Tag Archives: Atodhya Vadya

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Nine

Continued from Part Eight – Dhruva Gana in Natya

Part Nine (of 22) – Musical Instruments in Natyashastra

Amaravathi music0014

Role of instruments in Samgita

1.1. The term Samgita in the early Indian context meant a composite art-form comprising Gita (vocal singing), Vadya (instrumental accompaniments) and Nrtta or Nartana the limb movement or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, Nrttam Samgita-mucchyate).

1.2. Samgita was also called Gandharva–vidya (the art of the Gandharvas) because the celestial beings, the Gandharvas, loved to sing and dance   to the accompaniment of instrumental music.  And the term Gandharva, therefore, often, meant Music in general.

yattu tantrīkṛtaṃ proktaṃ nānā atodya samāśrayam । gāndharvamiti tajjñeyaṃ svara tāla padātmakam ॥ 28.8॥ atyarthamiṣṭaṃ devānāṃ tathā prītikaraṃ punaḥ । gandharvāṇāṃ ca yasmāddhi tasmād gandharvam ucyate ॥ BhN_28.8

1.3. Natyashastra explains the Gandharva music as that which is governed by the combination of Svara (tonal structure); Taala (time-units); and, Pada (text), in association with various musical instruments (Gaandharvam trividham vidhaat svara-tala-pada-atmakam). Thus, song, Veena, flute and drums all contributed to Gandharva.

gāndharvaṃ trividhaṃ vidyāt svara tāla padātmakam । trividhasyāpi vakṣyāmi lakṣaṇaṃ karma caiva hi ॥ 28.11॥

Naradiya Shiksha (1.4.12) gives the etymology of the term Gandharva by splitting it into three elements. It explains Gandharva Gana as made of: Ga – the song (giti geyam vidhuhu); Dha – playing on the Veena by skillful use of fingers (karupya vadanam); and, Va– other instruments and gestures (veti vadhyasya sanjnya); and says ‘this indicates Gandharva (ye Gandharvasya nirochanam).

1.4. Later, Someshwara (twelfth century) in his Manasollasa says that the instruments enhance the beauty and grace of dance and music performances, and for this reason, they have a preeminent place in both dance and music.

Vadyen-ranjate-geetam ch nrityam-vadyavarjitam!!/ Tasmadvadyam-pradhanam-syadvitnritya-kriyavidho!

1.5. Thus, Instrumental music was very much a part of the Samgita; and, it also enjoyed an important part in the play-production.  Instruments from behind the screen or on the stage were played to accompany various songs; to heighten the effect of the mood suggested by the scene; to better articulate different gestures; and, to accompany dance and dance-like movements.

Music Instruments


[ Ramayana is more closely associated with music than other epics. That might be because Ramayana is rendered in verse; and, its poetry of abiding beauty melts into music like molten gold, with grace and felicity. Further, the epic has a certain lyrical lustre to it. The epic itself mentions that the Rama tale was rendered in song by two minstrels Kusi and Lava to the accompaniment of Veena, Tantri- laya-samanvitam (I.20.10), during the Asvamedha.

There are innumerable references to Music in Ramayana. Music was played for entertainment and in celebration at the weddings and other auspicious occasions; (II.7.416-36; 48.41.69; III.3, 17; 6.8; IV 38.13; V.53.17; VI.11.9; 24.3; 75.21 etc.)  . Music was also played in palaces and liquor parlors (IV 33.21; V.6.12; X.32; 37.11.4; Vi.10.4). Soulful songs were sung to the accompaniment of instruments, at religious services and in dramas. Music was played in the festivities; to welcome and see off the guests. The warriors fighting on the battlefield were lustily cheered and enthused by stout drum beats;   and piercing blow of conchs, horns and trumpets. There is also mention of those who took to music as a profession. Besides, there were court (state) sponsored musicians. Music was thus a part of social fabric of the society as described in Ramayana.

There are numerous events narrated in Ramayana where Music was sung or played. The word Samgita in Ramayana is a composite term covering Gana (vocal), Vadya (instrumental) and Nritya (dance). Samgita or Music was referred to as Gandharva-vidya. There is also a mention of Karna sung to the accompaniment of Veena (R. VII. 71.5). Samgita was also Kausika (kaisika) the graceful art of singing and dancing (gana-nrtya-vidya), the delightful  art of singing and dancing in groups (kausika-charya) to the accompaniment of instruments.

For more : Please refer to The Music in Ramayana ]

Rangoli 123


As compared to Ramayana, there is relatively less information about Music in Mahabharata. Yet; Music (Gandharva) did occupy an important place in the life of its people. There are references to Music played on various occasions, including welcoming and seeing off the guests.  Along with singing (Gita) such Musical instruments as Panav, Vansa and Kansya Tala etc., were played. The Music instruments were broadly covered under the term Vaditra, denoting the four-fold group of Tata, Vitata, Ghana and Sushira -Vadyas.

In Shanti-parva, there are references to Veena and Venu.  The string instrument (Tantri-Vadya) Veena, was played during religious ceremonies like Yajnas; and, for relaxation by the ladies of the Queen’s court- vīṇā-paṇava-veṇūnāṃ svanaś cāti manoramaḥ / prahāsa iva vistīrṇaḥ śuśruve tasya veśmanaḥ – 12,053.005

In Dronaparva, there are references to Drum class instruments like: Mridanga, Jharjhara, Bheri, Panava, Anaka, Gomukha, Adambara, and Dundubhi (paṇavānaka-dundubhi-jharjhar-ibhiḥ – 07,014.037).

And, in Virata-parva, there is a reference to Kansya (solid brass instrument), the cymbal; Shankha (conch) and Venu (flute), the wind instruments Sushira -Vadyas. And, Gomukha was perhaps a cow-faced horn or trumpet – śaṅkhāś ca bheryaś ca gomukhā-ḍambarās tathā – 04,067.026.

The known Musical Instruments of the Mahabharata Period could be grouped as under:

Muscial instruments in Mahabharata


Please do read the beautifully well-illustrated – Musical Instruments in Hoysala Sculpture by Jean Deloche

Hoysala art


The Nartana-nirnaya of  Pundarika Vittala mentions that : The efficacy of the Nartana , the dance, is determined (Nirnaya) by the performances, the combined excellence and coordination  of  the Dancer (Nartaka) and his troupe (Vrnda), consisting the Singer (Gayaka), the Cymbalist (Tala-dhari), the Mrdangam-player (Mrdangi), flute-player (Mukhari), and the Dance-composer (Nattuva). These components, together, are the determinants (Nirnaya-kari) of the Dance (Nartana).

Lets take a look at some  aspects of instrumental Music, with particular reference to the Natyashastra


Atodhya Vadya

Intruments-Inde-1 Intruments-Inde-2

2.1. Bharatha used the term Atodhya Vadya to denote musical instruments. In the Natyashastra (NS: ātodyavidhimidānīṃ vakṣyāmaḥ । 28.1), Music instruments are classified under four broad categories based on their acoustic principles:

    • Tata (stringed);
    • Avanaddha (covered or percussion);
    • Susira (hollow or wind-blown) ; and
    • Ghana ( solid – like cymbals).

This classification given by Bharata was accepted as a standard format, in the later times, for study of instruments. And, it is valid till date.

tataṃ caivā avanaddhaṃ ca ghanaṃ suṣirameva ca । caturvidhaṃ tu vijñeyam ātodyaṃ lakṣaṇānvitam ॥ 28.1


    • the term Tatha included all stringed instruments;
    • Anaddha included all that were covered or were struck like drums;
    • Sushira includes all wind instruments like the flute and the Shanka; and,
    • Ghana included all solid cymbal-like resonators.

2.2. Of these, the stringed and wind- instruments that produced flow of pleasant notes seemed to be the favored ones; and, were grouped with the singers. And, in the music on the stage and behind the curtain, the string instruments were more important.

2.3. The string and wind instruments were generally played individually or in tandem. It is not clear whether the Orchestra (Vadya-vrinda) as we know it today was in place during the time of Natyashastra.

