India - Wind Musical Instruments

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

Wind Musical Instruments

The Harmonium is a keyboard musical instrument, with the wind being supplied by the bellows. Even though it has its origin in the west, the Harmonium has a permanent place among Bengali musical instruments since the late nineteenth century. It looks like a box.

It is played by pumping the air inside the instrument with the help of built-in bellows. There is a reedboard inside with metal reeds arranged based on the seventh diatonic scale of musical notes. The air that is pumped with the help of the bellows strikes the reeds, and musical notes emerge.

The keyboard comprises black and white keys. The white keys are for pure notes and the blacks ones are for soft ones. However, this is not applicable if the scale is changed. During its initial stages, the harmonium was made in the diatonic scale for use in the west. Now, the diatonic scale was changed into an equally tempered scale.

As the keys of the harmonium are arranged in a particular scale, one need not compose a tune to present a song. So it is easy to learn and use. It is probably for the same reason that the harmonium has become very popular.

At present, the harmonium has become an indispensable and popular accompanying instrument for vocalists. There are different kinds of harmoniums in use. They are the Coppler Harmonium, the Box Harmonium, the Scale Change Harmonium, the Single Bellows Harmonium, the Double Bellows Harmonium, and the English Bellows Harmonium. It was in Kolkata that the Harmonium was first used in Bengal.

The Flute is one of the celebrated musical instruments of India. It has many names such as the bansuri, the venu, the vamshi, the kuzhal, and the murali. The flute was used in the Vedic period. It is the favourite instrument of Lord Krishna.

In ancient India, flute was commonly used in the religious music of the Buddhists. It is used both as an accompaniment to vocal music and also as a part of instrumental ensembles. It is a cylindrical tube made of bamboo with uniform bore and closed at one end. The lengths and number of holes vary from one flute to the other.

There is a mouth hole in every flute apart from six to eight holes arranged in a straight line. The range of the flute is about 21/2 octaves. Long flutes have a rich, deep and mellow tone whereas in small flutes the tone is high pitched. It is handled in an oblique position and air is blown with the upper lip into the main hole.

Different octaves are produced by covering the holes with the fingers. The player can produce any interval by opening or closing the available holes with his fingers. The bamboo vertical flutes used in north India are longer than the horizontal flutes used in the south.

The most notable artist of the flute in India is Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasya.

Nagaswaram and Shehnai
The Nagaswaram and the Shehnai are the two important wind instruments of South and North India respectively. They are referred as the Mangala Vadhyas which are the auspicious instruments and are close to the lives of ordinary people.

The Nagaswaram is also called as the melam, the nadaswaram and the olaga. It forms an integral part of temple music and plays an important role in the Carnatic music.

It is a double-reeded instrument with a conical bore that flares out towards the bottom end. It usually consists of twelve holes of which the upper seven are used for playing. Wax is applied on the other holes for brahma swaram to regulate the pitch.

The reed is fixed on a metal staple and mounted on the top. The length of nagaswaram varies from 2 to 2½ feet. Its body is usually made of ebony wood with a metallic bell called keezh anaichu at the end. It is made of wood and is covered with silver or gold.

The spare reeds and an ivory needle, with which the reeds are cleansed and adjusted, are attached to the mouth piece of the nagaswaram. There are two varieties of the nagaswaram. The big nagaswaram is usually called the bari type and the other is called the timiri type.

The music played on the nagaswaram is usually of a pure and serious type having great volume and power. It is believed that the nagaswaram evolved from the snake charmer's Pungi. It is accompanied by a loud percussion instrument called thavil.

The Sur petti and the ottu are the other traditional accompaniments of the nagaswaram.

The famous nagaswaram artists are Sheikh Chinna Maulana and Thiruvizha Jayashankar.

The Shehnai is one of the India's most ancient instruments. It is also considered auspicious and is played on all festive occasions in India. Although it is referred to as a double-reeded instrument it is actually a quadruple-reed instrument.

It is believed to be of Persian origin. Its body is a wooden tube that is narrow at the blowing end and gradually widens towards the other end. The wider end is fitted with a brass bell, known as Pyala. A shehnai is usually one-and-a-half to two feet in length. It is blown through a reed mouthpiece made of pala grass.

The notes it produces are continuous and generally used in classical and light classical music. It is always accompanied by a drone instrument.

The drum that accompanies the shehnai is called Naqqara.

Ustad Bismillah Khan was the famous Shehnai artist who was responsible for making the Shehnai so popular. Even Anant Lal popularised it as a concert instrument.

The pungi or bin is a popular snake charmer’s instrument. It was originally developed in Indian folk music. It is also important for religious purposes and music in India. The word pungi means the tube.

It is made of bottle gourd, which has been dried. Two holes are made, one at the top and one at the bottom.

At the top of the gourd, a piece of reed or marsh plant with a ½ inch diameter and a length of 2 ½ inches are stuck into the top hole. This reed or marsh plant is called the jivala, which resembles a flute.

The jivala is seven inches long with seven holes along its shaft. There is an upper flap that is cut into the node. The jivala is fitted with beeswax to resemble a flute. Later, this is fitted tightly in the upper hole of the light bulb shaped gourd.

It is possible to get a high and low tone from the pungi by adjusting the control of the beeswax.

By closing the hole of the jivala will get a low tone and by opening the holes of the jivala will get a high tone.


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