Sanskrit treatises on music and literature containing references to musical instruments begin from about the 3rd century B-c* In Barhut, Sanchi, Bhaja, etc., the artists of ancient India have sculptured various types of musical instruments in the scenes depicting the life of the Buddha.

By: Diksha Sharma

Posted on: 10/11/2020 View : 87


Sanskrit treatises on music and literature containing references to musical instruments begin from about the 3rd century B-c* In Barhut, Sanchi, Bhaja, etc., the artists of ancient India have sculptured various types of musical instruments in the scenes depicting the life of the Buddha. Varieties of veenas, flutes, drums, pipes, conches, bells and gongs are represented in these ancient sculptures. The type of veena, which frequently occurs in these scenes is like a harp in the shape ol a bow, which is used as a handle. There is a boat-shaped resonator. There are a number of parallel strings fastened to the bow shift, one over the other. The instrument was played by men and women in a sitting position. / There were other types of veenas which were suspended from the arm and carried about. This type of instrument is found in Gandhara, Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda (1st to 7th century a.d.). This type of veena remained in use down to the time of the Guptas. Samudragupta is represented on some of his gold coins playing the seven¬ stringed bow-shaped veena called parivadini. In ancient Tamil literature this bow-shaped veena is called yazh. It appears to have been very popular in southern India. The instrument is elaborately des¬ cribed in the Silappadikaram. The kings of the early Tamil royal houses, the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas, as well as several petty chiefs, patronised minstrels called panas, who, with the yazh on their shoulders, went from court to court singing songs describing the adventures of kings and nobles in war and love. The strings of the yazh were tuned to absolute pitch and the instrument itself was played on open strings. Each string was named after the note to which it was tuned. Different yagas could be played by shifting the tonic.

Since the strings produced only the pure notes, it was not possible to play the gamakas (graces) as can be done on the modern veena or the sitar. Originally the voice was closely accompanied by the flute which played the various gamakas and embellishments. In the plastic art of India, we find two more types of veenas; one is like a lute with an ovoid resonator and a long neck similar to the modern sarod or mandolin, and the other is the ektara type which first appears in Indian art about the 7th century a.d. It is represented at Mahabalipuram in the descent of the Ganga. It was this type of veena which evolved from the 7th century onwards into the royal bin of the north and the veena of the south. The bow¬ shaped veena and the mandolin-shaped veena also continued to appear side by side in the sculptural representations of ancient India until the 7th century. The katyayana veena, the swaramandal and the mattakokila are all developments of the origi¬ nal bow-shaped veena. These instruments must have dominated the Indian music world for hundreds of years before they ultimately succumbed to the impact of more melodic fretted instruments like the modern veena or sitar. The sculptures of ancient India show many varieties of drums. In addition 17 to ordinary cylindrical drums, there is a set of twin drums made up of a vertical drum and a horizontal one. The player sits in front of the drums and plays upon both. Triple drums are also found in some places. These were perhaps used for accompanying the music of different musical scales such as shadja grama, gandhara grama and madhyama grama. One also comes across narrow-waisted drums which can be carried under the arm. These drums are played like the damaru associated with Lord Siva who played it during the cosmic dance.

There is the shankha provided at its mouth with a long tube to blow into. It is similar to the dhavala shankhu of the southThere are also representations of circular drums composed of skin stretched over a circular frame, examples of which are found all over India today: they are called by different names like duff in the north, dappu in the Telugu country and tambattam in Tamilnad. The flute, variously called venu, vamshi, murali, etc., is one of the principal instruments used for accompanying vocal music and dance along with gongs and cymbals. The musical instruments mentioned in the literature of the Gupta period and presumably in use in this period are the vipanchi, the parivadini, (a seven-stringed instrument); the muraja (a type of drum), the vamsa (flute) and the kamsya tala (cymbals). Kalidasa refers to turya vadya (wind instruments), vallaki and atodya (stringed instruments). He also mentions the mridanga (drum), the vamsa (flute) and the pushkara (drum). The dundubhi was a type of kettle-drum like the nagara; the jalaja was a conch sounded in war and peace and the ghanta was a bell. The orchestra as we know it today is a recent development in the history of Indian music. It is also called jantra sammelan or vadya vrinda meaning ‘group of musical instruments’. However, small groups of instruments, usually about five and not more than ten, seem to have been in existence in ancient times. These ‘orchestras’, composed of varieties of string, wind and percussion instruments, were played in palaces, processions, during worship, and in dance performances. Ancient sculptures depict this theme frequently in decorative bands and friezes. The instru¬ ments comprising such ensembles are usually the mandolin type veena, small drums, gongs, cymbals, pipes, flutes, pot-drums {bhanda vadya), twin drums and triple drums. Sabda puja was a ritual in which the Buddha was worshipped with the sounds of musical instruments as offering. Emperor Asoka always took a full orchestra with him on all pilgrimages and tours. Bana mentions the shankha, the dundubhi, the muraja, the venus the veena, the jallarika, the tala and the kahala.

