body of the player with this dry fruit shell against the chest of the player. One hand plucks the gut at the lower end and the other hand is used for stopping it at the further end. The tuila is peculiar in a special way because only three fingers are used without moving them up or down the string to get the seven notes.

From available descriptions we may hazard a guess that the tuila might have been a variety of ancient alapini veena which has been described as a veena having a danda of nearly nine fists in length and a gourd about twenty centimeters in circumference. It had one string (in some varieties three) of animal sinew, cotton or silk.

But a very important veena of pre-medieval times was the eka tantri which should not be confounded with the ek tar, though the names mean the same: one stringed instrument. The eka tantri is mentioned by this name from about the eleventh century A.D., though it is possible that the ghoshaka known during the times of Bharata might have been the same instrument. Great value seems to have been attached to this zither for it was also called the Brahma veena and one writer goes to the extent of saying that Goddess Saraswati herself dwells in the eka tantri. The danda of the veena was approximately one hundred and forty centimeters in length and it had a gourd below the danda. Like the tuila and the alapini, this instrument was also held across the chest and the string made of gut was plucked with one hand. The other hand held a smooth bamboo piece called the kamrika which was pressed and slid along the string. The eka tantri had a wide bridge on it and under the gut was placed a bamboo slip which acted as a jeeva to enrich the sound. Musical texts also give elaborate instruments on the playing techniques of the right hand for plucking, the left hand for sliding as well as the combinations of the two. There are a few aspects that draw our attention here. First, the position of play-holding the veena across the body-continues to this day as in the Rudra veena. Secondly, the jeeva has been retained with profit in the tamboora. Thirdly, the practice of sliding the kamrika has now been adopted in the vichitra veena of north India and in the southern gottuvadyam.

Vichitra veenaThe vichitra veena is a fretless zither played by Hindustani musicians. The fingerboard is a broad long one of about a meter and quarter in length with two large pumpkins screwed to its nether side. As in all contemporary veenas it has wide bridge of one end of the dandi the other end having the ledge and four pegs bearing the main playing strings. There are two more wires, the chikari, which are plucked to lend the drone; the principal strings are also plucked with the fingers on which are worn wire plectra. To produce a naga a glass ball is pressed and moved over them, like the kamrika in the eka tantri. Underneath the main strings there are about a dozen or more thin ones called the tarab, which vibrate sympathetically when properly tuned and provide additional resonance. Both from its construction and manner of handling it is clear that this zither is a descendent of the eka tantri. The present name of the instrument is probably not more than a century old, though it is likely that it is the same as the sar veena which is listed as an important instrument in the Ain-i-Akbari.

By fixing frets onto the vichitra veena group of instruments we get the fretted zithers of which the kinnari and the Rudra veena are the most famous. The first was a great favourite with musicians during the Middle Ages and the second one was the reigning veena in Hindustani music till a few years ago. These and other types of fretted zithers could be refinements of more primitive ones like the memerajan of the Savaras. As Verrier Elvin describes it, "Another instrument resembling a guitar is the memerajan or 'breast instrument'. A bamboo neck with four to six frets attached to it with beeswax. Two wire strings, spread apart, are passed over these; the first gives the melody, the second is a drone. Below there are two small gourds, cut out at the bottom, and secured to the bamboo neck by their close ends. The memerajan is held with the open ends of gourd towards the body; they are pressed against it or released to regulate the volume of the sound. The wires are plucked by the right hand while the left fingers the stops." (Elvin uses the words 'guitar' and 'neck' which are strictly not correct for while the memerajan is a zither, the guitar is a lute. Also there is no 'neck' in the memerajan.) The other nearer ancestors are the jantar played by the Bhopa community of Rajasthan and the khing of Kashmir. The first one is a largish zither with two big gourds. The frets are of bone and fourteen in number. The Kashmiri instrument is very much smaller and has only seven flat frets.

