Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

The ‘Percussion from India’ series was started in November 2013 as a follow-up to the ‘Instruments from India’ series, which talked of melody instruments. The first two parts of the new series, which aims to features drums commonly used in India, spoke of the tabla. The third part talked of double-headed drums like the mridangam, pakhawaj and dhol, and the fourth part talked of Carnatic instruments besides the mridangam – namely, ghatam, kanjira and morsing.

In this concluding part of the series, we shall look at some other drums commonly used in India. Of course, there are numerous other percussion instruments used in different types of folk and devotional music, but here, we shall stick to the most common ones.

In this series, I shall not go into too many technicalities and playing styles, unless really necessary. I shall focus on how the instrument is used in different genres. The instruments mentioned below may not have any renowned maestros, like we have in tabla and mridangam. Yet, there are talented players across the country.

INDIAN music is so diverse that one finds different kinds of percussion instruments in different geographical regions and genres. While the tabla, pakhawaj and dhol are the most popular in the north, and the mridangam, ghatam and kanjira in the south, one finds many other instruments that are used in specific forms of music.

Let’s take a look at some of them:


Manjira: A traditional pair of cymbals, the manjira has found plenty of use in devotional bhajans. Besides being played in temples, they are also played during home recitals or in Mumbai’s local trains.

Manjiras are usually made of bronze, brass, copper, zinc or bell metal. They produce a tinkling sound when struck together. Based on their size, weight and the material used, their pitch can be varied.

In his bhajan recitals, vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was often accompanied by a manjira player.

Kartal: They are a pair of wooden blocks or frames with small metal jingles mounted in them. They are simply beaten together to provide a rhythmic support to bhajans, kirtan, folk and other light music. The term kartal is also applied to wooden claves.

One often finds kartal players in Rajasthani folk and Sufi music, with the player usually bouncing on stage in an effervescent manner.

Jal tarang: This is a set of China bowls that are filled with water. Each bowl is struck with a light wooden mallet to cause it to ring. Jal tarang is not very common and is normally found in the accompaniment of kathak dancers.

George Harrison played the jal tarang on the title track of his 1982 album ‘Gone Troppo’. In India, Seethalakshmi Doraiswamy is an accomplished player.

Chenda: It is a drum from Kerala and parts of coastal Karnataka. The chenda is mainly played in Hindu temple festivals and as an accompaniment in the religious art forms of Kerala. It is used as an accompaniment for Kathakali, Koodiyattam, Kannyar Kali, Theyyam and among many forms of dances and rituals in Kerala.

The Karnataka version, known as chende, is also used in the dance drama known as Yaksha Gana. It has heads on both ends but only one side is played.


Daf or dafli: The word ‘dafli’ became popular with the song ‘Dafli waale’ from the Rishi Kapoor-Jayaprada film ‘Sargam’. It is basically a tambourine, similar to the kanjira of south Indian music but much broader in that it can even have a two feet diameter.

It is commonly used in folk music but is rarely heard in other styles.

Tasha: The tasha is a popular folk instrument of the kettle drum variety. It is characterised by a very shallow metal shell, and is is played with drumsticks. It is extremely popular in marriage procession bands.

Nagada: Another form of kettle drum, they are 1 or 2 feet in diameter, and played with sticks. One often finds it as an accompaniment to shehnai.

Tumbak: The tumbak is basically an Indian version of the goblet drum. One finds it mainly in Kashmiri folk, and it is similar to foreign instruments like dumbek, darbouka and djembe.

Talking of the djembe, though it is actually an African instrument, Zakir Hussain’s brother Taufiq Qureshi has modified it in such a way that he plays Indian rhythms on it.


Ghunghroo: A very familiar instrument as it is used with dance in the form of anklets tied to the dancer’s feet. The ‘Chor Machaye Shor’ hit ‘Ghunghroo ki tarah’ and the Pankaj Udhas song ‘Ghunghroo toot gaye’ made them a household word.

The ‘ghunghroo’ evolved from the payal, which are basically anklets. However, to produce a rhythmic sound, special anklets were created and named ‘ghunghroo’.

In sum: As mentioned, India has a vast range of percussion instruments, used in different types of folk music, devotional music, classical music, film music and dance. It would be ideal to enjoy these instruments at live concerts.

This brings us to the end of the series on percussion instruments. If readers have any queries regarding any other rare percussion instrument I have missed out, do write. If I get the right information, will be happy to send it across.


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