However, Bharatha mentions three groups (Kutapa) of music-performers: Tata, Avanaddha and NatyakrtaThe Tata–Kutapa grouped together the vocalists, the players on string instruments, and the flutists. Avanaddha-Kutapa included players on percussion instruments such as Mrudanga, Pavana and Dardura. And, Natyakrta-Kutapa was the collection of actors and actresses who take part in the play.

tataḥ kutapa vinyāso gāyanaḥ saparigrahaḥ । vaipañciko vaiṇikaśca vaṃśa vādas tatha iva ca ॥ BhN_28.4

The Kutapa followed a certain sequence of activities :

    • (1) Pratyahara (arrangement of instruments;
    • (2) Avatarana (appearance of the singers) ;
    • (3) Arambha (commencement of vocal exercises);
    • (4) Asravana (methodical tuning of the instruments);
    • (5) Vaktarpani (rehearsing different types of playing) ;
    • (6) Parighattana (re-tuning/finetuning of the instruments);
    • (7) Sanghattana (taking up positions); and,
    • (8) Margasarita (playing together of string and rhythm-instruments).

Sangita-ratnakara mentions three classes of Natya-kutapa (1) Uttama (the best), having four main singers; 12 accompanying singers; four flute-players; and, four drummers (4-12-4-4); For Madhyama (medium) and Kanishta (lesser) varieties, their composition of musicians/players was 2-4-2-2 and 1-3-2-2, respectively

[Interestingly, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi calls a of group of musicians as Turya, in which the Veena-players were prominent. There was a main Veena-player (Veena Vadaka) who was supported and followed by a secondary group of Veena players (Pari- vadaka)

–  ‘vināśa-parikṣipa-pariraṭa-parivādi-vyābhāṣa-asūyo vuñ – PS_3.02.146-’

During the time of Panini, just singing a song (gayana) without the support of Veena was called Apa-veena.

And, the sound of Veena (Nada) was called by many names as: Kana, Nikvan, and Nikvaan (kvaṇo vīṇāyāṃ ca – PS_3,3.65 ).

The sounds of the other instruments were called as Ghosha: vā ghoṣa miśra śabdeṣuPS_6,3.56 ]

2.4. As Abhinavagupta said;   The Gita (song), Vadya (instruments) and Natya (enactment of play) should, ideally, coordinate and perform harmoniously – supporting and strengthening each other with great relish. And, the three Kutapa-s, in combination should suggest a seamless movement like a circle of fire (Alaata chakra); and should brighten (Ujjvalayati) the stage.




3.1. Tata –Vadya represent the class of string instruments (tantri kritam). It is said; such instruments were classified on the basis of number or kinds of strings (tantri bheda); and, the manner of playing the instruments. And, among all the string instruments (Tata-vadya) the Veena was the most prominent.

3.2. It is said; Veena was a generic term for all stringed instruments including lutes, arched harps, with or without frets and plucked with fingers or a plectrum.

(Natyashastra regards human body also as a Veena – vaiṇāḥ śārīrāśca prakīrtitāḥ  (BhN_28.12), a musical instrument, since it has a rhythm of its own; and, is also capable of producing musical notes through vocal cords.)

Some say that the Veena referred to in the Natyashastra might have resembled a harp rather than a lute (as we know it now).

play_yazh Saraswati Veena

3.3. The major types of Veena-s during the time of Bharatha were said to be: Chitra (seven strings and played with fingers) and Vipanchi (nine stringed lutes played with a plectrum). The other types were Ghosha or Ghoshavati (single stringed – Ek Tari or a sort prototype Tanpura) and Kapucchi (also an Ek Tari).

saptatantrī bhaveccitrā vipañcī tu bhaven nava । koṇavādanā vipañcī syāc citrā cā aṅguli vādanā ॥ 29.118

Hanuman during his adventure in the city of Lanka, sees a woman of Ravana’s court  sleeping , hugging a Vipanchi as if it were her lover– vipañcaiim parighyānyā niyatā nttaśālinī | nidrā vaśam anuprāptā saha kāntā iva bhāminī (R.5-10-41)

[Among the string instruments (Tatha), Ramayana mentions two kinds of Veena: Vipanchi (fingerboard plucked ones with nine strings like the Veena as we know); Vana or Vallaki (a multi stringed harp); and, Kanda-Veena (made by joining reeds).

In fact, till about 19th century, string instruments  of all kinds were called Veena: harps like the Chitra; fingerboard plucked ones like  the Vipanchi,  Rudra Veena, the Saraswati Veena and the Kacchapi Veena; bowed ones such as the Ravana hastaveena and the Pinaki Veena.]

[According to the renowned scholar Dr. C. Sivaramamurti:


Coin of  Emperor Samudra Gupta (ruled – Ca.335-375 CE)

The commonest type of Veena was bow-shaped and resembled a harp. But, there was also another type which was more like a guitar.

Amaravathi music0002 Amaravathi music0005

The harp type  of Veena was evolved on the principle of the bow and the resonator, the musical twang of the bowstring being a favorite sound often eulogized by poets as deep and pleasant. The interval between strings tied to the bow- shaped rod immediately above the resonator increased or diminished their length and thus determined the modulation of the note imitating vocal vibrations.

This hole in the piece of leather covering the vault of the resonator was for deepening the sound of the string. The entire body of the vina with the exception of the strings arid leather was of wood and was generally gaily painted over the gold and Jewel studded’.

The strings (tantri) for the Veena were generally seven. This type of vina was the oldest and most common, the saptatantrl veena or as per Amarakosha ‘sa tu tantrlbhis saptabhih parivadini’.

The harp-like Veena was sometimes held by a strap that came over the shoulder and could thenbe played by a person even while standing. And, the harp-like vina was sometimes played with the aid of a small plectrum (kana) sounding the strings softly with the finger nails.

Amaravathi music0010 Amaravathi music0014a

The guitar-like Veena had a pear shaped resonator and straight neck. The strings extended across the resonator’s flat top which must also have been of leather. There were holes in the top cover of the resonator as in the bow-shaped vina. The strings were tuned with the help of small pegs which were tightened and lossened as required, with the resonator shaped like a tortoise shell, and with the neck appearing almost like the creature’s head peering from its shell, though being rather long for that, this vina is probably the nearest approach we~ can get to the kacchapi the favourite musical instrument of Sarasvati, the shape of which is suggested by its name .]

Terra cotta Gupta period 6th century

Terracotta – Gupta period Sixth Century

In Indian classical music, one of the most prominent and special instruments was Veena or Veena-like instruments (Tata-Vadya) that  have occupied a special place in classical music since the ancient period.

In the ancient texts, several types of Veenas are mentioned. Amongst the earliest string instruments, the most famous two were ‘Vipanchi-Veena’ (mentioned in the Ramayana) and a two stringed ‘Kachchhapi-Veena’ (mentioned in the Mahabharata).

Among these, the Ghoshaka-Veena was a string instrument, belonging to the half gourd type. The half guard is fixed at the top of the shaft. The Veena was played by keeping the gourd near the left-hand side of the chest and pressing its base with the third finger of the right hand

Kinnara with Apani Veena

The instruments depicted on the sculptures of Kinnaras (celestial being) belongs to the group of Veena (string instrument) of primitive type called Alapini-Veena, which is a form of single stringed or three-stringed Veena, with a gourd at the top end, attached. to a wooden shaft.

Kinnari-Veena is said to be the modified version of Alapini -Veena.

The Kinnari-Veena consisted of a finger board, fourteen frets and more than one gourd. It had three varieties – Laghu (little) Kinnari; Madhya (middle) Kinnari; and, Brihad (large) Kinnari.

Among these three types, the first one was made of two gourds; the second one had three gourds; and, the third type had four gourds.

It is said: “While Alapini was the first medium of expression of the form Alap, the Kinnari was an improved version; was a better medium than Alapini; and, was more in vogue.”

Rudra-Veena is said to an improved version of Kinnari-Veena; with a more elaborate the arrangement of the frets. It is believed that Saraswathi-Veena or Mahati-Veena (known as ‘Been or Beena’) was the refashioned version ; as devised by the Seni Gharana in the Mughal Period.

Veena PlayerVeena Player2

Role of Veena in Music-theories and principles

4.1. The Veena was used in the texts as the basis (adhara) to explain the theoretical aspects of Music and also to illustrate the concepts of Sruti, Taana, Sthana, Dhatu etc.

