Instruments Used with the Traditional Music of Kashmir
In this chapter, I have written about the instruments which
are used with the folk music of Kashmir, followed by the description of those
instruments which are used with the Sufiana Mousiqui. The history of the
instruments, the technique of playing, and the material they are made of and
much more has been discussed in the Chapter.
Raj Tarangini mentions specifically about the art of music
and musical instruments in this region in distant past. The ancient musical
instruments used in Kashmir had been more or less a reflection of the Indian
musical instruments in usage during that time.
According to Pandit Kalhana, the folk musical instruments
like earthen pots, brass vessels etc. were used by Kashmiri people from very
early times. In Kashmir 4th century A.D. tile, found during excavation from
Harwan, is showing the impression of a female musician playing on a drum. The
other person is shown playing a veena in an artistic pastime. The king
Bhiksacara (1120-21) A.D., who himself played these instruments was fond of
"Chhakri" (folk choral singing) which continues to be popular in
Kashmir valley since Kalhana's time and even earlier to that.
Raj Tarangini mentions an instrument called "Hadukka"
which can be compared to a big pipe.
According to B.C. Deva, the string instruments, Rabat) and
Sarangi, came to Kashmir with the influence of Muslims. The whole subcontinent
was affected by the culture of the new rulers. In music, we came across new
Ragas, new styles and new instruments like Rabab and Sarangi. Rabab traveled
with the bards and minstrels of Afghanistan and joined the folk group
instruments in Kashmir. Some scholars say that it must have been introduced into
Kashmir at the time of Zain-ul-Abidin. The most popular instrument used in folk
music is the Rabab, which was borrowed from Persia.
Both the instruments, Rabab and Sarangi, used in folk music 'Chhakri'
from 14th century onwards opened a new chapter in Kashmir for music and its
musical instruments. According to V .N. Bhatkhande, the Muslim rulers had
brought with them their own system of music with new melodies, new
interpretations, new types of songs and new Talas, which in course of time got
fused with Hindu music and gave rise to modern Hindustani music. In a similar
way, artists from Central Asia, during Sultanate period brought with them their
art, music, musical instruments and culture resulting in wonderful interaction
which in course of time gave birth to Kashmiri classical music which is known as
Sufiana Mosiqui. It borrowed its style from Persian music. The cultural
interaction has resulted in a unique form and an interesting synthesis of the
various types of classical music preserved by Kashmir. It was in this period
that the Kashmiri music reached the heights of perfection under the patronage of
rulers and saints. Many improvements were brought out in the conventional
instruments to render them more useful to the art. The instruments like Santoor,
Saaz, Setar, Rabab and Sarangi are resultant inventions and innovations and
denote the developments, which took place during this period.
The musical instruments have played a key role in the
evolution of Kashmiri Sufiana Mosiqui. This mosiqui has deep impression on the
listener and it is in the nature of very serious music. The Kalam or the verses
are also peculiar and this style of music has been very selective in this
respect. Similar is the case of instruments used in this Mousiqui, which have
been selected with due thought. The instruments used by the sufiana musicians
are quite different from those used in Indian Classical Music, Kashmiri folk
music and other styles. The prominent instruments include Santoor, Kashmiri
Setar (Sehtar) and Saaz-i-Kashmir, the percussion instrument for providing
rhythmic variety is Tabla which replaced/Wasul or a Dolke called Dokra, used
Tumbak has been a musical instrument in the good olden days
in Iran and Central Asia, which was being played mostly by the women folk of
these places. Many authors believe that such instrument is being used in Iran
and Arabia too. May be it has come to Kashmir from these places, for the simple
reason that visitors and rulers were coming to Kashmir in the olden days from
Iran and middle east, which besides other things made cultural invasion on the
art of Kashmir. Co-incidently, this instrument is also being played by the women
folk in Kashmir, the only difference is that in Iran or Central Asia, it is now
being made of wood, while in Kashmir, it is still being made of baked clay
maintaining its originality. This type of instrument is used for keeping rhythm
and also time that covers in a performance of music.
Dr. Rahullah-Khaliqui has written in page no. 403 of his book
'Serguzashti Mousiqui-Iran' about the style of playing this instrument in Iran.