Tribal kinnariOf the ancient plucked zithers, the kinnari was of great importance. Though this has now vanished from classical music it can sometimes be seen now with certain tribes like the Chenchus and the Raj Gonds of Andhra. The instrument is probably the precursor or the same as the brhat kinnari to be described. There is a touching story of the Gond, Lingal, who went out in search of the tribal Gods. "The path was narrow and stony and led through dense forest; when at last he reached a clearing, he sat down to rest in the shade of a great banyan tree. Suddenly he felt wonderful happy and taking his guitar (kinnari), he played the eighteen tunes, and suddenly there was a rumbling in the earth and the palmyra palm in front of him trembled. Woken by the sweet strains of Lingal's playing the Gond gods in the cave Sursuryadi began to stir, and they said to each other 'What beautiful music! Certainly these are the tunes of our Katora (priest)' . . . And Pahandi Kupa Lingal rejoiced. He knew that at last he had found his Gond gods." The jogis of Karnataka are a kind of religious sect who claim their descent from Arjuna, the valiant hero of the Mahabharata; and the kind of ascetic lives they lead is said to follow in the foot-path of this prince during his emeretic period. They go about singing their songs to the accompaniment of small kinnaris. The kinnari must have been quite popular, for not only is it described in some detail in many books but was also widely illustrated in medieval sculpture. The earliest assignable period for the kinnari could be about the fifth (?) century A.D. when one Matanga lived and wrote a book on music, first mention the fixing of frets to the kinnari veena. Definite descriptions of this instrument commence from the eleventh century onwards, and they give a fairly detailed account of this veena. There were two 'classical' kinnaris: the laghu kinnari and the brhat kinnari. As their names indicate the first one was small (laghu) and second was a larger (brhat) variety. There were also desi (folk) kinnaris of three sizes: brhati (big), madhyama (meddling) and laghvi (small). The laghu kinnari used in classical music had a fingerboard of bamboo nearly seventy-five centimeters long, with two pumpkins. The frets, fourteen in number, were made usually of the chest bones of vultures and fixed to the danda with a mixture of wax and the ashes of burnt cloth. Over these passed a string of steal or brass and this was tensed by a peg on one side. The brhati was nearly twenty centimeters longer with stouter bamboo. It had three gourds, instead of two, and was strung with gut. Abul Fazl in his Ain-i-Akbari gives very definite relations of the jantar (yantra), the kinnari and the veena. He says, the Yantra is formed out of the hollow neck of wood a yard in length, at each end of which are attached the halves of two gourds. Above the neck are sixteen frets over which are strung five steel wires fastened securely at both ends. The low and high notes and their variations are produced by the disposition of the frets. The Vina resembles the Yantra, but has three strings. The Kinnar resembles the Vina, but with a longer fingerboard and had three gourds and two wires.

All the later veenas of the zither type are only further descendents of the kinnari. The most respected of these is the Rudra veena which till recently, reigned supreme in Hindustani music and was popular among commoners also; this is the instrument that is called been in common parlance. Like the kinnari, the fingerboard is of a wide and smooth bamboo. One end of this holds a flat bridge typical in our instruments and beneath the dandi are two very large pumpkins. There four main strings for melody, under which stand straight and thin, frets attached to the bamboo tube with wax. While the fingers of one hand pluck the strings the other stops them over the frets. Besides the main wires there are two drone strings on one side and one more on the other side of the dandi. The been was played by men and women in royal courts and rural settings as can be seen from innumerable miniature painting of north India. In one class of such pictures, known as the raga mala miniatures which personify ragas and raginis as well as in their literary symbolization, the been is invariably a companion of, ragini Todi, a lady with the zither whose music enchants deer. "Her slender body anointed with saffron and camphor gleam white like the jasmine flower. The woodland deers are spellbound at the sight of Todi splendid, holding a veena." Surdas, the immortal Hindi poet, takes the poesy Further. Addressing the hero of his poem he says, "Do not play the delicate veena. For the deer that draw the chariot in the moon may get captivated and stop, thus halting the moon." It was one of the premier instruments in the court of Akbar and Abul Fazl names Shihab Khan of Gwalior and Purbin Khan as the two court beenkars (players on the been). The other prominent musicians who are revered as the fathers of instrumental music in the north were Bilas Khan and Surat Sen, sons of Tansen, as well as Misri Singh, his son-in-law. Bilas Khan is considered to be the one who popularized the rabab and the other two the Rudra veena. Because of their family tree (gharana) these musicians are known as the Senias and almost every instrumentalist of the Hindustani system would like to call himself or herself a Senia. Today this is ludicrous, for instruments that were never prominent during Tansen's times-the sitar, the sarangi and so on-could not have a stylistic resemblance to the older music. And if we listen to even sitariyas (the sitar players) of the present day, it is easy to make out the vast differences in style, that can really not be grouped as one small musical family. While it is true that most of the instrumentalists are 'musical descendents' of the Senia elders in term of master-pupil lineage, musically they have drifted so far away from style of the veena that it would be absurd for them all to claim to be 'Senias'. The Rudra veena is now sadly neglected and there are not many competent players of this instrument.