Whenever a king went to his bath chambers (sna a bhavana), there was a “blare of shringa accompanied by the din of veenas, drums, cymbals, etc., resound¬ ing shrilly, diverse tones mingled with the uproar of a multitude of singers.” In ancient plays, there was always an orchestra which served a definite dramatic purpose. Kutapa is the ancient term for orchestra. Tata kutapa is a group of stringed instruments, including the flute. Avanaddha kutapa is a group of drums. The smallest group consisted of a chief vocalist, two supporting singers, two additional voices, two flutes, two leading drums and a minor drum. The biggest group was 18 composed of as many as 12 male and 12 female voices, 26 flutes, 6 main and 3 subsidiary drums. Many types of stringed instruments were used, for instance chitra and the vipanchi which were plucked with the fingers or with a plectrum. The main percussion instrument was the three-faced bhanda vadya or the tripushkara. There were also other drums like the panava and the dardura. The period beginning from the 12th century appears to have been a turning point for the music and musical instruments of India. The Muslim rulers of India were great patrons of music and brought with them musicians from Persia and Arabia. Amir Khusrau was a great poet and musician at the court of Sultan Alauddin Khilji and he did much to popularise the art of music in India. Personally interested in the indigenous art and culture of India, Khusrau seems to have made a critical study of the music that was then in vogue, particularly of its practice. He invented, evolved and introduced new styles of singing, new instruments, new talas and new ragas which were not a departure from but an enrichment of the existing system.

The invention of the sitar and tabla, the qawwali form of singing, and numerous ragas and compositions are attributed to him. In the north, Indian music reached the peak of its splendour during the reign of Akbar (1542-1605) who was a great patron of the arts. The musical instruments used at the court of Akbar were the bin (veena), the swaramandal, the nai (flute), the karna (trumpet), the ghichak (a kind of Persian lute), the tambura, the surnai (shahnai) and the quanun (a kind of swaramandal). The naubat (an ensemble of nine instruments) was meant exclusively for royal celebration. Naubat literally means ‘nine performers’; it consisted of two shahnai players, two naqqara players (drummers), one jhanj (cymbals) player, one karna (horn or shringa) player, one beater, one assistant and one jamedar. ‘Ain-i-Akbari’, Abul Fazl’s account of the reign of Akbar, mentions the instruments that formed part of the royal establishment, the hours during which they performed and the names of the thirty-six musicians who adorned the court of Akbar with the famous Tansen heading the list. The naqqarkhana of the emperor was a special establishment which com¬ prised the following : Kurga (monster kettle drums) naqqara (big drums) dhol surnai (shahnai) nafeeri (trumpets) karna (large trumpets) shringa (horns) jhanj (cymbals) Such a naqqarkhana was an attribute of sovereignty. Many musical instruments were invented or introduced by the Muslims; or given Persian names by them after some improvements had been effected in their form. The sitar, the esraj, the surshringar, the taus, and the tabla are all the result of developments which took place during this period. 18 pairs 20 pairs 4 units 9 units units units units pairs 2 6 2 3 19 Among the many theorists and musicians who were responsible for the deve¬ lopment of music in the 16th century, Pandit Ahobala, the author of Sangita Parijata (early 17th century) deserves special attention.