In Iran, this instrument is called Tumbakh or Tunbak. In west, it is tumbal or
tumbari and in Kashmir, it is tumbaknaeer. The naer is added because the tail
end of this instrument is like a pipe, which in Kashmiri, is called a Nore,
which has in course of time, changed to naer, making the instrumental tumbaknaer.
It is generally used by women folk at various occasions of merriment like
marriages, Yagnopavit etc. It is struck by the fingertips to produce the desired
Thalez: is used at farms especially on
weeding of paddy crops, when rice plants are required to be freed of the
unnecessary growth of vegetation. At these weeding operations, the farmers and
their women folk used to sing collectively to overcome the monotonous work,
using Thalej as rhythm maintainer.
2.0 Sarang (Sarangi)
It is a stringed musical instrument played with a bow and it
is in vogue in three types:
The first type is smaller in size and is used in Kashmir
under the name of Sarang, which as per a belief (local) is the invention of
Maharaja Sarang Dev's time (Sarang Dev was a king of Kashmir).
The second type is slightly bigger in size than the
Kashmiri Sarang and is mostly used in Bengal for Bengali music.
The third type is a full size and standard Sarangi used
in Indian classical music. Its size is roughly three feet long and about
eight inches wide. It has four main strings and about thirty five
sympathetic side strings known as Taraba in musical language and most of
them are made of steel and brass.
3.0 Kashmiri Sarang
Kashmiri Sarang is very simple in structure. It is made of a
block of wood, preferably of mulberry or teakwood. The entire body is hollow
from inside with two combined parts. Both the sides of the lower part are
punched and the whole is covered with hide. The upper part serves the purpose of
a fingerboard. Commonly its length is one and a half feet. It has two strings of
gut, one of steel and another of coiled brass (making four mains trings).
Besides it has eight or ten sympathetic wires/strings of steel known as 'terban'.
It is played with a bow, made of a hard round stick of wood,
to which hair of the tail of horse are fixed at both the ends, and a small
wooden triangular but curved bridge is placed at one end to keep the hair light.
The bow is held in the right hand and moved from one end to the other,
vertically on the main strings to produce sound. The fingers namely fore,
middle, ring and sometimes the little finger are used to produce notes of
different pitch at different length of different strings. The fingers however do
not press down the strings on the fingerboard, but are simply touched at the
starting place with nails of each finger of the left hand, thus the musical
notes are produced.
Besides Kashmir, in the hilly areas of Himachal Pradesh, the
playing of this Sarang is common. It is also popular among the tribals of Bihar.
In northern India, Sarang, besides being played with the bow-shaped stick, is
also played with the 'Kanishtha' (the little finger) and 'anamika' (the finger
between the middle and the little finger) of the left hand. The playing on this
instrument is known as 'purva'.
Gagar is a well known word in the Indian languages. Gagar is
made of brass. In Kashmiri Hindu society, Gagar has a cultural importance.
In Kashmir also, at the time of Herath Festival, Gagar has an
important role to play. Gagar is placed on the bangle shaped circle made of dry
paddy straw which is placed on the floor, washed with clay. The Gagar is half
filled with dry nuts. Then Lord Shiva and Shakti are worshipped. Thus, it can
clearly be understood that Gagar holds valuable place in the religious festivals
in Kashmir. It is also used in homes for storing water by Hindus and Muslims
The same Gagar is used with the music of Kashmir. The artist
put iron rings in his fingers of the left hand and places his hand on Gagar
while striking Gagar with the right hand. The sound produced is very high and
thus Gagar plays an important role in creating the musical environment in the
During festivals and temple kirtan, playing of Gagar is of
great importance. Gagar might have its origin in Vedic time.
Nagada is an instrument resembling 'Dhola'. It has many
names, like Nakkara, Nagada, Dugdugi etc. in Indian languages. According to B.
Chaitanyadeva, Nagada is a changed form of the ancient Dundubhi. In Himachal
Pradesh also, its similar form and structure can be found: its upper side is
covered with leather of goat. Nagada is slightly smaller than the 'Nobat'
instruments. The instrument 'Nagadi' is also played with it. This instrument is
struck with a piece of wood and the sound is produced, it is in demand in the
In Kashmir, it is used during festivals and marriage
ceremonies. Mainly it is used with the 'bhand jashan and 'bhand natya'. It is
used during paddy harvesting. The farmers consider it as an energy booster
during their tiring task of farming.
