The migration of Indian musical instruments to the countries surrounding
India at an early period forms an interesting subject of study. In pre-Buddhist
times, India seems to have had commercial and other relations with Egypt, Sumer
and other Middle-Eastern regions. Archaeologists have discovered musical instru¬
ments similar to the yazh of the ancient Tamil country in Egypt and Babylon.
Representations of priests playing these harps in the tomb of Ramesus III show
instruments which are not only distinguished by the number of their strings but
are elaborately decorated, the framework being carved and inlaid with gold, ivory,
tortoise shell and mother of pearl. Their construction and beauty are reminiscent
of descriptions of the yazh in ancient Tamil works.
Representations of an instrument similar to the yazh have been discovered in
Babylon and attributed to about 3000 B.C. Actual specimens belonging to this period
have been unearthed at Ur. The Sumerian harps were the oldest and most characteri¬
stic. The strings were either plucked by the fingers or struck with a plectrum.
The instrument was often accompanied by the ka-gi (flute) in the same way as the
ancient Tamil yazh was accompanied by the kuzhal, also a type of flute. Most of
the ancient Indian sculptures show the bow-shaped veena along with the flute.
instrument was originally called pan throughout a wide district of Western Asia
in the early days. Pan means ‘sound’ or ‘music’. Curiously enough, the various
musical modes in south Indian music are called pans in Tamil and musicians are
In India, this bow-shaped veena has reigned supreme from the beginning. It
disappeared after the time of the Guptas but it survives in Burma under the name
of saun. The instrument was known in Egypt as the ban (Indian bana, or bin, or
veena). It is known as gogia bana among the Gond tribes of Madhya Pradesh.
The instrument consists of a stout staff in the shape of an arc, one end of which
is fixed to a boat-shaped resonator. About five parallel strings are fastened to the
staff, one over the other.
Buddhism was a great force in the expansion of Indian culture. The period
between the 4th and 7th centuries was, for the music of India, a period of great
That Indian musical instruments migrated to Central Asia during this
period is proved by the existence of Indian instruments in the wall paintings, at
Quizil, Yotkan, Tuanhuang and other important Buddhist centres of Central Asia.
The mandolin-shaped veena which frequently occurs in the sculptures at Amaravati,
Nagarjunakonda and Gandhara seems to have been introduced to Central Asia by
the Buddhist missions. This veena became the pipa in China, and was changed
into the biwa when it reached Japan in the 8th century.
Sculptural representations of musical instruments depicted in Borobudur,
Prambanam, Champa and other places confirm that the music of India spread to
neighbouring countries in the early centuries. It is well known that the art of Java,
the Khmer country and Champa was deeply influenced by the culture and art of
India. The illustrations of musical instruments at Borobudur show a remarkable
similarity to those found in India. The kachchapi veena attributed to goddess Saraswati
still survives in the Philippines where it is known as kadjapi.