For instance;  Dattilam (9) explains Sruti as the difference in sounds (dvani visesha) produced by striking on the string on the upper end of the Veena (Uttarottara-taras tu venayam) and that produced by striking on the  lower end (adharottarah) of the Veena . And, Abhinavagupta explains the term Sruti as the sound (sabda) produced (prabhavita) when struck at appropriate position (śruti-sthāna-abhighāta) on the Veena.

4.2. Even the vocal styles were defined with reference to  the relation between singing and playing the song on Veena. When one plays on the Veena ( following the vocal style) but without singing it is then known as Suska or A-gita . And, when one plays on the Veena and sings the song as he plays ,  it is known as Giti

Abhinavagupta explains: every type of Giti can be played on Veena. And, there are three types of Giti:   Tatva, Anugata and Ogha.

When the Gana (singing)  is prominent and the Veena follows Gana completely , it is Tatva; when the Veena follows Gana in some part and then shows its own craftsmanship , it becomes Anugata; and , when the playing techniques becomes A-nibaddha and the Karanas become more prominent  and the Gana becomes secondary then the Giti becomes Ogha . Thus in the rendering of the Giti, Veena performs an important role.

4.3. Similarly, Murchana and Taana variations to provide pleasure to the listener as also to the performer were explained with reference to Veena. Dattilam (36) the techniques of improving Taana-s on the Veena (Taana-kriya).

Dattila says: the Taana-kriya is twofold (Taana-kriya-dvidha-tantryam): Pravesika  and  Nigraha

Pravesika (entering) is raising the lower note or lowering the higher note.

And, Nigraha (abstaining) is not touching the string (asamsparka tu nigrahat).


4.4. Bharatha describes the various strokes (karana) on the Veena and their sequences. According to Abhinavagupta, the collection of Svaras that are produced by striking (praharavishesha janyah) the strings of veena in a specific manner is called Dhatu.

The Dhatu had four elements: Vistara (high pitched), Karana  (low pitched), Aviddha (duration of the note) and Vyanjana (different ways of employing each finger), each of which had its variations.

vistāraḥ karaṇaśca syādāviddho vyañjanas tathā । catvāro dhātavo jñeyā vāditra karaṇā aśrayāḥ ॥ BhN_29.50

Such variations depended on whether the stroke was made on the upper end (uttara-mukha) or lower end (adhara) of the Veena; the number of strokes made on the strings; the time span (guru and laghu); and, their sequences.

uttaramukho dvir adharo dvir uttarā vasānaś ca । madhyottaro dvir adharo dvir uttaro’apy adhara madhyaś ca ॥ BhN_29.57

4.5.  The Varas on which the Alakāras depend are of four kinds:  ascending in the scale (ārohin); descending (avarohin); where the notes are the same and are equal (sthāyin); and,  when the various notes come together they constitute what is called a mixed Vara (sanchārin, or transitory)

Ārohī cā avarohī ca sthāyi sañcāriau tathā varāś ca tvāra eva ite hya alankaras tad āśrayā BhN_29.14

These four Varas having clearly defined aspects are adopted from the human voice; and, they relate to the quality of the three voice registers (sthāna).

Śārīra-svara-sambhūtās-tri sthāna gua gocarā catvāro lakaopetā varāstatra prakīrtitā BhN_29.17

When the Varnas adorn a song , it enhances the power of the song to provide  greater enjoyment

Evam lakaa sayukta yadā varo’nukarati tadā varasya nipattir jñeyā svara samudbhavā 29.18


Sushira Vadya


5.1. Sushira (hollow) instruments that allow passage of air to excite the various resonators have been popular from very early times. By manipulating the vibrations of air columns, varieties of sound patterns are produced through these instruments. And, they generally did not involve mechanical parts. These instruments of all types- like conch, horns, trumpets, bugles, and flutes of different types – were blown either by mouth or by bellows.


Sushira derived from Susih (hole) stands for wind instruments, in general. According to Panini, the Grammarian, the suffix rah is added to Sushi to obtain the term Sushira – (ūṣa-suṣi-muṣka-madho raḥ || PS_5,2.107 ||)

Wind instruments (Sushira) such as flute made of bamboo were termed as Vamsi – Vamsadikam tu sushiram. Bharata regarded Vamsi as one of the important instruments; Shankha; and, Dakkini as minor or supporting (Pratyanga) wind instruments.

The flute and Veena are usually played in unison (Venu-Veena). It was said; the Svara and Grama derived from Sushira (flute) and the Veena are same

Atodyam sushiram nama jneyam vamsakrtam budhaih / Vaina eva vidhistatra svara-grama-sama ashrayah – ॥  30.1 ॥.

The most ancient Sushira instrument mentioned in Rgveda are Nali and Bakura. The  Bakura dritam is described as a sort of bag-pipe (driti denoting a leather bag). Bakura is blow-instrument. Nail is said to please Yama. Other Sushira instruments mentioned are Tunva and Shankha

Sarangadeva mentions some Sushira instruments as : Vamsi, Pava, Murali, Kahala, Tundaki, Tunva , Cukka, Sringa and Shankha.

And, to that, Ahobala adds: Mukhavina, Vakri, Camga, Patrika and Svara sagara.

Further, Sangita Damodara mentions Pari, Madhuri, Tutturi, Simgha, Vamsi and Turyavamsi as some other Sushira instruments

As mentioned, the most important of Sushira vadyas, made of is bamboo, is Vamsi. Based on the principle of a breath of air escaping through holes, Vamsi, is usally made as a bamboo tube. It is long, straight and smooth. Later, other wood / materials came into use: Kadira wood, sandalwood, ivory, copper, iron, silver, and gold. The flute (Venu) is the most important. It is one of the sweetest and an easily portable of musical instruments.

Some varieties of flute are held to the mouth; but, some are held along it. The latter variety is often portrayed in paintings and sculptures; and, it is the type that is used in stage or classical music.

The variety of flute which the player holds in his lips, the blowing end is not plain; but , it is pressed into a narrow opening known as the beak. The player blows a current of air into the flute through the beak; and, creates melodies by closing and opening the finger holes on the body of the instrument. This kind of flute  is a common pastoral instrument.      bansuri

The other variety of flute that is held horizontal or across the player’s lips is closed at one end and open at the other. A few centimeters from the blocked end there is a hole known as the embouchure or blow hole into which the flutiest blows. Along the body of the instrument there are a number of apertures which are worked by fingers for playing a tune.  

Amaravathi music0007

Such a horizontal flute is the one that is used in musical concerts; the reason being the versatility of the cross flute. The classical Indian music, at its refined excellence , is rich in fine pitch differences (sruti–bedha) and ornamentation (gamakas), which  are best executed  by the complicated fingering techniques, adjustments of the pressure of blowing and slight changes in the angle of the flute on the lip. All such manipulations are possible only with the horizontal flute.

The Indian artists and audiences prefer the bamboo flute over the metallic ones , because of its mellow quality. The length of the Venu varies depending upon the context and the nature of music played. The shorter ones are employed for faster music and for higher pitch; whereas the longer flutes are meant for slower resonant music in lower pitch.


As said earlier, the number of holes on a flute varies. And, it appears, the early ones had only seven holes – venum gayami saptacchidram.

Later, the number of holes was increased to eight. The first hole on the flute, after a space of two /three /four fingers is Mukha-randra.  The next hole after space of  one finger is Tara –randra or Nada-randra , followed by seven more holes, each at a space of  half/ three-fourth finger from the Tara-randra. A smaller hole of the size of Badri seed (Ber, Bora or Indian jujube) is made to take out the air. This is known as Eka-vira-vamsi.

With the increase in space between Mukha-randra and the Tara-randra, the Vamsi may have  as many as fourteen holes . They are named as ;

Umapathi, tripurusha, Chaturmukha, Panchavaktra, Shanmukha, Muniraja, Vasu, Nathendra, Mahananda, Rudra, Aditya, Manu, Kalanidhi, and Anvartha.


The Shankha or conch shell also belongs to the Sushira category. It is considered most auspicious. Apart from that, it was always carried by warriors, as a part of their battle gear. They were considered so important that each warrior gave a name to his personal conch. For instance; Krishna named his conch as Pancajanya, while Arjuna named his as Devadatta.

