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Musical Instruments in Hinduism - 72 Musical Instruments Associated with Hindu Religion

Music is an integral part of Hindu religion. Hindu Gods and Goddesses are directly associated with musical instruments. The most famous being the flute of Krishna, hourglass drum (damaru) of Shiva and Veena of Goddess Saraswati. Silappatikaram, Tamil text composed in the 1st century BC, describes thirty types of drums along with many stringed and other musical instruments. Here is a look at 72 musical instruments Associated with Hinduism.

Flute in Hinduism is known as Bansuri and is associated with Sri Krishna. Flute is known as pullanguzhal in Tamil, Odakuzhal in Kerala, Mohuri in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Sumul in Tripura and Siphung in Assam.

The flute used in North India is longer that the flute used in South India especially in Carnatic style of music.

Keeping flute in home is considered to be auspicious by Hindus.

Shankh – Conch
The conch is an indispensible part of Hinduism and its rituals. It is blown during puja and festivals in temples, sacred places and homes.

The custom of blowing conch while taking the corpse to the burial ground is prevalent among some Hindu communities.

Conch is part of the Pancha mahashabda instruments the other being a stringed instrument, nagara, kombu and cymbals.

Buffalo Horn
Shiva is depicted in some images as blowing the horn of a buffalo.
Whistles from clay, wood and reed
Ancient Hindus used various types of whistles made from clay, wood and reed.

Magudi – Pungi - Nasa Jantra
This is one of the most ancient musical instruments in Hinduism popular among snake charmers. This instrument is known Pungi in North India and it is bit longer. The musical instrument is at times blown by the nostrils, due to which it is also called nasa jantra. Snake charmers are invited to play the instrument in temples, homes and in sacred places.

Cymbals – Jalra
Cymbals are essential part of Bhajans – rendering of songs in Hindu pujas and worship. They are a pair of round bronze plates. Cymbal is known as Polidar in Tripura, talalu in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, kinnaram in Kerala, Talam in Tamil Nadu.

This consists of two wooden pieces properly shaped to hold fingers with metal rings attached to it. They are of different shapes and is used to maintain the tempo of the music. It is known Bhajana Chakkalu in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It is known as kartala in Rajasthan.

Morsing also known as morchank, marachanga or morching is identical to the mouth organ and is made of wrought iron resembling the trident. A small resilient steel strip in between two sides of the instrument is made to vibrate with the index finger pushing its protruded neck. The instrument is held in between rows of teeth. The vibration is produced by manipulating the tongue and the breath.

Morsing is also used by the aborigines of Himachal Pradesh, by the people living in the hilly tracks of Hyderabad, and by the people of Assam who call it gagana. The Chenchu tribes use bamboo to make this instrument which they call the tondaramma. In Carnatic music, morsing is played along with mridanga.

Chimta – Haribol
Chimta or Haribol is used in bhajans. Two long metal plates are connected at one end with small metal rings attached to them. Producing a jangling sound when tapped, it heightens the tempo of bhajans.

A sing stringed instrument it is common in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra, Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and part of Karnataka.

Udukkai – Damaru
The instrument is associated with Lord Shiva and He used it while performing Tandava. Beating of Damaru gave rise to fourteen aphorisms, which formed the basis of Sanskrit grammar formulated by Sage Panini.

The instrument is a double-sided small drum of about ten centimeters in diameter on both sides. The animal skin used is so thin that the sound of the tap is scintillating.

Mridangam is an integral part of all music concerts. It is famous in South India.

This instrument is also similar to Mridangam and it is used mainly in North India. It is played as an accompaniment to Kathak dance, devotional songs and dhrupad style singing.

This is another popular drum used in dance recitals, kirtanas and devotional music. This instrument is famous in Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam and Manipur.

Mridangam, Pakhavaj and khol is a cylindrical instrument. The cylindrical shape of the instrument made of wood covered on both sides with processed animal skin, provides ample scope for a tonal variety, much superior to that of others.

The length of the log of wood, the thickness of the black circle, and the space in between the two sheaths of skin, have a direct bearing on the resonance.

Dhol – Dholak
This is beaten by a stick on one side. It is used in temples. The sound of the beat is usually very loud so that it reaches a long distance. A type of Dhol in Madhya Pradesh is struck by two sticks.

Veena is an ancient instrument. Mention of it is found in many Hindu scriptures. Sage Yajnavalkya, mentioned in the Vedas, was proficient in playing the Veena.

This stringed instrument is the most essential accompaniment for any performance of Indian music. This is mainly to maintain the drone and the tonic o the music. Though resembling the Veena, it has neither frets nor the small kalasam and has four strings with birada.

Kombu – Deva Dundhubhi – Ekkalam
This is made of bronze in various sizes. When blown through the mouth, a loud sound emerges. The biggest horns are curved at the other end and it is known as ekkalam.