Dhola has its own history in the musical instruments of
India. The first form can be traced in the Mohan Jodaro culture. One of the
oldest instruments of India, Dhola is mainly traced in the villages and every
state of India.
In Kashmir, it is mainly used in villages and it is mostly
played with the folk dance of the bhands.
One of the ancient instruments of India, Shankh, the
sushirvadya, is associated with religious functions. In AtharVeda, one finds
reference to Shankh, though it existed long, before. In Bhagvad Gita, during the
time of war, Shankh had played an important role. One finds that Shankh has been
called by different names like Panch Janya Shankh, Devadatt Shankh, Mahashan
Ponder Shankh and more. Even in Valmiki's Ramayna, the mention of a Shankh can
In Kashmiri Hindu culture, Shankh is an instrument, which is
played both in temples and homes.
In the temples, Shankh is played in the mornings and evenings
during the prayers. In homes, it is played before the starting of havan,
yagnopavit, marriage, etc. in Kashmiri Hindu marriage, Shankh is played by a
person to mark the arrival of the groom. After reaching the bride's place, the
groom is made to stand on the 'rangoli' and Shankh is played constantly. At
times, when the bride's parents take much time to see her off, then Shankh is
played to indicate the late departure, so that they hurry up. Shankh is used as
the proclamation and declaration of war, victory and religious ceremonies.
Shankh has a vital role in 'Leela' singing. It gives
religious touch to the occasions as if gods and the goddesses are summoned in a
special way to make an appearance to the devotees worshipping.
Swar-nai, a 'sushir vadya', holds an important place in the
folk music of Kashmir. This instrument has been mentioned in Nilamata Purana and
in Kalhana's Raj Tarangini. Swarnai holds the same place in Kashmir folk music
as the Shahnai in the Indian music. This is the reason, why Swarnai is also
called Shahnai in Kashmiri music.
Swar-nai is made of two words-Swar and Nai. The structure of
Swarnai is slightly bigger in size as compared to Shahnai. This instrument is
made of wood and its makers are the traditional makers of Swarnai. It has nine
holes near the round mouth of Swarnai, there is a till type square through which
the player blows the air. This is also called, Tulbarabir Tulkarav, in Kashmiri
The playing of Swarnai is considered very auspicious. in
Kashmiri culture. This musical instrument is deeply related to marriages,
festivals, shivratri, navreh, Id and other auspicious occasions of Hindus as
well as Muslims. It is also used by bhands while performing in folk drama-'Lok
Natya'. Besides this, it is also widely used in 'bachi naghma' folk dance.
During the harvest, the players of Swarnai go to farms and perform entertaining
music to entertain the farmers and collect the crop for themselves.
This way, melodious Swarnai is widely used in the folk music
culture of Kashmir.
In Kashmiri folk music, round cup made of bronze is called
khos'. Usually khos is used for drinking Kahva (a type of Kashmiri tea) in
Kashmiri Hindu families. Beneath the round form of Khos is smaller round portion
on which it stands. Khasya is the plural form of Khos. Whenever there is a
religious gathering, marriage or yagnopavit, Tumbaknar, Ghat, two Khasya are
played with both the hands. The Hindu women are more proficient in playing it.
It is a 'Ghan Vadya'. The sound is produced by striking both the Khasya with
Thaluz is a Kashmiri word. The instrument is called by
different names in different regions of north and southJhanjh, Jhalari, Manjir,
Thali Kans, Kanjaam, Illatalam, etc.
This instrument can be seen in temples of north and south
during religious prayers in the mornings.
ashmiri Thaluz is made of bronze, its round portion is around
13 cms. 30 cms. It is widely used in the folk functions of Kashmir. Thaluz is
mentioned in Kalhana's Raj tarangini and Nilamata Purana. The use of instrument
is mainly confined to the temples. On Saturday nights, in temples of Kashmir,
usually Jagrans' are performed and many musical groups do kirtans, the whole
night. Thaluz is then played by the performers, to summon the diety in
invocation to the place of worship.