The conches were blown for heralding the arrival of the heroic warrior; as also for sounding the battle-cry before and after battle. The blow (dhamana or purna) of the deep and noble sounds of the Martial conchs were said to be so loud as to frighten the enemy; and shatter his heart.  It was akin to the trumpet; but, its roar was much louder. The Shankha was blown along with the lound beats of the Dundubhi, the large drum.

dvi kastrika śca tuṣko vā śruti saṅkhyo bhavet svaraḥ । anīraṇāttu śeṣāṇāṃ svarāṇāmapi sambhavaḥ । aṅgul īvādana kṛtaṃ tac ca me san nibodhata ॥  BhN_30.4

And, the Shankha (conch) had also its place in a musical orchestra. It was sounded with other instruments; but, only at intervals. There were two ways in which it was blown either the perforated tip of the shell itself being put to the lips or sometimes a long ornamental pipe attached to it.

Amaravathi music0003 Amaravathi music0006


5.2. Chapter Thirty of Natyashastra talks briefly about Sushira Vadya-s in just about 13 verses. It is said; the wind instruments in use during the time of Bharatha were Vamsa, Nadi, Tudakini, Samkha and such others. Not much is known either about Nadi or Tudakini; and, Samkha the conch was scarcely used as a musical instrument in the play.

6.1. Therefore, the attention of the Natyashastra in its Chapter Thirty was mainly on Vamsa or Venu the flute, which is an important musical instrument in the context of the Drama. Vamsa also provided the basic note (Sruti) to tune other musical instruments. And, that    helped to regulate the song and music of the play.

6.2. During the time of Natyashastra, Susira (hollow) musical instruments were made of Vamsa (bamboo reeds), Hence the flutes were commonly known as Vamsa  or Vamsa–Vadya.  

Therefore, Bharta commences the discussion  on Sushira Vadyas, the hallow instruments, in Chapter 30 of the Natyashastra, by saying: the hollow (suira) musical instruments, as the wise should know, are made of bamboo. The rules regarding their notes (svara) and the Grāma are the same as that of the Veeā.

atodya suira nāma jñeya vaśagata budhai vaia eva vidhistatra svaragrāmasamāśraya BhN_30.1

6.3. The Verse 11 of Chapter 30 says – The music of Vamsa which is steady and not very loud; and adorned with Varnas and Alamkaras , and follows rules,  is smooth and soothing.

avicalitam-avicchinna varā-alakāra-sayuta vidhivat  lalita madhura snigdhaveoreva smta vādyam  BhN_30.11

The rules regarding their notes (Svara) and the Grama were the same as that of the Veena.

6.4. Bharatha explains the manner of producing seven notes ‘according to the Sruti division of two, three and four (dvishrutika, trishrutika, and chatusshrutika). And, he says: by prolonging the blow the other Svaras may also be produced.

dvi-strikaś catuko vā śruti sakhyo bhavet svara anīraāttu śeāāsvarāāmapi sambhava agulī vādana kta tacca me sannibodhata BhN_30.4

The notes were obtained by covering the hole with the finger, by placing a trembling finger (Kampita), by partially closing/ opening the hole (Ardha-mukta) or by fully opening the hole (Vyakta-mukta).

Vyakta amukta anguli tatra svaro jneyas chatusruti // Kampanamguli chaiva tri srutih parikirtyate / dvikardhanguli syad iti srutyasritah svarah //5 //

Bharata then mentions the production of notes in the Madhyama Grama :

The notes produced from a flute-hole completely free from finger is of four Srutis; that produced from a hole with a shaken finger placed on it is of three Srutis; and, that produced from a hole partially free from a finger is of two Srutis. All these are the notes in the Madhyama Grama.

ete syur madhyama-grāme bhūya ajāśritā puna vyakta-muktā-agulik aja-madhyama-pañcamā BhN_30.6 

As regards the production of notes in Shadja Grama, Bharatha says:

Shadja, Madhyama and Panchama will arise from a hole fully open; Daivata and Rsabha from a hole covered by a shaken finger; and, from a hole partly free from finger Gandhara and Nishadha will arise.

ṛṣabho dhaivataścāpi kampya mānāgulīktau ardha muktā aguliścaiva gāndhāro’tha niādavān  BhN_30.7

Nishadha and Gandhara coming respectively in combination with Shadja and Madhyama and modifying themselves in characteristic Srutis will give rise to overlapping (Svara- sadharana) and the Kakili notes.

Svara sādhāranaścāpi kākalya antarasajñayā niāda gāndhāra ktau aja Madhyama- yorapi BhN_30.8

6.5. Natyashastra recommended that the Svaras (notes) on a flute should be perfected with the aid of the Veena and the human voice. The singer should sing the very notes in accompaniment of a flute. The perfect harmony of the human voice, strains of the Veena and the melody of the flute is indeed truly sublime, and fit for gods.

viparyayā sannikare śruti lakaa siddhita vaiaka aṇṭhapraveśena siddhā ekāśritā svarā ॥ BhN_30.9

yaṃ yaṃ gātā svaraṃ gacchet taṃ taṃ vaṃśena vādayet śārīra vaiṇa vaṃśyān āmekī bhāvaḥ  praśasyate ॥  BhN_30.10

The music of the flute, which is steady, not very loud and furnished with the Varas and the Alakāras, and follows rules (relating  to the manner in which the flute should be played on different occasions in a play),  is sweet and soothing.

avicalitam-avicchinna varā-alakāra-sayuta vidhivat lalita madhura snigdha veoreva smta vādyam BhN_30.11

Flute player

As advised by Bharatha, the flute was played mainly as an accompanying instrument ‘in harmony with the vocalist and the veena player’.

[ As explained in the earlier, in part Four of this series (Music in Sama Vada), the flute (Venu) played a highly significant role in re-aligning the Svaras (notes) of Indian Music. The  Naradiya Shiksha is a text that deals mainly with the musical notes and the pronunciation of the words in the Vedic language. Some believe, it might predate Bharata’s Natyashastra.

Naradiya Shiksha explains that during the ancient times, the Sama notes , Sama-svaras , were of Nidhana prakriti (diminishing nature) or Vakragati, following Avaroha karma, a descending order (uttarottaram nicha bhavanthi); and , therefore, there was not much flexibility in rendering its music.

Then, Naradiya Shiksha , revised and  recast-ed  the Sama Svaras , by relating each of its notes  to a pitch on the flute (Venu); and restructured its Svaras   into an ascending order  : Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni , as we are familiar with it today.

Because of such reorganization of its notes, the Indian Music could develop and proper into a dynamic and a vibrant system.

Thus, the Naradiya Shiksha and the Venu have contributed immensely to the growth and vitality of Indian Music , in all its forms.]

Avanaddha (covered or percussion)


7.1. As compared to Susira (hollow) instruments, the Avanaddha Vadya the covered instruments wherein a vessel or a frame is covered with leather   are discussed in great detail in the Chapter thirty-three of Natyashastra.

Avanaddha (membranophone) refers to instruments that produce sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane.  That merely means these instruments were made by covering a frame of wood or a vessel with a piece of stretched leather that is held in position by thin and long leather straps. The Avanaddha type of mentioned in Natyashastra are basically the drums and percussion instruments of various sorts. They were used for keeping rhythm, measuring Taala and also for making great sounds.

7.2. The drums were played on various occasions such as; festivals; processions; auspicious occasions and happy times as the weddings, birth of sons; during expeditionary marches; and, in  a battle where many fighters assemble .

Bharata advises that only a small number of instruments be played during household celebrations.

During a Drama many instruments could be played to bring about harmonious blending of the different limbs (Anga) of the play. Drums could also be used to cover up faults, mishaps and delays.


As regards the use of Drums during a Dance recital:

Bharatha in his description of the dance of Vardhamana-asarita, gives specific instructions with regard to drumming for Nrtta and Abhinaya. As the dancer makes her entry on to the stage, she is accompanied by the drum instruments. The drumming accompaniment should be in the ‘Visuddha-karana -jati’.