Nagasvaram – Nadaswaram – Mangala Vadyam
Popular musical pipe used in many places in South India. All festivals, celebrations, and during auspicious occasion it is played.

This instrument resembles nadaswaram in all aspects except in its length. It is played in temples towards the end of worship.

Semungala – The Gong – Jagate
The metal gong is kept dangling from the left hand and tapped with a wooden rod with the right hand. It is used in temples to announce the arrival of the deity and in procession along streets.

A bow made of bamboo is fixed to a wooden base with thin metal balls dangling at the both the ends. When bow string is tapped with two small wooden sticks, musical sound is produced. It is used in festivals.

It is a simple clay pot without a lid. The instrument is played with both the hands, wrists, ten fingers and the nails. The mouth of the pot is pressed against the stomach and the strokes given at the neck, the center and the bottom of the outer surface produce a tonal variety.

Jalatarangam – Udaka Vadya
A set of small ceramic cups varying in size is arranged in a semi-circle in front of the artiste. The cups are filled with varied levels of water.

Nagara – Berigai – Murasu
This is an ancient big drum. The player beats the drum with two wooden sticks so as to produce a thundering sound that can be heard from a very long distance. It is beaten to announce the procession of a temple deity. It is also beaten while offering food to the deity.

Panchamukha Vadyam
It is rarely seen nowadays. Five small drums are sixed on the perimeter of the big drum to form the instrument. The drummer beats all the five drums alternatively rendering different talas.

Tamuku – Tandora – Timki
This is a small drum. The player hang is around his neck and beats it with two cane sticks.

Tambattam – Parai – Damaram – Donga
It is a drum of varying diameter played with two sticks one in each hand. It is used in temple festival and during various processions.

Tavil – Melam – Mattalam
This barrel –shaped drum is played along with the Nadaswaram. The right side is played with the wrist and the capped fingers, while the left is struck with a stout stick. It is played during auspicious occasions, marriages and during temple festivals.

Kanijra – Khanjari
This is a small, round wooden drum held in the left hand at the chest, it is played with the right hand.

This is a big, round pot, with its small, circular mouth covered by animal skin. It is tapped by means of a wooden piece shaped like a table tennis bat. It is used in Krishnanattam of Kerala.

Gottu Vadyam – Vichitra Veena
The instrument resembles the standard veena but there are no frets in the stem. While the player plucks the string with the right hand finger, he moves a stone roller with his left hand over the strings. The sound produced is entirely different from that of veena.

Tala Vadyam
The stringed instrument is played with small two canes. The instrument was used in temples during dance performances.

This is a circular bronze plate with a small depression in the center, which is held in the left hand, dangling and tapped with a thick wooden stick. It is used in Kerala.

This instrument is made of the boat-shaped sepal of the coconut. A thin bamboo weed is tied to both ends and tapped with the bamboo stick.

Udukkai in Kerala
It is larger in size with small bells attached to the rim. The instrument is held on the shoulder and tapped on both sides with the cane sticks.

Shuddha Madhalam
Shuddha Madhalam is used in Kathakali dance. It is one of the five instruments that constitute the Panchavadya – the others being edakka, timila, kombu and edatalam.

This is a popular drum in Kerala. It is played on one side with two sticks and at times with single stick. The other side is played with hand.

Pulluvan Kudam
This is a clay drum played while offering prayers to Nagas or snakes. It is widely used in Kerala in Kavu and Nagaraja and Nagayakshi Temples.

Pulluvan Veena
This is a hand-held instrument played while offering prayers to Nagas or Snakes. It is like a very distant cousin of violin.

It is two brass drums held together and played during festivals and auspicious occasions. The two drums are tied to one another. One endis struck with a stick and the other with the hand.

Tase and Bidi
These are small drums shaped like shallow bowls and are usually made of wood or burt clay or sometimes of metal. Animal hide is secured across the front with rope or a leather strap. A pair of stick is used for playing. Depending on the size, it is either flung around the neck or placed on the ground. The instruments are used by devotional singers and in wedding processions.

Ummari – Urumi
This is a two headed cylindrical drum and is used during processions and ceremonial occasions.

Dudi is a drum found in Kodagu in Karnataka and is made of metal usually struck by a soft stick to produce excellent rhythm.

A small half-glass-shaped drum, budabudukkah is commonly used by the madari or the monkey man. There are strings with knots tied to the center, and the player strikes both sides of the drum to produce a loud rattling noise.

Tenkuya Burra
It is a stringed instrument whose resonance comes out of a coconut shell.

Tokka consists of a bamboo tube about 90 centimeters long. The lower end is cut out in such a way as to form a kind of handle. It is held in one hand and is beaten against the palm of the other. Alternatively, the tube is shaken so that the slit faces rattle against one another.

It is made up of a set of small bamboo pipes tied by a rope. The player hangs it around his neck and taps the pipes with a cane stick alternately to make music.