There is not much doubt that the zithers, whether they be without frets like the eka tantri, the alapini and the vichitra veena or the fretted ones such as the kinnari and the been are typically Indian. It is also of great consequence that sculptural representations of zither from very early times not only abound in but are more or less confined to Hindu temples. The same cannot be said of lutes. A noteworthy point is that lutes appear in our country closely following the Gandharan art movements from the north-west but also migrate along with Buddhist art southwards. Since there are lutes in other cultural areas also, this is but a suggestion which remains to be carefully verified.

Lutes, as we defined earlier, are those stringed instruments in which the fingerboard is an extension of the resonator. On the other hand, it will be recalled, that in zithers the resonator was placed below the dandi. It was also seen that the ek tar was one of the possible origins of the lute type wherein the gourd might have been replaced by a wooden bowl. Examples of this direction of evolution were the two kinds of tambooras. These instruments are however, drones and are not employed for playing any tunes or ragas for which purpose other lutes were fashioned. It is usual to recognize two types of lutes: the shortnecked ones and the long necked. In the former, the bowl projects into a curved neck which extends into a short fingerboard. In the later, the resonator has a neck which continues into a long danda. In both cases, strictly speaking the necks are almost the same size; the difference is in the lengths of the fingerboards. The adjectives related to the neck are hence misplaced, in a way, and should in fact be applied to the danda: short fingerboard or long fingerboard. However, in difference to practice in musicology we shall stick to the traditional terminology.

Fretless shortnecked flutes are also very ancient in our country, and best known of which was the kacchapi. The name first occurs in Bharata's Natya sastra, followed by numerous references in medieval works; it has also been illustrated widely. Kacchapa means a tortoise and since the body of the instrument bulged and was convex in shape, somewhat like the shell of the reptile, the lute was known as the kacchapi veena. The hollow belly was covered over with leather and the body extended into a short neck which continued on as a fingerboard of small length. There was a crescent shaped bridge on the hide cover, and five strings passed over it to pegs at the far end of the danda. It was plucked veena without frets; however, there are stray examples of such lutes with frets in Ajanta as also in Pattadakallu, the latter being in Karnataka (5th to 7th century A.D.).Even today instruments resembling this fretless, shortnecked lute are found in north India under the names dotara, rubaiya and so on, though there are minor variations in detail.

Related and perhaps originating from this is the rabab which is restricted to northwest India mainly. The world rabab might have indicated both bowed and plucked lutes. In early Arabic music, according to many scholars, it seems to have been of the former type. Al Farabi of Arabia, a bowed instrument. But the lute of this name, familiar in Kashmir and Afghanistan, is a plucked one and has been known to the northern areas of India for nearby five hundred years now. The mystic poets Kabir and Krishnadasa mention it. The Ain-i-Akbari speaks of a rabab with "six strings of gut, but some (with) twelve and others with eighteen". Sangeeta parijata, a musical text of the seventeenth century not only refers to the instrument but goes so far as to etymologically derive the word rabab from the Sanskrit rava meaning sound. As per oral tradition the invention of the lute is credited to Tansen, which is not correct as Hindi literature prior to him refers to it. But the closest, association, perhaps, of the rabab is with Mardana the inseparable companion to Guru Nanak who lived in the fifteenth century. Bhai Mardana is said to have been descended from Arabian stock and his prowess of the lute has become legendary. The rabab he played on seems to have been redesigned from an older type by Nanak himself. Sadiq Ali Khan of the nineteenth century says, "The rabab has five main strings and twenty-two metallic ones bellow, for resonance. It has come to our knowledge, that there is another rabab which has six main strings, but these are of silk instead of goat gut. Some authorities affirm that this rabab is the invention of Guru Nanak Shah Fakir. The Guru possessed superior knowledge of this art as well, and the invention is the result of this genius." While the Guru sat in deep meditation, Mardana would play and the strings sounded "Nirankar . . . Dhan Nirankar . . ."-"Formless.... Hail Formless".