The dancer is to then present Caris in the Gati (gait), in tune with percussion instruments. After performing the Nrtta movements, she presents Abhinaya. Bharata states that while the Abhinaya is being enacted by the dancer, there should be no drumming accompaniment. That was perhaps to ensure the words of the song (Sahitya) are clearly heard and grasped both by the Dancer and the spectators.

However, for the presentation of the Angaharas that follow, Bharatha mentions specific modes of drumming like Suddha-praharajam and Nrtta-angagrahi among others. And here, the drum-beats accompaniment should be in harmony with the rhythmic  Nrtta movements

7.3. The Avanaddha instruments, in general, included a large variety of drums varying in their sound-patterns, sound-volume and their purpose. From the loud and noisy thuds of the Pataha to the sweet-sounding notes of small drums coverd with calfskin, there are many subtle modulations in their sound.

The Avanaddha class of instruments were also categorized, in incredible number of ways, in variety of manners, such as:

    • by the rhythm of their beats; 
    • by the volume , the depth  and the pitch of the sound they produce;
    • by the materials of which they are made- wood (type of wood) or metal (types of metal) or animal skin (types of skins) ;  
    • by their size – huge, small or medium; by  their shape- either having two faces or a single face , or as single unit or twin unit;
    • by whether  they are drum-like, cylindrical or narrowed in the middle like hour-glass  ;
    • by the manner they are held – either placed on the ground or suspended from the shoulders or held in hands; by whether  held / placed vertically or horizontally;  
    • by the manner in which they are played –  struck or rubbed  either with stick or hands or both  ;
    • by the context in which such instruments are played – in music concerts or classical dance performances, in  folk dances, in Bhajans singing together, in  festivities at home such as weddings and other auspicious occasions , or   in celebrations at temples or in public places, or  heralding the arrival of the kings, or enthusing the fighting warriors and scaring the enemy,  or in funerals bidding farewell to the departed heroes and so on  

[ Ramayana , at various places, mentions several percussion instruments. The Epic refers to quite a large number of them:

    •  Mrudanga;
    • Panava (a kind of Mridanga which had a hole in the middle with strings were laid from one side to another);
    • Aataha
    • Madduka (a big drum of two faces having twelve and thirteen angula- finger lengths);
    • Dundubhi  (Nagaara) ;
    • Dindima (resembling Damaru but smaller in size); 
    • Muraja (a  bifacial drum, the left one of eight fingers and right one of seven fingers);
    • Adambara (a sort of kettle drum made of Udumbara  wood);
    • Bheri (two faced metal drum in a conical shape , the leather kept taut by strings; the right face was struck by a Kona and the left one by hand, striking terror in the heart of the enemy); 
    • Pataha (resembling Dholak);  and 
    • Dundubhi (drums made of hollow wood covered with hide) played during wedding ceremonies as also for welcoming the winning-warriors .

Gargara was another drum used during the wars.

All these were leather or leather bound instruments . They were played with metal or wooden drum-sticks with their ends wrapped in leather.

There is also a mention of Bhumi –Dundubhi where the lower part of a huge drum is buried in a pit while the exposed upper part covered with animal hide is beaten with big sized metal or wooden drum-sticks to produce loud booming sounds. It was played during battles to arouse the warriors; to celebrate victory; or in dire emergency. Bhumi –Dundubhi was also played at the time of final offering (Purna-Ahuthi) at the conclusion of a Yajna.

The other instruments to keep rhythm (Taala) were: Ghatam and cymbals. Aghathi was a sort of cymbal used while dancing.]


According to Dr. Dr. C. Sivaramamurti

[The drums sounding most pleasant to the ear, such as Muraja, Mrudanga and Pushkara are those generally used as musical accompaniments. The sound of the Muraja is described as deep and noble; that of the Mrudanga, softly tapped with finger tips by women sounds sweet, resemble the gentle rumble of clouds. The Darduras, Panavas and Jarjharikas are other varieties of soft-toned drums. The Muraja and Mrudanga often required a kind of rice-paste to be applied to both the leather surfaces to sweeten their sound.

The most fearful sound was that of the Pretapatahas or funeral drums. On the battle-field, the Patahas- Dundubhis, the Anakas and other large drums were stuck.  In all these cases, konaghata the beat of the drumstick produced a great volume of sound. The konaghata itself came to mean loud sound as in an orchestra where many konas would naturally be used.

The Paatahkalandipataha, the auspicious drum sounded in the morning along with conchs to announce the break of day, and the hours od the day, also required drumsticks. Such gongs were known as gandi.

The smaller drum suspended by a strap from the shoulder and played with a drumstick is probably a Marvala; and, is midway between the more refined Muraja and the noisy Pataha. It must have been very like the modem South Indian Tavil, for each has to be played on one side with a single drumstick, and on the other with the fingers.]


7.4. Chapter 33 of Natyashastra commences with the statement: I have spoken briefly about the stringed instruments. I shall now speak of the class of covered musical instruments, their characteristics and functions as well as of playing drums named Mdaga, Paavaand Dardura (NS.33.1-2) . Then, it goes on to talk about the origin, nature and description of the Avanaddha class of musical instruments.

As regards the drums , it says , at the outset,  : Among the drums, Mdaga Dardura and Paava are the major components (Anga) , while Jhallarī and Paaha etc., are the minor components (Pratyanga)- (BhN_35.5 )

But, he adds that: there is no instrument which cannot be used in the ten kinds of play (daśarūpaka). And, each kind of instrument may be used in a play after considering the context and the emotions involved-(NS.33. 18)

The musical instruments   can be played on numerous varieties of occasions and scenes.  In festivals, processions, and auspicious (Magala) occasions and happy times as the weddings, birth of sons; during expeditionary marches; and, in a battle where many fighters assemble; and, during such other acts, all the musical instruments should be played- NS.33. 19-20)

During a Drama, many instruments could be played to bring about harmonious blending of the different limbs (Anga) of the play. Drums could also be used to cover up faults, mishaps and delays.

Bharatha advises that only a small number of instruments be played during household celebrations.



8.1. Bharatha often uses the term Pushkara (drums made of wood) Vadya-s to denote the Avanaddha type of instruments, in general,  that are covered with hide. Among these, the three viz. Mridanga, Panava and Dardura were the major type (Anga) of the Pushkara Vadya-s. And, Jhallari and Pataha etc were the minor ones.

8.2. Bharata says there are one hundred varieties (suggesting a very large number) of Pushkaras. But , he talks, in some fair detail , about the three major type of Pushkaras  (Mridanga, Panava and Dardura) Bharatha remarks : they have no harshness of sound, produce clear notes, and are played with well regulated strokes(NS.33. 25-26).

8.3. As regards the rules of playing these three Pushkara-s , it is said : Pushkara instruments should have following aspects : 

sixteen syllabic sounds (aksara),  four Margas, Vilepana, six  Karanas, three Yatis, three Layas, three Gatis, three  Pracsras, three Yogas, three Panis, five Pani-prahata,  three Praharas, three Marjanas, eighteen Jaatis and twenty Prakaras. ( NS.33. 37-39 )

9.1. Then , in the  rest of the Chapter thirty-three (from verse 40 to 301),  Bharatha elaborates various aspects related to Pushkara Vadya-s in great detail.

He describes in fair detail the types of Pushkara-; making of Drums; their sizes; the types of wood ,the hides  and the blackish earth  from the river banks to be used; General Rules of drumming ; the ways of playing different varieties of Pushkara-s; the technical aspects of playing; three Yatis , tempos or beat-patterns; ways of combining three tempo (quick, medium and slow)  and different  strokes  ; the manners of playing drums in different situations in a play; the manner of playing Pushkara-s along with a song or string and wind instruments,  with dance or on festive occasions ; playing to suit the movements of different types of characters in a play such as hers, heroine, villain , jester , Gandharvas, Daityas, Danavas, Yaksas, Raksasas and others; the ways of playing for superior females and for the lesser female characters; the ways to celebrate joy, mirth , love, happiness  etc; ways of playing to suggest sorrow, suffering, loss of life ,killing,  death of dear ones etc; the manner of playing drums to suggest movement of elephants, horses , birds, chariots, boats ;  qualities of a good player of the Pushkaras   (Mridanga, Panava and Dardura) and so on.