The word 'Rabab' is pronounced as Rabab in Persian and Rabab
in Arabic, which in Arabic is Rab-O-Raba; literary meaning to collect, to make
available, to arrange or to manage.
It has been controversial to assert about the origin of Rabab,
which was however initially played with a bow but now it is played with a mizrab
precisely with a plectrum.
One school of thought suggests that this instrument has been
brought to India from the middle East by the foreign intruders perhaps by
Sokandar Zulqurmein in the past. Others suggest that Tansen, the celebrated
musician invented it, as is mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari. Abu Naserfarabi is of
the opinion that this instrument, originally played with a bow, was in fact
successfully tried and played with a mizrab later on, in Middle East. One more
lover and thinker of music Aullya-Chalbi of Arabia is of the opinion that Rabab
was made in Arabia by one Abdullah before the birth of Prophet Mohammad of
However, in the encyclopedia of music, by A-Lavience, Rabab
is said to be an Indian musical instrument, which was existing before 5000 BC
during the time of king Ravana and was then known as Ravanastram, the strings of
which were made from the guts of deer. Again, one more English author
Rawlinson has written in his book 'ancient Monarchies' that Rabab was made in
Iran. Nothing can be said authentically about its origin but it is one of the
oldest stringed musical instruments known in the field o music, though it has
undergone many changes in its form structure and manner of playing
The present day Rabab is made of seasoned mulberry wood. It
is about three to three and a half feet in length. One end of the body is round
and the diameter is about a foot. The round part is covered with parchment. This
round part gradually joins the neck by becoming curved and narrow.
A piece of very thin wood is fixed at the top of the open
part to cover it that serves the purpose of the fingerboard of the instrument.
Four guts of different thickness are used in it as strings, in place of metal
strings. The entire body of instrument is hollow from inside. It is played with
a plectrum made of coconut shell, bone or of any hard metal.
It is a simple earthenware pot, usually for collection of
water in rural India. Now a days it is usually made of brass or copper, but for
musical purposes only the earthenware pot is traditionally used in Kashmiri
music. It has a big round belly having a small open round mouth at the upper
portion. It is the oldest type of drum variety known to the mankind.
In shape, the Noet of Kashmir is not different from the
Ghatam of the South or the Matki of Rajasthan. They are used as the instruments
in the music in those state which proves the fact that they might have begun
their journey from the same cultural background. Their skill and style of
playing might have differed in accordance with the traditions prevalent in
In Kashmiri language, the original words 'Kalash' or 'Ghat'
might have lost their existence and Noet might have gained popularity due to the
fact that it was associate, with 'uV'(nat). in due course of time the word 'nat
kalash might have lost the word 'kalash' and become popular as 'noet'. Such
reference has been made in Nilmata Purana
(i.e. reasted clay pot players-Bhands)
Kalhana in Raj Tarangini frequently refers to this instrument.
(they played on their balded heads exactly as the earthen pot
instruments were played).
The tradition is maintained by the natives living in, the
distant rural areas of Kashmir, who spend their evenings in practicing this
ancient art. The name of Mohan Lal Aima is worth mentioning here, who did a deep
and thorough study of Noet playing and thus revived the art and its importance
13.0 Nai (Flute)
In Kashmiri language, the normal meaning of ‘Nai’ is
related to flute. In Kashmiri folk music, the prevalence of Nai is older than
two thousand years as we get its description in Nilamata Purana.
"Punyahved shabdin vansi venurvenaya sut magadh shabden
Nilamata Purana described banshi as well as venu and in the
modern era even the Kashmiri artists, especially of Anantnag, are proficient in
playing two types of flutes.
1. The first type of flute is empty from inside and there
are seven holes for seven swaras. While playing it, fingers of both the
hands are used. This type of flute is more prevalent in the folk life.