The rabab now in use in Kashmir has a hollow wooden body with a waist. The resonator is covered with skin and the fingerboard with a wooden plank. On the hide cover there is a thin bridge over which go six strings of gut lightened by pegs; besides these main strings there are eleven metallic ones acting as resonators. One interesting fact is that there are no frets as such, but three guts are tied across the dandi at its father end to indicate 'note positions'. This contrivance could well have developed into the metallic frets of later instruments.

SarodeVery much similar to this is the sarode, one of the most dignified concern lutes of Hindustani music now known almost everywhere in the world. The name of the instrument it is often claimed is derived from Sarada veena, for which there does not seem to be any base except an imaginary one, because Indian music texts have no reference to such a veena. However, "In the year 913 a certain Ibn al-Awas, a native of the Samarkand region, invented a stringed instrument of unusually wide compass known as the sharud". Early Indo-Persian literature also mentions the sarode. One Hasan Nizami of early medieval times, describing the court scene of a Delhi sultan, says, of a minstrel. "The tuneful nightingale bewailed like forlorn lovers and he cried like a lover over the string of Rud and the music of Sarode." Again there was a "beauteous, fairy faced musician, decked with plumes of feathers and possessed of light-diffusing cheek, who sang like a nightingale and performed Messianic miracles by her Davidian melodies. The sounds of Rud and Sarode weakened the power of endurance and by the strokes of her Musiqar (an instrument) she attracted the birds from their airy heights down to the lowest level of the earth". While the Rud was an instrument, we can not be equally sure that the sarode here meant a lute or a kind of melody. Even today central Asia has the ud which is a short necked lute. All these lead us to infer that, most probably, the Indian sarode is a descendent of this central Asian instrument; the similarity not only in construction but in the word ending (ud and sar-ode) is worth noting. Like the rabab the body is of wood and waisted; only it is much more shallow. Another difference is that the fingerboard has a steel veneer instead of a wood one. There are four principal strings, four subsidiary ones, two drones and about a dozen sympathetic vibrators (tarab), all of metal. Like the rabab the sarode is also played with a small wooden piece called the java.

There are two more instruments of this class which we may note in passing. One is the sur singar which is a kind of an elder brother to the sarode. It is nearly twice in size and while the fingerboard has a steel plate, the resonator is closed with wooden lamination instead of hide. It said that the sur singar was invented by Jafar Khan Rababi, the court musician of Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh of Varanasi who lived in the early part of the nineteenth century. Because of its size and the nature of its body, the lute has a very fine tone; but it is a pity that one very rarely hears this veena now and there are few musicians who play it at present.

Another exotic specimen is the svarabat or svaragat. This is somewhat of a cross between the kacchapi, or more strictly the rubaiya and the dotara, and the rabab. In appearance it is very much like the latter but larger; but the fingerboard resembles the thin type as in the dotara. Strangely enough it is not found in the north where we could expect it; on the other hand, the known examples is in the south. The only reliable evidence is a picture of Umaiyalpuram Krishna Bhagavatar, the disciple of Sri Tyagaraja, playing on it. Some stray specimens are available, one of which can be seen in the museum at Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu.

How the longnecked lutes developed in our country is still not clear. There are stone caves of primitive men in central India which have wall paintings in some of which lutes with long necks have been noticed. But in general most of the visual evidences-barring a few scattered ones-show shortnecked veenas but not the longnecked ones. More definite data will be necessary for us to trace out the history of these instruments unequivocally.

The best known longnecked veena without frets is the gottuvadyam of Karnatak musicians; the instrument is some time also called the Mahanataka veena. Here again historical information is scanty and in all probability the first references to it is in a Telugu work of the seventeenth century. The instrument itself is simple though the playing is difficult. A wooden 'spherical' bowl closed on the top with a wooden plate serves as the resonator. This bowl projects into a small neck to which is attached the fretless fingerboard. This terminates in the animal motif, yali. Near this end there are four pegs which receive the metallic strings which pass over the bridge on the resonator bowl. Besides these four main strings on which melodies are played, there are three more on one side meant for giving the drone and the tala. What is interesting is the presence of the tarab or resonating strings on the instrument. This is the only Karnatak instrument with such an adjunct and seems to be a recent innovation, which born out by the fact that instrumentalists there have no name for it! The plucking of the strings is done as in the veena to be described. For playing a tune or a raga a small piece of cylindrical very hard wood or ebony is moved along the strings and finer pitch variations as also gamakas are obtained by slight pressures on them. This piece is known as kodu and the name of the instrument seems to be derived from it; the reader will recall that this was exactly the method of playing the ancient eka tantri and is also met with in the Hawaiian guitar. Since there are no frets and the wires are raised slightly off the fingerboard, the technique is difficult and delicate.

