Kushal Das - Sitar
Kushal Das - Sitar

The Sitar

The sitar is primarily a further development of the veena, in which the second sounding body is smaller or entirely absent. It is made out of a pumpkin and a bridge of ebony. Unlike the veena, its trusses are adjustable. Below the trusses run up to 20 bordun strings, which award the instrument's play its characteristic twanging sound rich in overtones. Since the main strings run only over the left half of the trusses, they can be pulled more or less tightly over the right half while playing them, by which a sliding of most subtle nuances in tonal pitch of up to three whole steps is possible. Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Vilayat Khan have helped this Northern Indian stringed instrument to almost mystical popularity over 50 years with their outstanding music. Particularly in the West it is widely considered today to be THE music instrument of India.

Prominent sitarists:

Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee (1931-1986), Ustad Shahid Parves, Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee, Kushal Das



Biswajit Roy Chowdhury - Sarode
Biswajit Roy Chowdhury
- Sarode

The Sarode

The sarode is the male counterpart of the sitar. It is crafted of a piece of teak wood. The sounding body is covered with goat fur, the bridge loricated with a steel plate. It is stringed with 4 molody strings and 17 resonating strings but does not have any trusses. Of musical significance are the meends (sliding tones), which the musician creates by gliding his finger nails back and forth over the vibrating strings. The sarode is played with a plectrum of coconut and possesses the greatest pitch range of all Indian stringed instruments.

Prominent sarode players:

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Aashish Khan, Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta, Pandit Partho Sarathy, Pandit Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, Pandit Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, Anindya Banerjee



Pandit Ronu Majumdar - Bansuri
Pt. Ronu Majumdar
- Bansuri

The Bamboo Flute (Bansuri)

The bansuri is one of the oldest and most original instruments. It is suited for playing sonorous, soft and protracted tones that have a calming effect and a longing note to them. In many cultures the flute is ascribed magical significance. Thus, in Indian mythology it is associated with Lord Krishna, who as a sheperd's child filled the forests of Vrindaban with soulful melodies at night. The richness of refined nuances in tone pitch is accomplished through a subtle blowing technique and gradual covering of the 7 to 8 grip holes, which requires decades of practice, though. The flutist possesses several bamboo flutes for different pitches, which he sometimes even interchanges during the course of a Raga.

Prominent bansuri players:

Pandit Pannalal Ghosh, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Ronu Majumdar



Photo of Santoor by Elke Weinert

The Santoor (Shatatantri Vina)

The santoor is a dulcimer-like, lovely bell-sounding stringed instrument, which is hit or picked with one or two sledges of walnut wood. It consists of a trapezoid wooden sounding body, over which 25 to 30 string groups with four strings each are tightened. Two of four respective strings are tuned identically, and its sound spectrum comprises more than three octaves. The Santoor played today stems from Persia, from where it found its way to India in the fifteenth century. A prototype of this stringed instrument, the Shatatantree Veena (lit. hundred-stringed Veena), however, is said to come from the Himalaya and to have its origin already in the Vedic culture (around 3000 B.C.).

Since it is only possible with difficulty to glide through the tonal intervals when playing this instrument, generally it is considered a less typical instrument of Indian Classical Music. Only after Pandit Shivkumar Sharma had altered his instrument and modified the stringing he was able to play his first classical instrument in Mumbai in 1955. This came close to a revolution because until then the Santoor was used as an accompanying instrument for song or in folklore. Pandit Shivkumar Sharma developed a highly refined art of striking the strings, which makes most refined differentiations possible with minutest vibrating movements from string to string and through subtle play of the transitions and ornamentations in delicate pianissimo. Since then the Santoor has become a popular instrument both in India and in the West, on which mostly cheerful Ragas are played.

In order to be able to play the meends (gliding tunes) in a better way, Pandit Tarun Bhattacharya later equipped his instrument additionally with thicker strings, which he then picks with one hand predominantly during alaap while shortening them with the other hand as they vibrate. This modification means, as he says, a further step on the way towards the shatatantri veena described in classical texts. Over and above, Pandit Tarun Bhattacharya developed a technique to tune the more than one hundred strings of his instrument in a quick and uncomplicated procedure.

Prominent santoor players:

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Tarun Bhattacharya, Pandit Bhajan Sopori



Photo of tabla by Elke Weinert

The Tabla

The table is today the most important drum type. It consists of two separate drums that are always played in pairs: A small wooden, cylindrical dayan for the right hand and a metallic, timbal-shaped bayan for the left hand. On the Bayan the metric basic rhythm is given, while on the Dayan the variations are played. A so-called sound paste, a mixture of flour and pitch, is applied on the drumhead of both drums, which promotes the purity of the sound.

Prominent tabla players:

Ustad Alla Rakha, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Anindo Chatterjee, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Pandit Kumar Bose, Ustad Sabir Khan, Bikram Ghosh, Subhankar Banerjee, Abhijit Banerjee

German Tabla Portal



Photo of tanpura by Elke Weinert

The Tanpoora

The tanpoora serves in Indian classical concerts as a background instrument. Its 4 or 5 strings are played in a consistent sequence. In this way it creates a hardly perceivable sound atmosphere that carries the melodies of the Ragas. To generate the characteristic silvery buzzing sound a little thread is inserted at the contact point between the strings and the bridge. In larger tanpooras the resonating body often consists of a pumpkin as in the sitar. An additional sound enhancement is accomplished through the hollow bridge made of exotic wood, mostly teak. To cope with the different pitches, there are tanpooras in various sizes for instrumental music, female and male song. Nowadays, the manual tanpoora is at times replaced by an electronic one.

Classification of Instruments

Wind Instruments

(bamboo flute)


(double flute)

Stringed Instruments


Sitar, Surbahar

Sarode, Sursringar




Rhythm Instruments



Jhalra, Jhang, Tali

(singing bowl)