2. The second type of flute is also called 'Pi-Pi' in
Kashmiri language. This type of flute is made of walnut’s wood. Even this
flute has seven holes but the hole from where the air is blown is absent,
but its adjacent hole is put into the mouth and blown. The player sees the
seven holes clearly. This instrument is used more conveniently and the
player does not get tired soon. This type of flute is more famous in Kashmir
Among the musical instruments, Santoor occupies an important
place in Kashmiri music. Soofiana singing is not possible without its
accompaniments. These days, it is joining popularity even outside Kashmir. Its
sweet tappings create a feeling of romantic mood whereas its soft tunes remind
of the transquality of the other world, which suits the mysticial temperament of
soofiana music. This instrument emits loud and enchanting sounds. It requires
subtle sense of turning on the part of the musicians who play it, with both hand
using two sticks of twenty four centimeters called 'Kalan'. It is debatable
whether Santoor is a native instrument of Kashmir or has been brought from
abroad. Opinions differ. Some scholars view that it belongs to Iran. Pt. Shiv
Kumar Sharma claims that he was the first ever Santoor maestro who brought it to
classical stage. Santoor is being used for mousiqui in Kashmir since thirteenth
century. But, that does not prove the fact that it came from abroad and its
origin could not be Kashmir thirteen centuries before Christ. Reference to Shat-tantri
veena is available at several places. It might have been the original form of
Santoor and in due course, might have changed to the present form. The technique
of performance, linguistically analyzing 'Shat' word must have traveled to `Sat'
and then to 'Sant; and 'tantri to 'tantar' to 'trir' and finally to 'toor'. Both
together must have become `Santoor'. Had it been from foreign origin, it would
have brought the name along.
Santoor is made of mulberry wood. Some scholars believe
it to be related to Shakt sect. According to Shakts, triangular is a symbol of
desire, knowledge and action.
They have referred to the Shakt instruments, several times,
and believed that goddess Mahashakti should be worshipped accompanying these
instruments. The base on which Santoor is placed is also the same shape.
Mulberry tree in Kashmir has a religious value. It is related
to 'Bhairav'. In every 'Bhairav' temple, mulberry tree is parted with vermilion
and people worship it devotedly. In Khirbhavani, the famous Shakt pilgrimage,
the goddess is sitting on the mulberry tree. The very pilgrimage is called 'tulnuri'
meaning 'root of mulberry'.
The shape of Santoor is trapezoid. Its right side is called
'burn' and the left 'Jil'. Twelve wires on right side are of brass and those on
the left are of iron. There are also twelve nobs on the right and twelve on the
left side. Four wires are fixed to each nob. The production of the tune depends
on the nobs. Twelve brass wires remind us of soft and sweet Shakt emotion and
the throbbing tune of iron wires remind us of hard appearance of Shiva himself.
The number of wires in total is ninety six. At the tune of yagnopavit, the
priest wraps the holy thread ninety six times around his palm. The number is
significant in itself. The tops of the nobs are inlaid in the horns of stag.
This animal is found in Kashmir alone.
Twentieth century leading player of Santoor has been Tibat
Bakal. At present Saz Naivaz, Kaleem, Shekh Abdul Aziz are known for their style
of playing. Pandit Bhajan Sopori is making it popular on classical stage and
popularizing it all over the world.
Saaz had not originated from Kashmir. Since it has remained
in vogue in Kashmir for centuries without any major modification, people
preferred to call it Saaz-i-Kashmir or the musical instrument devised in
Kashmir. It is played with bow, as such it is easier for the player to get
microtones out of it.
According to Rouhulla Khalighi, Saaz in Persia is called
Kamancha. It is the same instrument called Saaz in Kashmir and is played by a
bow. He again states that the instrument has now been replaced by the violin as
it is more complete. There are very few people who can play the Kamancha
Saaz is found all over the Islamic world and it originated
from the north Iranian district, Kudristan. This type of instrument (Three
stringed fiddle) is mentioned as early as the tenth century AD, by the great
theorist Al Farabi. The instrument is found elsewhere in the Middle east also.
Since the Kashmir Saaz is more developed and complicated, that is why people
have named it as Saazi-Kashmir. The Iranian use this instrument for vocal
Saaz-i-Kashmir has three prominent strings, two made of silk.