He also lists of the qualities (guna) and defects (dosha) of the drum player in relation to playing each type of drum, such as :  Mrdanga, Panava, Dardara and others.

[ Chapter thirty-three of Natyashastra also includes detailed instructions om playing of drums on different contexts of the Drama. The following is just a brief, extract. For more and ; and also the definition and explanations of certain technical terms that Bharata uses , please click here .

Bharata instructs that the playing of the drums should be in accordance with the meter (Chhandas) of the songs.  And, it should also be according the action taking place on the stage. For instance; when a section of the performance requires the use of gestures, there should be no playing of drums; but, when there is a dance consisting of Angaharas then there should be music to accompany it.  The drums should be played in slow, medium and or quick tempo as in tune with the rhythm of a song; and the same should be the method in the performance of Padas and dance with Angaharas.

The various occasions for playing of drums are also described in the Natyashastra.

After this, Bharata gives instructions about the playing of drums suitable at the time of walking and other movement of the Heroes.  

When the female dancer appears on the stage, experts in the Mrdanga, mostly by the touch of their fingers, should produce a music which will consist of light Varnas.

The playing in case of superior females, who are goddesses, will include mostly vamgati kipi dhmeṭa prathi ghe. And, in case of queens it should include mostly kathi kathi mathi do do khu khu.

In a similar way, instructions are given for playing of drums in the movements of gods, Bramhanas and middling men are given. Here, he says, the steps of the dance should conform to rhythm (laya) and to the tempo consisting of two Kalas, one Kala or four Kalas. The song should conform to drums.

In case of walking of Yatis, Munis, Pāśupatas and Śākyas the playing of drums should include do kho dvitvikhi duguvoo klanado dhanti kītiki.

And, in the walking of old Śrotriyas, Kañcukīns and corpulent persons, the playing should include dhrām dhroṃ dhrāṃ droṅ dhiṅ droṇām kho kho ṇā.

The Natyashastra  specifies that in case of sorrow, suffering illness, curse, death of dear ones, loss of wealth, killing, imprisonment, vow, austerity, fasting, etc. the playing should be in Utthapana and according to Alipta-marga.

This is followed by the description of the Udghatya playing. The playing which is performed at the time of excess of hurry or joy or surprise, excitement or sorrow or at the time of receiving a gift is called Udghatya.

Instructions are also given as to the playing of drums in different conditions of the various characters and movements of boats, chariots, aerial cars, birds, etc.. In these cases, the playing of drums should be by running the fingers on the face of drums or by striking in the Catuṣka by the two hands alternatively.

 In case of movements of elephants, horses, asses, camels, chariots and aerial cars, the playing should include Vankiti (?). And, in case of superior, middling and inferior men, the playing should he performed after considering the sentiments and mental states. Similar instructions are given in ease of walking of Uttama, Madhyama and royal women.

In case of walking of Daityas, Dānavas, Yakṣas, Rākṣasas and Grahas the playing of drums should include Karaṇas such as dṛṅ dhṛṅ khada together with gha ṭn tn tanta tetodrāṃ.And, In case of dancing movements the playing of drums should include ghetāṃ kaṭakāṃ.

There are detailed instructions for playing the drums to accompany various Dhruva-songs.

Bharata says that in the performance of ten types of Rupakas (Drama) , four Panavas should be used ; and,  similar Atodyas are also to be played in different situations. The Mrdangas, Panavas, and Dardaras are to be played in the Nataka, Prakarana, Vithi, Bhana and Dima class of plays.

At the end of this Adhyaya, Bharata says that special efforts should he made in playing the instruments because the dramatic performance depends upon it.]

9.2. The text mentions the manner of playing Pushkara-s when accompanying a song or a dance sequence. The playing of drums should correspond with in metre of the songs. When the Mrudanga plays to a song of slow tempo (Vilamba kaala) the strokes should be mild; when the song is in middle tempo (Madhyama Kaala) the strokes should be  clear the syllables; and so on.

And when playing to a dance, the Mrudanga should follow the Laya (tempo) and Taala of the dance steps and movements. And, the strokes should be pure, uniform (Sama), pleasing (Rakta), clear (Sphuta) following the rhythm of dance and enhancing the beauty of its presentation.

9.3. Natyashastra even specifies how the Avanaddha-Kutapa (players on percussion instruments such as Mrudanga, Pavana and Dardura) be positioned on the stage along with other music-players. According to that :  the Tata –Kutapa (group of vocalists, the players on string instruments, and the flutists) should be seated on the stage between the entry and exit doors; and, they should face east. The Mrdanga player should face the stage; the players of Panava and the Dardara should sit to his left and right respectively – (prose at 3. 221)

Here, the orchestra relates first to the players of covered instruments. Among them a male singer will face the north, to his left will be the Vīā-player and to his right the two flute-players. And a female singer will face the male singer.




10.1. Mridanga is perhaps the best known and more widely used percussion instrument in all types and forms of Drama, Music or ritual-celebrations. Though it seems the earliest types of Mrudanga were made of clay – as its name suggests (Mrun) , they  were later  made of wood.  And, Mridanga seems to have remained virtually the same over the past several centuries. It is capable of producing rich, varied and complex type of beats. With the dexterous uses of hands and wrists a virtuoso Mridanga can generate successive series of rhythmic sounds.

The length of the Mrudanga is said to be three and a half Talas (about 21 inches ) and its face about twelve fingers in diameter.

10.2. Bharatha gives the descriptions of three kinds of Mridanga: Ankika, Alingya and Urdhavaka.

:- Ankika was a wide-bodied lateral type of drum ; its length being three and half Tala-s (Tala = is the length of the palm from wrist to tip of middle fingers; roughly about 6 to 7 inches).  The diameter of its   face measured twelve fingers (angula) wide ( say , about 9 inches) . And, in shape, it resembled a myrobalan fruit – that is, with a barrel that had a central bulge and fairly uniform slope towards each face ; and,  perhaps resembled the Mrudanga or Pakhavaj . Ankikas were perhaps made of clay; .

:- Alingya was slightly smaller in size. As its name suggests, it seems to be a drum held against the chest of a player , in  embrace.  In its width, it was three Tala long (nearly 18-21 inches) ; and, the diameter of its face was eight fingers (angula-s) – say 6 inches . It was  tapering in appearance, resembling cows tail (Gau-puccha).

:- And, Urdhvaka was bigger than the other two. It was four Tala-s wide ( 30 to 32 inches) ; and , the diameter of its face was  fourteen fingers (angula)-  about 10 ½ inches.  Urdhvaka was shaped like Yava– barley ( or shaped like a large grain of rice).

Their names denote the positions in which· they were respectively held. The Ankika was placed on the lap when it was played. And, the Ankika, though taller than the modern tabla, was perhaps played in much the same fashion.

mrdangam parts-of-tabla-thabla-1

And, judging by its size, its sound should have been rather soft. The Alingya, larger then the Ankika; but, also placed on the lap, was tapped softly in different places for producing sweet sound. The Urdhvaka drums were positioned vertically and were perhaps played only on the top face (if the instruments were stood upright while playing, there could be only the top surface available for striking


10.3. Panava is said to be one of the earliest Avanaddha (covered or percussion) instruments. Paava is a small drum (paavo’ntastantrīko huukāra).  The term Panava is explained as – Panam Stutim vati gacchatiti – that which is played with prayers is called Panava. Such prayers sung with the playing of Panava are said to be very dear to Shiva; and, inspire him to dance.

Therefore, the Panava was, traditionally, played at the time of worship (Stuti or Deva puja); and, also while giving a battle call. Its beats were said to be very invigorating. Nanyadeva says that on hearing the sound of Panava, Lord Shiva will dance in ecstasy.

During the time of Natyashastra (Ca. 200 B.C.), Panava was perhaps a prominent percussion instrument, since he classified  it with the Mridanga . But, in later times it receded to the background; and , at present is treated as a folk instrument.

The Panava, like Mrudanga, had two faces covered by membranes; tightly tied with ropes; and, was smaller in size than Mrudanga (the drum)  . It was sixteen fingers wide (12 inches); with a narrow middle of eight fingers (6 inches) which was hallow (hole?) with strings laid from one side to another.  And its faces were 8 ½ fingers (8 inches) in diameter. Its rims were each half of a finger thick, tightly fastened with ropes.

