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Indian Classical Instruments

Updated on January 9, 2014

Some Lesser Known Indian Instruments

There are literally hundreds of variations of Indian classical instruments used in Hindustani classical music that derives from the North of India, and Carnatic music from South India. While most of us will have heard of the sitar, these lesser known instruments are favoured by classical musicians, performers and composers everywhere.

Indian Classical Instruments
Indian Classical Instruments

Indian Music To Induce Emotion And Relaxation

Indian classical music is mystical and harmonious - it stirs the heart and the senses. It can be stimulating or deeply relaxing according to the mood the musician wishes to induce.

The types of Indian classical instruments used in compositions vary between the Hindustani classical music that derives from the North of India, and Carnatic music from South India.

You will almost certainly have heard of the sitar, but here is a small selection of the popular stringed instruments, percussion instruments and wind-blown instruments which are commonly used by famous Indian music performers the world over:


This long-necked instrument with a similar body shape to the sitar has four or five wire strings which are plucked in a regular pattern. It is thought that the name 'tambura' derives from 'tana' meaning 'musical phrase' and 'pura' which means 'complete' or 'full'.


Popularly known as the Saraswati Veena, this 'plucked string' instrument is considered to be the most popular instrument in South India today. The veena is actually a member of the lute family and a person who plays it is known as a vainika.


Dating back to the time of the Persian Muslims, this popular drumming instrument, a member of the percussion family, is used in Hindustani Classical Music, as well as popular and devotional music and is extremely well-loved by musicians and audiences alike.


Known also by the name Nadaswaram, this instrument originates from Tamil Nadu and is a favourite at weddings and temple celebrations. Nagaswaram is often referred to as 'a rare combination of music and divinity.'


Another extremely popular musical instrument, the shehnai is classed as an aero phonic instrument - tube-like - it widens towards the lower end. Because it is believed to bring good luck to those who experience it, the shehnai is understandably popular with North Indian weddings, festivals and processions.


Another percussion instrument, the cylindrical chenda is especially popular in Kerala as an accompaniment to Karala's many dances and rituals as well as Hindu religious art forms, festivals and cultural activities.


This South Indian percussion instrument - a double-sided drum derived from the wood of the jackfruit tree, is one of the most revered and important musical instruments in the region. In Hindu mythology the mridangam was frequently depicted as the musical instrument of choice for a number of deities including Ganesha and Nandi. Hence these days it is commonly referred to as 'deva vaadyam' or 'instrument of the gods.'

It is said that to truly appreciate and understand Indian classical music one needs to enjoy a high level of meditation and self-realisation. Or perhaps it is through listening to skilled performers play these exquisite Indian classical instruments often, that one develops the level of self-realisation necessary to become a devotee of this ancient music form.

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