The Instruments of Dhrupad
noted, vocal music is generally more important in Hindustani music
than are instruments. The string instrument most probably dominant
in the Mughal period was the been, or rudra vina,
which is the most ancient stringed instrument in India, though
it is almost extinct in contemporary Hindustani music and is rarely
heard today, with only two major performers surviving. The rudra
vina is made of two large gourds joined symmetrically by a long,
thin wooden neck, with frets traditionally fixed to the neck with
beeswax, four main playing strings, and three drone strings. It
is characterized by its deep, rich voice. It may be seen in numerous
paintings from the Mughal period.
The solo instrument
heard on this Web site is the surbahar. The surbahar was
developed as a more practicable vehicle for capturing the tonal
range, expressive scope, and spiritual mood of the rudra vina.
The surbahar, like the vina, has a practical range of three and
a half octaves; it has a wide neck, thick strings, and a single
large, flat gourd. The surbahar has sympathetic strings, usually
eleven to thirteen in number, that give an added resonance to
each tone played on the main strings and help to create the distinctive
sound of the instrument. A prominent shared characteristic of
the rudra vina and the surbahar is the technique of "bending"
a note by deflecting one of the playing strings sideways across
a fret. In this manner, a pitch on the surbahar can be raised
by up to a full seven tones on a single fret.
though not present during the Mughal period, is currently the
most important stringed instrument in the Hindustani tradition.
Like the surbahar, though smaller and higher in pitch, it consists
of a gourd with a wooden faceplate attached to a wooden neck,
with movable frets arching over a set of sympathetic strings,
and sometimes having a secondary gourd.
vina, surbahar, and sitar (as well as the tanpurasee below) all
have curved bridges, traditionally made of deerhorn, across which
the strings pass at a very slight angle, thereby creating the
distinctive "Indian" effect of rich overtones which
has led to the latter two instruments' use in a number of contexts
in the West.
is the barrel-drum dominant in the Mughal period, and like the
rudra vina, it may be seen in numerous Mughal miniature paintings.
It is made of a single piece of wood, hollowed out, with goatskin
heads on either side and bound together by leather straps running
the length of the drum. By means of sliding wooden pegs inserted
under the straps, the right side of the pakhawajwith its
black circle of composite paste in the center of the drumheadis
tuned precisely to and resonates with the tonic of the melodic
performance. The left drumhead produces its bass sound by means
of a circle of moistened whole-wheat flour-like bread doughapplied
to the skin.
or tambura is the fundamental accompanying drone instrument
in Indian music. It consists of a gourd body attached to a long
round wooden neck, with four to six strings tuned to the main
notes of the raga, always the tonic in lower and higher octaves,
and the middle fifth (or fourth if the scale has no fifth), and
sometimes the seventh. In performance, the tanpura accompanist
plucks the instrument's strings in continuous succession1,
2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4; etc.throughout the entire performance,
to provide the background drone so characteristic of Indian music.
The tanpura in its current form is not seen in Mughal miniature
paintings, though the manner of holding other string instruments
over the shoulderin which position it would be difficult
to achieve any fretting of stringssuggests possibly an earlier
version of a drone instrument to accompany singing.
or swaramandala (literally, "temple of notes")
is a zither-like instrument of many strings; the strings are tuned
to the raga being performed and are strummed in sequence to created
a kind of shimmering background effect, though individual notes
may be plucked as well. Illustrations of this instrument may be
found in Mughal miniature painting.
Brian Q. Silver