It is made up of a bamboo pipe, at one end of which is a bridge with a single string.

This instrument is made of a single hollow piece of wood. There is a long cylindrical resonator over which there are three strings, one gut and two of steel.

It is used for producing rhythm. It has a deep earthen frame covered with a tortoise skin.

The songkong is a large instrument consisting of a body 11 meters long and about 4 meters in circumference. It is characterized by a booming sound. Among the Nagas of Nagaland, it is used as a tool for signaling.

This musical instrument is made of the horn of an ox. The mouth is covered with an animal skin, tapped by a wooden stick to produce a loud sound.

It is basically a tala vadyam, one string of the instrument is plucked with the right hand, while the other is tapped with the stick.

It is a Shehnai of Kashmir. It consists of a single tube with an integrated bell. It also has a conical bore with seven finger holes and one thumb-hole in the rear.

It is a special kind of drum, shaped like a long-necked water pot with its bottom knocked off and covered with skin. It is held under the left arm and is played with the right hand.

The origin of Santur is traced to the Vedic vana vina, which is said to have 100 strings of pun grass and was played with sticks. This satatantri veena, with 100 strings, got modified to santur.

This is a double horn made of bamboo with four holes each. Both the pipes are blown simultaneously, while the deft fingers play on the holes.

Vanso or Jodeparvo (Veno and Pavo)
This horizontally held instrument is found among the cowherds in Gujarat. Each of the pair is made of bamboo or wood. There is a hole at one end that is blown. There are four holes in each flute for producing melody, and both flutes are tuned to the same pitch.

Nagphani is used in folk music in Gujarat and Rajasthan. It consists of a bronze cylindrical tube with a bell-shaped opening and a decorative metal tongue to which the mouthpiece is integrated.

Khansia Jodi
This is a pair of alloy discs with a central depression. Range of tones is produced by striking of edges and friction.

This instrument is used in temples and dance performances. The bowl is made of iron and is hemispherical in shape. The parchment is laced to the body with a hoop. The hoop at the rim tightens the animal skin. It is struck with a small wooden stick to produce the resonant sound.

This instrument is a pair of equal single metal bowls with parchment held by hoops and laced to the bodies. The two drums are of unequal pitch. It is used in dances and festivals.

Two-faced cylindrical drum tapered on one side. The parchment on the right side is pasted with iron filling and is held by hoops and fastened by rope.

It is a single-stringed instrument used of producing rhythm. There is a resonator with parchment. A gut string with a knob is fixed under the parchment. The other end of the string is taken through a resonator and is tied to a small wooden stick.

Danda – Thiski
It is a pair of sticks of equal length which are used in dancing. It is used in Saila dance in Madhya Pradesh.

This is a stringed instrument of Madhya Pradesh. The musical instrument is made of a single hallowed block of wood. Three main steel strings are hooked to the bottom and tied to the tuning pegs. They are pressed against the board by the finger tips and are played with a bow made of a curved cane stick with jingle bells attached.

It is made of a single long piece of wood frets. Two gourds of equal shape are tied to the body. The instrument is played with a bow, made of a curved bamboo stick and hair with jingle bells attached.

It is a pair of small metallic cymbals. The flat circular discs of manjira are connected together by a cord or cotton thread passing through a hole in their centers. It is an accompaniment to devotional music all over India.

This is made of two small bowls, one covered by thin iron plates and the other by a copper plate. One of the bowls is slightly bigger than the other, giving it different tala. In Rajasthan, the people who play the instrument is known as Naggarchi.

It is a popular folk instrument in Rajasthan. It can be traced back to the Ravanastra which has been attributed to Ravana, the king of Lanka, in Ramayana. The resonator of the Ravanhatta is made of a semi-coconut shell, polished and covered with skin. A bamboo is fixed to the resonator. There are two main strings on the bamboo, one made of horse hair and the other of steel. The bow is struck against these strings to play the instrument. Small bells or ghungru are attached to the bow to produce a jingling effect while playing.

Tabala has its origin in the ancient Puskara drums of India. Hand held puskara is found in many temple carvings. Drummers sitting with two or three separate small drums with their palm and fingers in a position like playing the drums are found in many carvings.
Puskara is discussed in Natyashastra.

Origin of sarod is traced to the chitra veena of ancient India. A Gupta period coin depicts King Samudragupta playing an instrument believed to be the precursor of the Sarod.

Some of the other musical instruments associated with Hinduism are alghoza, suriyapirai, candrapirai, vezha thakkil, kudamuzha, tambourin, bulbultara, pushkaram, guntalam, tondai, tumlaknari, dilo and swarbat. Sitar is a modified form of Veena.

Source - notes taken from Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume VII published by India Heritage Research Foundation.
Classical Musical Instruments by Suneera Kasiwal (2001)
Musical Instruments of India by Anasuya Ashok Kumar (2001)