Saraswati veenaThe queen of all veenas is the Saraswati veena. (Incidentally, Hindustani musicians also call their veena, the zither already described, by this name. We shall, however, refer to the south Indian veena now being discussed as the Saraswati veena and the Hindustani zither as the Rudra veena.) It deservedly occupies this exalted position not only because of its elegant beauty of appearance and tone but also by virtue of its versatility. In a way, it is the only self-contained veena today: it has strings to play the raga and that too in a wide range of pitch, it has the drone so necessary for Indian music, and these drone strings are also placed on them. In other words, the veena has in itself svara, raga and tala-a potentiality which no other instrument has. The present structure of the lute seems to have come to fruition at Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu by about the seventeenth century, during the reign of Raghunatha; it is, hence often referred to as the Tanjavur veena. The instrument, like the gottuvadyam, is made entirely of wood. The resonator or kudam is a deep vessel carved out of wood and covered with a wooden plank. This soundboard protrudes into a neck to which is fixed the long fingerboard that ends in the mythical figure of the yali (not to be confounded with the yazh). The bridge which stands centrally on the sound box is a complex unit. The principal section is a wide wooden piece slightly sloping in the direction of the strings, a construction so typical of many of our veenas. On the upper surface of this is glued a brass lamella which seems to be a continuation of the traditional structure present in the ancient eka tantri. Attached to-rather growing out of-the main bridge is a curved auxiliary part of wood, which is also a bridge. Four strings of metal go over the main bridge and they are used for playing the melody; three, called the sarani, pass over the side bridge and these are employed as the drone and for striking the tala. All strings are tuneable by pegs and by special minute coiled wire pieces. While the melody strings are plucked downwards with the first two fingers, the sarani are flicked with the little finger of one hand. The strings are pressed with the fingers of the other hand just over the brass frets that are fixed to the danda with wax. Beneath the danda, at its yali end, there is a secondary gourd or a metallic imitation of it. The most common way of holding the veena is 'horizontal'. The musician sits cross legged on the floor; the large kudam is placed on the ground with the subsidiary gourd resting on the tap. However, a generation ago there were vainikas (veena players) who used to hold it vertically-a practice that was seen sometimes in Andhra and Mysore. The veena technique, having attained such a subtle sophistication, has developed into different styles. One major style is the Tanjavur style where great stress is laid on certain slowness of tempo and on gamakas; the Andhra and Mysore approach relies more on variations in plucking, staccato phraseology and simultaneous playing of more than one string. One important fact, not confined to the veena but including all instruments, is that in Karnatak music there are no special instrumental compositions apart from songs meant for singing; all playing relies heavily on vocal music. The most renowned vainikas of the three schools were Dhanam of Madras, Sangamesvara Sastry of Andhra and Seshanna of Mysore.

What the Saraswati veena is to Karnatak music the sitar is to the Hindustani. It holds the same pre-eminent place and enjoys the same popularity; perhaps more so. And because of the cultural exodus of many sitar players it has gained a very wide reputation outside India now. Today it is a very important Indian instrument, though its predecessors might have come from lands bordering the northwest provinces of our country. It is a longnecked lute and, as was mentioned earlier, such veenas have been seen in some cave murals in central West Asia. Till recently it was believed that the poet-musician, Amir Khusrau, of the thirteenth century, A.D. was the inventor of the instrument. This appears to be more a belief than a verifiable fact, as known reliable textual sources are not older than say the eighteenth century says that what is popularly known as the sitar is called the nibadha tamboora; in other words we may see here a close connection between the sitar and the tamboora. One other opinion is that the lute was evolved out of the ancient tri tantri: a three stringed instrument. This idea is based on the similarity of names. Seh in Persian is three and tar means strings. So a lute having three strings is seh tar which changes into sitar. Tri tantri in Sanskrit has an identical connection: tri means 'three' and tantri 'strings'. While the semantic similarity is certainly extremely close, structurally the tri tantri might have been entirely different. All available clues make us suspect that the tri tantri was a zither from which, of course, a lute cannot evolve. More correctly, therefore, a plausible line of sophistication might be sought in the setar or saitar of Kashmir. This is a lute smaller than the sitar. Its fingerboard projects from a gourd resonator and bears a number of gut frets. It has a wide or narrow bridge and seven strings. Thus, the shape of the lute, the moveable gut frets and the name make it a very likely prototype of our concert instrument.