Describing the glory and the beauty of Ayodhya, it is said the city resounding with the rhythmic  drum beats of Dundubhi, Mrudanga and Panava; with the melodious tunes of string instruments like Veena , the city , indeed, was unique ; and undoubtedly the best city on earth –

dundubhībhi  mdangai  ca vīābhi  paavai tathā | nāditām   bhśam atyartham pthivyām tām anuttamām (R.1.5.18)

Hanuman , in Sundarakanda, sees a  tired woman sleeping, clutching an instrument called Panava between her shoulders and reaching arm pits –

 bhuja pārśva antarasthena kakagena krśa udarī | paavena saha anindyā suptā mada krta śramā (R. 5-10-43)



10.4. The Dardara was shaped like a bell of sixteen figure height (12 inches). Its face resembled that of a pot (Ghata) of nine fingers in diameter ( say , about 6 inches) , with fat lips (rims) on all side. it is  mentioned that is was called Dardara because it makes sounds like ‘Darara’ : ‘ Darara sabdam pati tasmat  bhavati dardarah‘ . The Dardara was made of wooden frame over which a hide  was stretched tightly. In shape, it perhaps resembled a huge gong or a big water pot (maha-ghatakatah). The Dardara could perhaps be the forerunner of Ghatam.


10.5. Natyashastra also mentions other types of Drums with large surfaces such as Bheri, Pathana, Dundhubhi, Dindima etc known for the depth and loudness of their sounds. But, there is not much discussion in the text about these instruments in the context of Music, Dance or Drama. But, these instruments have references in other texts.

The ancient texts mention Dundhubi, Pathah, Bheri, Dindima (the different types od war-drums); Mrudanga (tabor); Muraja (a smaller drum); Anaka and Dhakka (other types of drums) as the instruments that give forth great sound —

Dundubhih, Paaha,Bherī, Mdaga,Muraja, Mardala, Diṇḍima, Anaka, Dhakkā   nāda-vādya-viśea

The Epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata are copious in their mention of the the terrible and frightening sounds of Bheri , Mrdanga,  Pataha,  Nandi vadya and such other barrel drums used in the battle field. However, these were not merely the marital drums, but were also musical instruments played in festivities and celebrations.

It is said;  Ayodhya city was resounding  with the rhythmic  drum beats of Dundubhi, Mrudanga and Panava; with the melodious tunes of string instruments like Veena  –

 dundubhībhi mdangai ca vīābhi paavai tathā | nāditām bhśam atyartham pthivyām tām anuttamām (R.1.5.18)

Besides these, some rare Avanaddha-s mentioned are Dimdimi, Adambara, Maddaka, Paava, and Gomukha (a wind instrument, a kind of conch resembling the mouth of the cow, hence its name) , Jhallarī and Chelika etc.

Jhallari was perhaps a sort of drum or cymbal. It is not described in the NS. Smilar is the case with Chelika ]

For instance ; Natyashastra ( 4. 253-254) mentions that seeing Śakara (Śiva) dance with Recakas and Agahāras, Pārvathī too performed a Lasya dance with delicate movements; and , this dance was followed by the playing of musical instruments like Mdaga, Bherī, Paaha, Jhañjhā , Diṇḍima, Gomukha, Paava and Dardura.

And, according to Natyashastra (2. 35-37) , at the ceremony of laying the foundation for a play-house (Natya-mantapa) the entire musical instruments such as, Śakha, Dundubhi, Mdaga, and Paava should be sounded.

Bharata mentions that the extensive surface and the slack-tension of the stretched leather causes Bheri, Paaha, and Bhambhā, as well as Dundubhi and Diṇḍimas to produce  great sound  and depth (NS.3.27)


Bheri was a major Avanaddha instrument producing a roaring sound that frightens – Bhi (to scare) – Bhibatyasa ravt;   the sound that scares. Sarangadeva describes Bheri as an instrument that produces terrible, frightening sound- Ati-bhayankarah gambhirah atyabhutasca dhvanir-bhavathi.  According to Ahobala, Bheri stimulates the home-army to a war-frenzy, while it pierces the hearts of the enemies – Dandanirghat-avadhinyh srutva bherya mahasvanam

The Bheri, one of the most ancient drums, was known for the depth and loudness of its sounds. And, it must have had a very loud and strident tone, for it was commonly used in the battles, processions and amusements of the crowds. The Ramayana has a number of references to it.

Sarangadeva mentions variety of Bheris like the Rana-bheri used in war; the Ananda-bheri and Madana bheri used in dances, accompanying the singing of Dhamar, and so on.

In the context of battles, Bheri, Mrudanga and Shankha are often mentioned together. The war cry; the loud and  fearsome drum–beats of Bheri, Mrudanga ; and the piercing waves of  the sounds Shankha were all used  to enthuse , whip up and  rallyforth  the troops , as also to frighten the enemy.

In the Ramayana, as Ravana’s soldiers prepare for the war, they hear the sounds of the Bheri played by Rama’s Vanara–army. Sarama asks Sita to listen and rejoice the Bheri sounds resembling the thundering rumbles of the clouds. –

Samanahajanani hesya bhairava bhiru bherika / Bherinadam ca gambhiram srunu toyadanihsvanam

Rama’s mighty army attacks Lanka with a great roar of the Bheri-s, Panava-s and the Shanknha-s.  The terible sounds of Shankha and Bheri was as that of an earthquake –

Estasminnantare sabdo bheri-shankha-samakulah / sruta vai sarvasainyanam

Bheri was a cylindrical type of Drum with large surfaces; and, it made of metal, such as: bell metal, copper,/bronze or iron. The one made of Bell metal (sya) was said to be the best.  It had three Balist measures, two sides/faces, covered with animal skin, tightly tied with ropes or chords. The right side was played with wodden sticks (kona); and the left with hands.

The Sangeeta-ratnakara (11th Century) gives a short description of the Bheri made of copper (Tāmra); and, says it  was thirty-four Angulas long (1 Angula = 1.89 cm or approx 3/4 inch, which works out to about sixtyfive centimeters) and each face had a diameter of thirteen Angulas (about twentyfive centimeters) . One face was played with the hand and the other with a kona ( stick ).


The Dundubhi which is equated with today’s Nagara is perhaps the most ancient of conical drums; and finds mention in ancient texts. In the early times, it was used both in war and peace. Nāṭyaśāstra 2.35-37 , mentions playing of Dundubhi during the auspicious ceremony of laying the foundation of the playhouse (tya-maṇtapa nivesanam),

śubhe nakṣatra yoge ca maṇḍapasya niveśanam । śaṅkha dundubhi nirghoṣair mṛdaṅga paṇavādi bhiḥ ॥ 2.36

The Dundubhi, at times equated with Nagara, is kept also in temples, to be beaten during worship or to announce prayers. The Nagara consists two conical bowl drums struck with sticks. The smaller of the two is higher in pitch; and, the larger has  a deeper tone .

Describing the glory and the beauty of Ayodhya, it is said , in Ramayana, the city resounding with the rhythmic  drum beats of Dundubhi, Mrudanga and Panava; with the melodious tunes of string instruments like Veena , the city , indeed, was unique ; and undoubtedly the best city on earth –

Dundubhībhi mdangai ca vīābhi paavai tathā | nāditām   bhśam atyartham pthivyām tām anuttamām (R.1.5.18)

[Swami Prajnanananda (A History of Indian Music; pages 54-55) mentions of Bhumi-dundubhi, which  was perhaps the most ancient and primitive form of drum.It used to be carved in earth in the form of a large hollow or pit and covered with the thick skin of any wild animal. It used to be struck with one or two log or logs of wood, and a deep see resonant sound was produced. The sound of the Bhumi-dundubhi could be heard from a very long distance. Afterwards, the Dundhubhi, a refined form of th e Bhumi-dundubhi, came into use. It used to be shaped out of the hollow trunk of a tree, the upper part of which was used to be covered with the skin of the animal.]


Dindima is folk instrument, made of hard wood; and, its length is measured as one and a quarter of an arm. It has a face, on each end, is said to be three quarters of an arm, in size. The faces are covered with animal skin. The right face is played with a stick; and, the left with the hands. Dindima is hung from the shoulder to the right side of the player. The sound produced is like Ding –Ding; and hence the name.