The silk string is made worthy of producing musical sound by mixing it with the
skin of fish. It is tuned to Sa, while the 2nd one is tuned to SA (middle
octave). The third one is not made use of, as it is not touched by the bow. On
either side of the dand, there are seven strings (right side) made of steel and
seven strings (left side) made of brass. Right side resonance strings are tuned
respectively from Pa to Ma, whereas that of the left side from Sa to Ni (middle
The invention of Sitar is commonly credited to Amir Khusrau,
scholars, generally, refer to him as the originator of Indian Classical Sitar.
Some others are of the opinion that musicians adopted Tritantri Veena and
improved upon it and created Sitar. The theory which is widely accepted is
that Sehtar was the instrument brought by Amir Khusrao from Iran. According to
Bimal Mukherjee (The History and Origin of Sitar), by the 11th or 12th century
the second Sitar had emerged, an instrument, to accompaniment to vocal music and
later also as an independent instrument. A little later there was a series of
Muslim invasions on north. The invaders mostly Persians and Turks, were not only
brave warriors but also loved finer things of life like music. Some of them had
brought along with a small instrument with three strings called Sehtar, meaning
three strings. Even Abul Fazal says that another instrument called Been was like
Yantra and contained three strings.
Probably the word Sitar is derived from this Sehtar. The
Sitar which resembles the Persian Tambura or ud, in shape, and the Indian Veena,
in principle, is itself a fusion and an epitome of the Indo-Persian culture and
Despite this opinion, same authors say that it is a gradual
process of development from Tritantri Veena. Others say that the invention of
Sitar is attributed to Amir Khusrao and that is probably of Persian origin.
Kashmiri Sehtar or Sitar is said to be original model of Indian Sitar. This
instrument is now however, comparable to Indian Sitar of these days and retains
its originality. The Kashmiri Sehtar is the original instrument accompanying
Sufiana Kalaam or Mousiqui which came to Kashmir from Central Asia.
Sitar is a long neck plucked lute, similar to the Persian
Sitar. Curt Sach is of the view that the Arabs call it the largest variety. 'Tanbur
Kabir Turki' or large Turkish lute. The Persian, however, do not use the word
Tunbur and they designate the stringed instrument by the word Tar. This is why
the people mostly called it Persian Sitar. This type of Sehtar or Sitar was
widely used in Kashmir. In villages (especially in Wahthora, where jesters
called Bhand live) Sufiana musicians would use Kashmiri Sitar for accompaniment
of this Mousiqui. This musical instrument is specially meant for accompaniment
purpose for Sufian Mousiqui unlike the Indian Sitar which is used for solo
purpose only. Gradually the Sitar had come to acquire five strings by stages and
the number has recently increased to seven strings. The Structure of Kashmiri
Sitar is as under: it has Dand which in some is 2 wide over which frets made of
threads are fixed, a Tumba which is either made of wood or that of gourd. Tumba
is about one third to one fourth of the size of Indian Sitar (Tumba).
Wasul or Dokra is the only percussion instrument used in
Sufiana Mousiqui. Wasul is a double membrane barrel shaped drum used in Sufiana
Kalam, until some seventy years ago. It is played in a manner similar to Tabla
and provides the rhythm of Maqamat in Sufiana Mousiqui. About a decade ago, the
Research Library Srinagar, published two manuscripts of music (Tarana Saroor and
Karamat-i-Mujra) with some old paintings of musicians. One such painting was
printed opposite maqam-i-Dhanasri. This painting has pictures of:
1. Two Hafizas dancers wearing Peshwaz (special dress
in Kashmir for both male and female dancers).
2. Two musicians with a Sitar and Tabla type Wasul.
3. Two musicians, one carrying Sitar.
This clearly shows that Wasul had been in use as Rhythm
instrument earlier to Tabla and had primacy over Tabla.
Originally Tabla had some other shape and was called Mridanga.
Mridanga is accompanied with the Carnatic music. Later on, Mridanga was divided
into two pieces and after undergoing modification it became the modern Tabla.
Under the later Indian influence Wasul or Dokra was
completely substituted and replaced by Indian Tabla. Tabla has been found to be
more convenient, easier and a suitable instrument as compared to Wasul. Sufiana
Musicians have completely given up Dokra or Wasul and have adopted Tabla.
Therefore, there is hardly any person who knows the playing of these
instruments, as they have become totally extinct.