The sitar gained importance and prestige not very long ago; prior to about a century from now it was not even considered respectable. It was the Rudra veena which was the highbrow instrument. Indeed, the traditional ustads of the veena rarely, if ever, taught it to any one outside their fold; the zither was a family prerogative! Aliens who knocked at the doors of their citadels of knowledge were initiated into 'despicable' instruments such as the sitar. However, encouragement to the sitar and its style came from the later half of the eighteenth century. It was at this time that great masters like Amir Khan, Barkatullah Khan, Bahadur Khan, and Gulam Raza lived. They were exceptionally good instrumentalists and their beautiful music on the sitar raised it to a respectable status and gave it wide recognition. Tastes in music were changing and the sonorous veena and its grave style were losing their appeal, just as the dhrupad singing and pakhavaj were giving way to the khyal and the tabla; a kind of lyrical approach began to be preferred which encouraged the music of the sitar. Of the many sitariyas Masit Khan and Gulam Raza deserve special mention for they were the creators of styles which form the main bases of today's playing. The compositions of Masit Khan were developed into the Masit Khani baj which is lower in tempo, does not indulge in criss cross rhythm and provides ample scope for leisurely expansion. Raza Khani baj, named after Gulam Raza, on the other hand is more intricate and quick. While the sitar, thus grew into a major lute with its own idiom and diction, the heavier alap (a rhythm free exposition of raga) of the veena was taken over by the sur bahar which is a kind of outsized sitar.

SitarLike most zithers and lutes in the north the sitar was a more or less spherical gourd at the lower end; when the pumpkin is flat the instrument is referred to as the kacchua, the tortoise shaped sitar. The tumba, as its shell is called, is glued at one end to a neck and its top is covered with a wooden board which may be either flat or slightly bulging. To the neck is fixed the long fingerboard, the dandi, onto which are tied the convex brass frets, so that they can be moved to the required scale. Such an arrangement of mobile frets is one type called the chal that or the moveable scale. While this is the common feature now, there were older models with fixed frets-known as the achal that or immovable scale as in the Rudra veena and the Saraswati veena. The fingerboard holds, in costlier kinds, a second gourd at the father end. Five metal wires for playing the raga are stretched over the main bridge; besides these there are two drone strings called the chikari. The instrument has also anywhere from eleven to seventeen thin strings, the tarab, underneath the principal ones for additional resonance. (This is not provides in the less expensive sitars.) While the main strings and the chikari run over a bigger bridge which, again, is characteristically wide, the tarab goes on a smaller flat bridge placed below the larger one. As with the other veenas of India, the bridges are of bone, antler horn or hard wood. The strings are excited by plucking them with wire plectrum worn on the index finger the movements of which are forward and backward, towards and away from the palm. Like in the south Indian veena the chikari is used for providing the drone or basic note; it is however not employed for giving the tala, unlike the sarani.

Bowing as an act of sound production on instruments and bowed instruments themselves have posted very complicated organological questions regarding their origins. Many hypothesis and conjectures have been advanced, discussed, accepted and rejected. The three principal seats of culture which are the scholars' favourite choices are the Nordic region in Europe, India and central-west Asia. So far Western scholars have tended to concentrate on the first and the last of these. As for India they do concede it a place of priority, but rarely is their documentation on this country adequate or up to date. In one of the best books on the subject, published recently, there is a discussion of the possibility of bowed instruments having been first developed in our country. But soon the author dismisses the idea on the basis that the oldest visual representation in India of bowed instrument is from the seventeenth century A.D., whereas we have wall reliefs seven hundred years earlier! The book does not even mention our tribal bowed instruments of which there are galore. Even a cursory listing gives at least fifty tribal and folk instruments of this class, though sometimes there really are no considerable differences among them.

