Indian instrumental music is basically vocal in conception. Some can be played as solo instruments and others are used as accompaniments to vocalists or dancers. There are instruments that are used for devotional and ritualistic purposes too, like the conch. The antiquity of musical instruments is evident from the prehistoric cave paintings and sculptures of ancient temples. Indian musical instruments can be broadly classified into four types: tantu or stringed, susir or wind, avanada or percussion and ghana comprising of bells, cymbals and gongs. There are variations according to complexities in these too.
Instruments, Veena, Gotuvadhyam, Thavil, Mridanangam, and the plain drum are some of the ancient instruments of music in India. The Sitar and the Tabla were late comers. The sitar appears to have infiltrated from Persia and has assumed great popularity.
Except the Veena which is neatly fretted, all instruments are negotiated by the method of trial and error. Their handling depends on the ingenuity and dexterity of player. The flute and the nadaswarm as also the shehnai are wind instruments; the veena, gottuvadhyam, sitarabnd now the sarod from Afghanistan are stringed instruments. Other wind instruments include the bansuri, nadaswaram, ninkirns and pongi.
The drum varieties are percussion instruments. There are many types of drums in India. The double-faced ones can be hit on both sides, like the dholak or the pakhawaj. Similarly, the mridangam of the south, used to accompany Carnatic music, is placed on the lap of a person and struck with the hands on both sides. The tabla on the other hand is a set of two single faced drums is played using both hands. It is the traditional accompaniment for Hindustani music.
Religious festivals in Kerala are incomplete without the large drums called chenda, which are beaten with sticks. The ghatam is perhaps the most interesting as it a big round clay pot. It is placed on the musician’s lap and who taps it with his fingers and knuckles to produce the most exciting sounds.
The last category, ghana, has a wide variety of instruments that are percussion-based like bells, clappers, cymbals, and gongs. They usually fulfill rhythmic functions that produce a variety of notes like the other instruments. The jal-tarang is a set of china bowls of varying sizes filled with different quantities of water, which produce different notes when tapped with a stick.