May 2008

Instead of tabla, folk musicians use drums in their music. Basic drums which are not refined like dholak, daf or nal are commonly used in folk music.  The instruments normally used in folk music are Dotar, Ektar, Saringda, Santur and Rabab. Interestingly these instruments are even named differently depending upon local dialect.  Diversity is such that there are many instruments which are used only in particular folk styles in specific regions.  Most of these interesting instruments are made up of normally existing substances


Commonly used folk musical instruments are:-


Dhol – large barrel drum

Bansuri – bamboo flute

Dotar – simple lute

Kartal – wooden clappers

Chimpta – fire tongs

Dholki – barrel drum

Daf – frame drum

Ghungharu – small bells

Dholak – barrel drum

Ektar – simple lute

Gettuvadyam – hammered lute

Magadi Vina – bamboo lute

Ghatam – clay pot

Khol – clay drum

Murchang – jaw harp

Naggada – kettle drums

Nakula – bamboo lute

Rabab – lute

Santur – hammered dulcimer

Pung – drum

Gopichand – one stringed instrument

Pungi – snake charmer’s instrument

Pena – simple one string bowed instrument

Damaru – hourglass drum

Saringda – simple fiddle

Shankh – conch shell

Idakka and Udaku – hourglass drums

Thanthi Panai – pot drum


Folk music is very fascinating. Despite not having any formal training and teaching in the basic nuances of music, the way music is played in rural places of India mesmerizes us. Villagers imbibe music with gradual and subtle grace. When one hears villagers playing folk music, it seems more of a phenomenon of music mingled in their blood. Our Indian culture has this inherent element of playing music in all the festivals. In fact no normal or major occasions like engagements, marriages, births, festivals etc are complete without music. We Indians have glut of songs for every occasion. On occasions like these villagers indulge in music with gusto. It also gives them chance to perform and polish their musical skills.  Performing in those functions harmonize sedate village life with the cosmos. Apart from these normal and special occasions, it’s a common sight to see villagers singing during the time of planting and cropping. The soul of those songs revolves around villagers’ optimism, uncertainties and desire. Folk music is also used for educational purposes in many parts of the India. 


Instruments used in folk music are distinctly different from Indian classical music. It’s hard to find essential classical instruments like Sitar and Sarod in folk music. Though, sometimes, the use of tabla can be found in folk music, that is one of those rare cases. The instruments used by folk musicians are normally not as sophisticated or advanced as the classical musicians bring into play.  The prime reason being, instruments used in classical music are crafted by professional artisans whereas folk music instruments are generally made by the musicians themselves.

So what is Folk music? Folk music is a bucolic manifestation of the huge Indian civilization. Indian Folk music possesses rich history. India has amazing variety of folk music. India has always been a land of tremendous cultural diversity. This cultural variety is at the root of infinite range of folk styles found in our land. Every region in India has its own peculiar style of folk music. Folk music has often been misconstrued as tribal music but both are quite different from each other. Tribal music represents vastly dissimilar cultures.  Many of these tribal cultures are a reminder of cultural situations as they were hundreds of years ago.


Talking about difference between folk and tribal music and classical music, folk and tribal music is not taught like the classical music. Classical music follows a detail education and practice whereas folk music is more of fun and casual thing. Classical music includes a proper period of apprenticeship. That explains why, those who learn classical music dedicate their whole life to learning the music. Folk music, being more of rustic thing, is a different story altogether. Rural conditions in India make it quite tough for students to devote their entire life to music. Those who practice folk music need to perform daily chores of life as well. Activities like agriculture or hunting and other such professions which give them bread and butter.