He seems to be the first musicologist to describe the values of note in terms of lengths of the string on the veena. Sangita Parijata is one of the important works relating to the Hindustani system. After this, during the reign of Raghunatha Nayak of Tanjavoor (1614-1632), a musicologist called Govinda Dikshita fixed the frets of the south Indian veena so that all ragas could be played. This fixing of the frets is an important landmark in the develop¬ ment of the southern veena. Before this the frets on the veena were movable, and their number varied. Still earlier, the veena had a plain finger-board without frets. The earliest veena was one with open strings which involved elaborate processes of tuning and retuning. During the past centuries, a great number of instruments have fallen out of the race and gone into disuse. Hundreds of string, wind and percussion instruments have gone through the testing fire of time; some of them went into oblivion completely as they were unable to sustain the changing styles of our music from time to time. Others emerged in fuller glory, and developed into our modern classical instruments. The remaining bulk stubbornly dragged on in their primitive form through the centuries. We still find hundreds of these quaint instruments in use amongst the village folk and the aboriginal people of India. The string instruments mentioned in our ancient books, for instance ambuja, alapini, parivadini, vipanchi, chittira and mattakokila, have all changed into the highly developed veenas of the north and south, the sitar, the sarod, the gottuyadyam, the vichitra veena, the esraj, the dilruba, the sarangi and many others. The rather loud pata, bheri, and dundhubhi, and the more subtle mardalas and murajas have gradually evolved into such refined percussion instruments as the mridanga, the pakhawaj, and the tabla, all remarkable for their accuracy of pitch and quality of tone colour. It can be said that it was the musical instrument which created musical styles.

The construction of an instrument, its musical potentialities and tone colour suggest certain definite line of musical development. The appearance of a new instru¬ ment heralds the beginning of a new musical style. The revolution of its shape and constitution makes it possible for a musician to obtain new forms of sound. The nom tom in the raga alapana in the Hindustani system and the tanam of the Karnatak system of music are obviously an imitation of the veena style. Various gamakas, graces and other technically recognised musical accents in Karnatak music are based on nuances which appeared with the perfecting of the southern veena. It can be conjectured that at an early stage, the Indian katyayana veena, the swaramandal and the mattakokila veena travelled westwards and became the santur of the Middle East and the clavichord and the harpsichord of the West; and that these very instruments finally evolved into the modern pianoforte. It is commonly acknowledged in the West that the bow of the violin and the transverse flute are a gift of India. On the other hand, the Western violin has come to stay in India, especially in the south where the possibilities of enriching Karnatak music by using the violin were observed more than a hundred years ago. The facilities 20 for playing the various gamakas and graces peculiar to Indian music have made the adoption of this instrument so through that the southerners have almost forgotten to think of it as a foreign instrument. Throughout India we find amongst the common people and the aboriginal tribes various types of small bowed instruments, each consisting oi a small gourd or half a coconut covered with skin through which a bamboo stick bearing one or two strings is passed longitudinally. These instruments like the violin, are held and played with crude bows.

The ravanhatho used by the musicians of Gujarat and Rajasthan and the rajnengi bana belonging to the aboriginal tribes of Madhya Pradesh are some examples which are reminiscent of the still developing violin. It is possible that the origin of the violin can be traced to India. Another Western instrument which is being successfully used in enriching India music is the clarionet which is fitted with mechanical keys or stops. Though some are of the opinion that this instrument, by the very nature of its construction, is unfit for playing Indian classical music, capable artistes who are steeped in classi¬ cal music, both Hindustani and Karnatak, have succeeded, by the clever manipulation of the keys and by modulating the blowing, in using it to great musical advantage. Thus they effectively bring out the gamakas, the subtleties or quarter-tones and microtones and various embellishments so that the instrument becomes as suitable for Indian music as the flute or the bansuri. The clarionet is now an important constituent of the Indian orchestra. In all such ensembles, only those instruments are adopted whose traits do not come into conflict with the basic features of the indigenous system. In recent years, with the introduction of orchestration in film music and light music, a large variety of Western musical instruments are being made use of for creative purposes. Besides the violin and the clarionet, the Western instru¬ ments used are the oboe, the trumpet, the cornet, the saxophone, the Hawaiian guitar, the Spanish guitar, the banjo, the mandolin, the piano, the violincello, the double bass, the xylophone, the trombone, the flute, the bassoon and various brass instruments. The instruments used to mark the rhythm are the maracos, castanets, the triangle, temple blocks, the clog box and kettle drums. Some Indian folk instruments like the dholak, the naal, the anand laharif the morchank, the ektara and varieties of drums are being lifted out the narrow con¬ fines of conventional playing and increasingly harnessed for the purposes of modern Indian music.

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