Kingri or pradhansIt is quite possible that instruments of this kind find references in Indian texts as old as the seventh century A.D. and subsequent musical works have frequent mention and descriptions of bowed instruments. Again prototypes of the violin, a number of which are met with in folk and tribal music, have been sculpted as early as the tenth century examples of which are present in Vijayawada in Andhra and the Arakesvara temple near Mysore. Instruments of the sarinda type have come to notice in Vishnupur in Bengal; and a few temples of west India have reliefs of the sarangi.

In the face of so much evidence the inference is only very obvious. India has known bowed instruments for at least eleven hundred years and there is a dire necessity for proper investigations on an extensive scale to establish their due place in world music.

There is almost no corner of the country which does not, in some form or the other, have the violin kind of instrument. In this type the sound box, which usually is the shell of coconut or a small wooden chamber, is held near the shoulder of the player and the fingerboard extends downwards along his arm. The bow is held with his palm downward and the string is stopped with the balls of the fingers. To this class belong the pena of Manipur, the kenra and the banam of Orissa, the Ravana hatta of western India, the kingri of the Pradhans in Andhra and in Andhra and Maharashtra, and the veena kunju of the Pulluvans in Kerala.

BanamA typical example of this group is the kingri of the Pradhans who are associated with Gonds. These latter people were once upon a time an important and ruling community in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra but now are an humble though populous tribe who have the Pradhans as their priests, bards and musicians. The latter's function is to sing of the Gond family traditions and perform at various religious rites, death ceremonies, marriages, festivals and so on. The three important instruments used by them are the pepre (a double reed instrument like the shehnai and nagasvaram), the dhole (a drum) and the kingri. The last is dear to them and they have a legend about who it was invented. There was a rakshasa (demon) who was killed by a clever use by Bhimana (the youngest of the five Pandavas as per their mythology). Manko, the daughter of the demon, sat weeping when Toti the parrot of the house came to ask for his dues." "What shall I give you?', said Manko, 'I have nothing.' Then she took an unburnt piece of wood from the fire; then Toti opened his cloth, and she put it in saying, 'of this make a kingri and when you play it the Gonds will give you presents of calves, bulls, cloth or grain.'" The instrument has a squarish resonator box and is covered with goat skin. The fingerboard is long bamboo inserted into it and has three pegs. Three tufts of horse hair form the 'strings' which are bowed, the musician holding the kingri with the sound box near the chin and the pegs near the palm of his outstretched hand, like the violin. The bow has a number of bells of brass (ghungroo) tied to it, giving a delicate rhythm accompanying the music. (48)

The Ravana hatta or the Ravana hasta veena of Gujarat and Rajasthan is possibly a vital link between the very ancient bowed instruments which might have existed before it and the violin. The name commencing with Ravana, historians have without much thought or hesitation attributed its invention to the scholarly villain of the Ramayana. However, it is more probable that the Ravana hatta was first mentioned in the seventh century A.D., though it ever came to bear the name of the demon king is one of those unsolved mysteries. Today it is a very common and popular fiddle in western India. The bowl is of cut coconut shell the mouth of which is covered over with hide and like the kingri a bamboo dandi is attached to this shell. The principal strings are two: one of steel and the other of a set of horse hair; besides these there is a tarab. The bow is much longer than with the kingri but like with it the bow has jingle bells.

While the two instruments described above are of one kind in which were included the pena, the banam, the kenra, as well as the pulluvan veena, the other class comprises those wherein the manner of holding fiddle is the reverse: resonator below and the pegs above. Of such a kind are the kamaicha, the sarinda and the sarangi.

SarindaThe kamaicha is of special interest as it connects the Indian subcontinent to western Asia and even Africa. As a matter of fact, it is the oldest bowed instrument in world literature, barring, perhaps, the Ravana hatta. As far as information is available, it was known in Egypt as well as in Sind from the tenth century A.D. The commonly accepted idea is that its name is derivable from the Arabic-Persian word kaman meaning bow. It is of course a moot point whether the kamaicha went from Sind in the Indian subcontinent to West Asia and Egypt or vice versa; also was the ancient kamaicha similar in shape, size and mode of playing to our kamaicha. Answers to these queries might give us a better insight into the history of Indian bowed instruments. The kamaicha now found in our country is a bowed lute of Monghniar people of west Rajasthan which borders on the Sind province, now in Pakistan. The whole instrument is one piece of wood, the spherical bowl extended into a neck and fingerboard; the resonator is covered with leather and the upper portion with wood. There are four strings which are the main ones and there are a number of subsidiary ones passing over a thin bridge.