 The Nāṭyaśāstra 4.250, mentions Dindima in the context of the dances performed by Shiva and Parvathi.

sukumāra prayogeṇa nṛtyantīṃ caiva pārvatīm । mṛdaṅga bherī paṭahair bhāṇḍa ḍiṇḍima gomukhaiḥ ॥4.250

Hanuman , in Sundarkanda, sees a woman  in Ravana’s inner-court (Anthapura) with an instrument called Dindima near her slept in the same way as a woman hugging her husband and also her child – 

iṇḍimam parigrhya anyā tathaiva āsakta iṇḍimā | prasuptā  taruam vatsam upagūhya iva bhāminī (R. 5-10-44 )


Pataha (resembling Dholak) is mentioned in Nāṭyaśāstra 4.250, after Śhiva danced using Recakas and Agahāras, and Pārvatī performed a gentle  Lasya dance.

Hanuman , in Sundarkanda, sees a woman  with beautiful body features and with beautiful breasts slept tightly and hugged instrument called Pataha as though hugging a lover, getting him after a long time –

paaham cāru sarva angī pīya śete śubha stanī | cirasya  ramaam labdhvā parivajya iva kāminī (5-10-39)


The Muraja seems to have had a shape similar to that of the Dindima (Dindima sadśa vādya yasmin laghu tālāni sayuktāni santi) , having two faces; but, with the heads (beaten surfaces) much smaller and giving out light sounds. Of its two faces, the left one was of eight fingers; and, the right one of seven fingers in width. It was played with hands, as did Nandi played on it with great delight (Sananda Nandi hastha hatha Murajah)

Nandi is said to have been fond of playing on Muraja (Nandikesvarah krsnah Murajarudho Mrajavadanaparah).

It is said; the instruments like Veena, Muraja, and conches together made pleasant music.

Muraja is not clearly described in the Natyashastra. It seems that Mujara was a form of Dindima; or they might have been the names of the same instrument (Muraja Dindima vadhya vichakshanam). Mujara was perhaps made of jack tree (Mujara phala).

As regards the position of the player of a Muraja (Mdaga), he should face the stage; to his right should sit the player of a Paava, and to his left the player of a Dardara

The text mentions: when the Paava follows the Muraja, and the Dardara follows the Paava, the playing is called Svarūpānugata (natural order) (NS.3.207), And, when a Paava and a Muraja after being played first, take up the Murajas, the playing is called Samullekha ( termination or closure) (NS.3.216)

The playing of drums is said to be of three types: Ativadita, Anuvadita and Samvadita. The Ativadita is the playing of Muraja before a performance. When the Mrdanga is played after a performance, it is called Anuvadya. And,  when the Mrdanga is played simultaneously with the performance , it is called Samvadita – playi together harmoniously.



There is a class of bi-facial avanaddha vadya that are  narrow in the middle  like the hourglass, sand-glass . These are  the Damaru shaped drums. This form has an ancient past and once was a major instrument in sophisticated music.  It is closely associated with Lord Shiva when he sports the vigorous Tandava dance. The beats of the Damaru also symbolize the  concept of time , in the Indian iconography . But, Today, one hears them only in tribal and folk music not on the concert platform.

[Abhinavagupta explains that the term Tāṇḍava is derived from the sounds like “Tando; tam-tam” produced by the accompanying Damaru shaped drums.He also mentions that  the bhaṇḍam (covered percussion instruments) which produce sounds like “Bhan, Than” etc. are important for the Nṛtta , or the limb-movements, the Āṅgika abhinaya  .

It is a manner, in grammar (vyākaraṇa), of naming an object, based on the sound it produces – śabda.anukṛti . For instance; Yaska, in his Nirukta (318) mentions that a kaka (crow) is so called, because of the sound it makes – kāka. iti. śabda. anukṛtis. tad. idam. śakunisu.bahulam. Similarly,, the battle-drum which makes loud Dun-Dun sounds is named Dundubhi (दुन्दुभि)-dundubhir.iti.śabda.anukaraṇam (Nir.9.12)]


Adambara ( a sort of kettle drum made of Udambara wood);

It is one of the most ancient percussion instruments. According to Amarakosha: Patha and Audumbara are synonyms of the Nagara – a percussion instrument

Adambara is derived from the root’ dabi ksepe ‘, that which produces great sound . It is explained as:  Dambam rati,  that which emanates sound  such as Damba from all its sides ; hence , it is known as Adambara

Hanuman in Sundarakanda,  comes upon a woman of Ravana’s court,  with eyes like lotus petals, slept clutching  the instrument called Adambara ; pressing it by her shoulders – 

kācid āambaram nārī bhuja sambhoga pīitam |ktvā kamala patra akī prasuptā mada mohitā (R. 5-10-45 )

Maddaka and Calika in Ramayana

Amarakosha names Maddu among percussion instruments. Maddu and Madduka apparently were the names of the same instrument

Hanuman sees the women of Ravana’s court sleeping with Dindima by her side , just as a mother sleeps with her grown up child beside her. Another woman was sleeping with Madduka on her lap, in the way that a mother sleeps with her young child. Yet another woman intoxicated eyes which resemble a lotus leaf, embraced her Adambara with her arms. Some were even sleeping with Murajas, Mrudanga and Celikas.

However, not many details are available about these ancient Avanaddha instruments – Maddaka and Calika – mentioned in the Ramayana.  Many of such instruments are extinct.


Ghana, the Solid


11.1.After the strings (Tata), the covered (Avanaddha) and the hollow (Susira) comes the Solid the Ghana. 

11.2. The most fundamental of the Ghana (solid) Vadya is said to be the human body itself.

It is very common to see clapping of hands (Taala) , counting fingers, waving the hands, striking palms on the thighs or hips, stamping the feet on the dance floor etc in a rhythmic ways to keep or measure time.  Even the singers of Sama–Gana kept rhythm by clapping and waving hands. Even today one can see in Karnataka music concerts, persons (either on stage or in the audience) clapping to keep time (Taala) while   percussion instruments are played. 

It is said; Cymbals (classified as Ghana Vadya) – made of metal- also called as Taala are but an extension of the act of clapping to keep time.


11.3. The Ghana vadya-s (Idiophone Instruments) are instruments made of wood or metal that produce sound when they are struck. Along with the solid Cymbals made of metal, Natyashastra mentions Patah and Ghata (bell) as Ghana Vadya-s. The instruments of this group are usually played with a striker or hammer. 

1.4. Natyashastra mentions that these instruments of solid class (Ghana) help to measure time (Kaala) and to maintain the tempo (Laya) . And, those who play the Ghana Vadya-s  in a performance should know the rules of Taala and Laya.

śrāvaṇo’tha ghanaḥ snigdho madhurohyav adhānavān । tristhāna śobhītyevaṃ tu ṣaṭ kaṇṭhasya guṇā matāḥ ॥ 33.12

12.1. The Ghana vadya-s made of metal, are not capable of producing definite pitches that are required for creating a melody. That, perhaps, is the reason   why they are not used in classical music concerts. But, the Cymbals, the Taala, are an essential part of the Dance music.

And, the Tala (Cymbals) is an essential ingredient of the  Bhakthi Samgita and Bhajans.

During a dance or a song on the stage, the Cymbals provided rhythm (Taala) to the flow of music and dance.

 [ Please do click here  to read a very interesting article on The Musical Instruments in Hoysala Sculpture , written by Jean Deloche . Please also see the comments and conclusions of the author  in pages from 66 to 68 . ]


Continued in Part Ten


Sources and References

1. The Natyasastra ascribed to Bharata Muni by Monomohan Ghosh

2.  Musical Instruments in India through the agesby Chaitanya Kunte

3. Origin of Indian Instrumental Music


where, the renowned scholar Dr. C Sivaraamurti in his scholarly publication  ‘Amaravati sculptures in the Chennai Government museum’ (1998) discusses, among several other subjects

I also acknowledge the drawings fro Dr. Sivaramamurti’s work

5 .Subhadra Desai  … Music In Valmiki’s Ramayana

6  .


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Posted by on April 27, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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