4 Folk Musical Instruments in India

December 18, 2019

North

Algoza  

The alghoza is a wooden musical instrument comprised of two beak flute pipes which are held together loosely by the hand or by a string. This instrument is part of the Baloch, Sindhi, Kutchi, Rajasthani and Punjabi folk culture. What's interesting is that the two flute pipes are considered as a couple - the longer one being the male and the shorter one the female. The num­ber of holes for each also vary. One of the flutes has 6-7 holes and takes the lead with the melody while the other flute complements with a drone adding more depth to the music.

They say that swimmers need a great set of lungs but this musical instrument takes it to a whole new level. The player would inhale air from the nose and simultaneously divide it into two parts, half into lungs and the remaining into the flute. The continuous and quick recapturing of breath creates the beat - a bouncing, swinging rhythm. They say that even a skilled musician can only play for half an hour intervals.

Music back in the day was more often than not, a comforting pastime - that used to bring people together and help the musician also let go of his laborious day. This musical instrument was the rural agriculturalists’ favourite. In the evenings they would sing ballads and express stories and create bonds. Today, because this skill takes a lot of practice and patience to master, yet provides little or no financial benefit the younglings have strayed away from learning it.  

Here is a musician who is keeping folk music and their enchanting stories alive through his passionate renditions.  


South

Gottuvadyam

Gottuvadyam or Chitra Vina (as it is called today) is an elegant long-necked stringed instrument - an important part of the Karnatak music tradition of India. It is a rare thing to see this instrument performed live today, but you could catch a few performances in parts of south India


While the tuning of the instrument is similar to the sitar and it looks identical to the Saraswati veena, the intricacies of the instruments are much much more complex, taking several years of constant patience and persistence to master. It is also unique in the sound and compositions it produces. The instrument has a total of twenty-one strings and no frets - 6 main melody strings on the top, 3 drone strings and 12 sympathetic strings that run parallelly below. The player needs to imagine the space of the notes while playing which is quite tough.


The Chitra Vina is meant to be placed on the ground/flat surface while playing unlike the Saraswati veena. The right hand will hold plectra to pluck the steel/brass strings that are tied to the nagapasha one end and to the bidge on the other producing the tension needed for the melody. While the left-hand holds on to a cylindrical block made of ebony, water buffalo horn, glass, steel or teflon, sliding it along the strings to vary the pitch.


Physically the kodam acts as the main resonator supported by the dandi - the long hollow neck and the smaller kodam. For aesthetic reasons the head, vali, will be decorated with ivory or animal horn. If you do hear of a solo performance in your area - be sure not to miss it!

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Experience the music of this elegant instrument through the mastery of this young prodigy.


West

Ghumat

This an ancient pumpkin-like percussion instrument which is truly made of the earth, as they use unglazed clay to craft the main body with two mouths -  one is wide while the other is more narrow. The wider mouth is traditionally crafted with monitor lizard skin a secured with cotton string. In the 70s the monitor lizards were officially noted as a protected species which led to this instrument nearly disappearing but after some research, it was replaced with the goat or sheepskin.


The beats of this boisterous instrument is memorable for the Goan community. Its lively deep drumming brings in the Ganesh festival and gets everyone in a spirit to celebrate. You will see players adorning colourful clothes and holding the Ghumat up by suspending it from their necks or tying it to their waist. This amazing instrument is not limited to this festival or the Hindus but it also common among Christian weddings and affairs. A true example of how music of any kind even instruments are so inclusive of everyone.


To play this seemingly easy instrument, players will strike the larger covered the surface with their hands to make a rhythm. Skilled players though will also have practised how to manipulate the sound by partly or fully closing the small opening at the bottom. They will also run by instinct and know when and how to change the pitch - by adding moisture or heat to the skin.

Here is a group who hold the spirit of the drums.



East

Pena

This creatively created visually and musically pleasing instrument belongs to the Meetei community of Manipur. It is known as tingtelia in the Tangkhul language and is believed to be a luxurious instrument played at the royal gatherings in the king's days. They would be accompanied by melodious vocals singing the 'Lairon-isheis' (songs about deities) and songs about high philosophical ideas and teachings. Every posture and movement of the player has meaning because the Pena is also said to speak of traditional healing practices, martial arts and evolutionary theories of the Meiteis.


This instrument itself consists of two parts. The main body, penamasa, is similar to the violin but the bow, pena cheijing, looks more like an archery bow.


The main body of the instrument crafted by taking a length of bamboo (10 to 11 inches long) and passing it through a half coconut shell. Two holes are further drilled into the coconut shell to complete the instrument. One is covered by dried animal skin (iguana skin) and the other is left open. The tension in the strings is controlled by a piece, Kaan, fitted inside a hole drilled on the bamboo piece.


The second part of the instrument is wooden and has a curved end made out of metal. Some cheerful versions have tiny metal bells fitted there and a scroll, mogra, tied to the instrument. Lastly, the strings are traditionally made out of horsehair (wood fibre and metal strings are also a few substitutes).


Today, this beautiful instrument is performed by very few masters both as solo performances or in groups during the Lai Haraoba festivals. The Aseiba ojas (Pena players) brings nostalgia and joy when they play it to accompany the chorus songs as the crowds clap to keep the rhythm alive for the dancers.

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Here is a multi-talented artiste - one of his talents  is playing this lovely instrument and preserving its harmony through in today's modern age.