THE VEDIC PERIOD
Music and dance have been the chief forms of religious expression in India.
The origin of music in India is attributed to gods and goddesses and to mytho¬
logical figures like gandharvas and kinnaras who figure in all the stories and legends
connected with the science and practice of music.
In the course of her long history, India evolved a very wide variety of
musical instruments. These were classified under four heads, namely, tata (stringed
instruments), sushira (wind instruments), avanaddha (percussion instruments like
drums) and ghana (instruments which are struck against each other). Much inge¬
nuity has been bestowed on the invention of these instruments. There are more
than five hundred of them, each with a distinct name, shape, construction, technique
of playing and quality of tone colour.
Ancient Sanskrit literature and treatises on the science of music commonly
refer to Indian musical instruments. Ancient Indian sculpture also depicts musical
instruments with an astounding wealth of detail. Numerous varieties of veenas,
drums, pipes, gongs and bells are shown in the ancient sculptures of Bharhut,
Mathura, Gandhara, Amaravati, Sanchi, Nagarjunakonda, Konarak, the temples
of southern India and the frescoes and paintings of Ajanta, Bagh Tanjavoor.
These sculptures and paintings reveal such details as the number of performers
who normally participated in concerts and dance parties, the types of instruments
used as accompaniment and the postures in which the instruments were held and
played. As for the theory of the music they practised in ancient India, and the
name and characteristics of the instruments they used, the only sources of infor¬
mation are the treatises that deal directly with music.
Music and dancing were among the amusements of the Vedic age.
Veda is a standing monument to the wonderful skill and originality of the ancients
in the science of vocal music. The chanted Veda is still the oldest extant combina¬
tion of words definitely intended to be sung. In fact, the classical music of India
originates from Vedic chants. There were professional musicians in the Vedic age,
and a great variety of instruments as can be inferred from the frequent mention of
veena players, flute players, conch blowers, drummers and so on
The specially composed Rig Veda, consisting of invocations to the powers
that be to be present at the sacrifices, refers to singing, dancing and to the musi¬
cal instruments that accompany them.
Among the musical instruments in vogue during the Vedic period was the
dundubhi, which was a kind of drum used both in war and peace. It is frequently
mentioned even in literature of a later date. The bhoomi dundubhi was a special
sort of earth drum made by digging a hole in the ground and covering it with
hide. This drum was beaten with long sticks and is mentioned as having been used
in the Mahavrata ceremony. Adambara was another kind of drum. A drummer
by the name of adambara ghatta is mentioned in the list of victims at the
purushamedha (human sacrifice) in the Vajasaneya Samhita. Aghati was a type of cymbal used to accompany dancing, which is mentioned in the Rig Veda as well
as the Atharva Veda. Karkari was a stringed instrument like the modern sarod.
The kanda veena was a kind of veena made out of joints of reed. The tunava
was a wind instrument made of wood and was probably very much like a flute.
The nadi was a general term denoting any musical instrument. Vana was a multi¬
stringed musical instrument like the harp with a hundred strings (satatantri).
Several kinds of veena are mentioned in Vedic literature; the alabu veena,
the vakra veena, the kapisirsha, the maha veena, the chala veena, etc. There are
also references to special types of instruments for women.
The pichoda and the
kanda veena are two examples. Each part of the veena has been separately des¬
cribed; sira, or the head and neck; udara, the cavity or bowl; ambhana, the sound¬
ing board, tantu, or the strings and vadanakona or the plectrum.
The Taittiriya Samhita gives a full description of the veena : It is brightly
painted and studded with precious stones. The belly of the instrument is covered
with red leather, and has ten holes to which the strings, of twisted darbha grass or
moonja, are fastened. The stem is made of wood.
The dundubhi, or the war drum, has dominated the martial music of India
throughout her history. There are hymns devoted to war drums even as early as
the Atharva Veda. Before the warriors went into battle, these drums were honoured
ceremonially. They were washed and smeared with unguents. Then the priests
struck the drums three times and brandished them over the warriors to the accom¬
paniment of hymns.
In the ancient Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata musical instruments
are frequently mentioned. It is to the veena's music that Lava and Kusa sing the
Ramayana during the asvamedha in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Ravana chants his
saman to the music of the veena. As Lakshmana enters the inner apartments of
Sugriva, he hears singing and the ravishing strains of the music of the veena and
other stringed instruments.
The ladies’ apartments in the palace of Ravana are also full of musical
associations. Some of the musical instruments which Hanuman sees there are the
madduka (a percussion instrument like the mridangd), the patha (similar to the
khanjira), the flute, the vipanchi, the mridanga, the panava (another variety of
mridangd), the dindima (a sort of tabla) and the adambara (a kettle-drum). A
woman musician lies across her veena., an image which Valmiki compares poetically
to a cluster of lotuses about a boat in a stream.
In the Mahabharata, Krishna uses a conch called panchajanya on the battle¬
field. Arjuna’s conch is called devadatta. Krishna is constantly associated with the
venu (flute) whose music charmed the gopis of Brindavan.