The developments mentioned in the previous article made the world to sit and notice the beauty of Indian music. It also triggered a chain of many memorable associations between Indian and western musicians. Following the partnership with Beatles’, Pandit Ravi Shankar went ahead and forged a famous association with renowned musician Yehudi Menuhin. The duo produced many unforgettable east-west albums. He also worked with American discreet composer, Philip Glass, on a work called “Passages”. This work, just like his previous works was appreciated as well.  Pandit Ravi Shankar was truly a trailblazer. He literally triggered a chain of associations. He is undeniably one of the most well known non- Western musicians in the Western world. He also presented other Indian musicians an example. Famous Violinists L. Shankar and L. Subramaniam are also credited to work with western musicians and produce masterpieces. Because of the work of these eminent musicians, Indian classical music can reasonably be described as having carved a niche for itself in the universe of concert music.


In recent times, Indian-western music collaborations have become a common sight. Playback singers like Asha Bhosle worked with different rock bands of USA. Similarly one of the best talents to come out of India A R Rehman has earned great appreciation in the western world. The world has truly become an abode for Indian musicians.

Indian music entered a new era after independence. The turning point came in 1960s. This was the time when classical Indian music took a definite term. With world becoming a closer place for musicians, Indian musicians started making mark for themselves in the western countries. The trend was started by Pandit Ravi Shankar who was gaining popularity in USA. His moment of fame arrived in form of his collaboration with legendary musical band “The Beatles”. Pandit Ravi Shankar played sitar for Beatles’ album which went on to become a huge hit. He later shifted to United States. Thus began a new chapter in Indian music. Western students started learning Indian classical music. Another great musician Sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan also gained popularity in USA and subsequently he settled there.


Another factor which contributed in the development of Indian classical music in the western world was renowned movie director Satyajit Ray. He was the first Indian director to attain world wide recognition. He was an institution in meaningful art cinemas. To his credit, he collaborated with Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan, who composed music for some of his movies. Vilayat Khan is one of the greatest Sitarist India has ever produced. Combination of these greats also helped in bringing Indian music to the attention of advanced world.

During the sixteenth century, Indian music took a definite turnaround. This was the time when, the distinction between North Indian (Hindustani) and South Indian (Carnatic) music was clearly defined. The music prevailing in the northern region of the country was more open to external influences. The reason behind that was strong and well spread Muslim presence in the north. Indian Classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic was a mixture of both instrumental and vocal. People who follow Indian music believe that the vocalists truly embody the Indian music in its utmost splendor. But we can not ignore the fact that, instrumental music has a great following.


As northern music started taking prominence, Carnatic music also started to incorporate unfamiliar foreign instruments in its mainstream. This was their idea of proving themselves at being proficient as far as adopting new music was concerned. This was the time when, violin which was an unknown instrument by then, made an entry into repertoire of Carnatic music. Who would have expected violin to make such a strong impact in the coming time. The world has seen many great violinists in the twentieth century who have mesmerized the world with their astonishing talents. Other major change in Indian music was the performance place. It was a tradition to perform music in homes of the elite class citizens, temples and other such places like congregation of few people who used to enjoy music. Today, it’s mostly concert halls




It’s a little surprising to know but, traditionally, Indian songs were composed in Sanskrit. But going by the historians, arrival of sixteenth century brought new changes in songs as well. During this time, songs were started to be composed in various dialects of Hindi. Dialects like Bhojpuri and Braj Bhasa were main Hindi dialects. Apart from Hindi dialects, songs were also composed in Urdu and Persian


That era saw vast usage of songs written by great poet-saints like Tulsidas, Surdas, Kabir and Mirabai. All these songs were sung with great taste in vernacular tongues. These songs brought forth a devotional (or Bhakti) movements. These songs are still very popular amongst masses and can be heard in hinterland in the times of celebrations and festivals.


India is also credited to introduce few of the musical instruments to the world. Instruments like Sitar and Tabla are strictly associated with Indian music. Apart from these two, there are many instruments which we may not be familiar with. When we look at the Indian music history; it is no less complex and fascinating than Indian arts in general. But as we delve deep into the exciting ocean of Indian music, we keep finding pearls. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that, attempting to understand Indian music is a lifetime job.

Next Page »