The sarinda is found along the northern hilly tracts and with some of the tribes in Bihar. A very noticeable characteristic of this instrument is its shape. It will be remembered that all the bowed lutes described so far had one hollow resonator which was mostly spherical. But the sarinda has a body so deeply pinched that it looks as if it is of two parts. The lower section is a small pear shaped one and it is only this that has a hide covering. The upper part is much bigger and has a kind of 'winged' shape; further it is completely open and continues on to the dandi. Over this run four strings of twisted cotton, gut or metal.

SarangiFinally we come to the most important of Indian bowed instruments: the sarangi. The concert model is made of one block of wood and is about sixty centimeters in height. The hollow body is wide but waisted at the bottom and this extends into the flat fingerboard. The lower portion is covered with parchment and acts as the main sound box, while the upper portion has a wooden cover. The principal strains, four in number, are of gut usually and as is characteristic of north Indian instruments there is a tarab. The most notable aspect is the finger technique not used in any other case: the fingers are stopped with the sides of the finger nails and not by the balls of fingers. While the folk types are very much like the concert one and nearly of the same construction, there is a giant variety known as the mandar bahar which gives a brass sound and in sometimes met with in classical ensembles.

The sarangi, more than any other stringed instrument, is at once a typical folk and a concert lute. This again opens up a very enigmatic question in our music, which is this. Here is an 'Indian' instrument deeply rooted in certain folk traditions and highly sophisticated into one system-that of the Hindustani classical music as a very desirable accompaniment but yet shunned totally by Karnatak musicians. Not that the sarangi is completely absent in the south. Strangely enough isolated examples of its uses are known and that too with aduvars who are musicians who sing the tevarams, an ancient Tamil hymnody. In spite of such incursion into very orthodox camps the sarangi has not been adapted into south Indian classical music which has taken to a more alien instrument, the violin. Even in the north the sarangi was better known as an accompaniment to the music of nautch girls and sarangiyas (players on the instrument) were one of the lowest classes of instrumentalists socially. Today the picture is very different, for the sarangi is very much in demand in highbrow concert, its players have received national honours and earned worldwide reputation.

Tar shehnaiThere are a number of folk sarangi, all more or less confined to Rajasthan and contiguous provinces, though the peculiar fingering methods are known as far away as in Yugoslavia and Greece. The folk types found in our land are the Gujeratan sarangi, the jogi sarangi, the Sindhi sarangi and the dhani sarangi all of which are of general similitude but very in details. Evidently it is from these that the concert instrument has evolved.

A curious combination of the sarangi and the sitar is the dilruba (or the esraj in Bengal). This has a resonator very much like in the former: it is also held and bowed like it. But the dandi is long and has frets tied as in the latter. Though, in a way, the sound is more mellow than that of the sarangi, it has really been used in concerts of classical music; and while it is not a folk instrument either, the dilruba is employed in light music and is a favourite with Bengali musicians as esraj.

Bowed instruments, then, are spread far in the country not merely geographically but ethnically and culturally. However, notwithstanding their popularity we are still faced with the problems of their beginning and migrations. This is not merely in India but the world over. A very distinguished scholar said nearly seven decades ago: "the origin of bowed instruments remains an unsolved problem". We have not solved it yet.


Saptatantri Veena, Vil Yazh, Santoor, Tuila Of Orissa, Vichitra Veena, Tribal Kinnari, Sarode, Rudra Veena, Sitar, Pradhans, Sarinda, Mandar Bahar, Dhani Sarangi, Classes Of Stringed Instruments, Sushira Vadya, Harmonica, Pan Pipes, Musical Situation, Gopi Yantra, Ek Tara, Premtal, Khamak, Chonka, Jamidika, Santals Of Orissa, Tamboori Group, Saraswati Veena, Melodic Stringed Instruments, Villadi Vadyam, Harps, Vedic Veenas