Instruments

Violin

In South Indian music, the violin can function as either the lead voice or as an accompaniment. It is identical in construction to the western violin, however it is tuned in two ascending sets of perfect fifths (do sol, do sol.) The pitch of do is moveable, according to individual preference or, if accompanying, the soloists requirement. Players anchor the scroll with one foot in order to facilitate the very rapid hand/arm movements which characterize South Indian violin playing. These movements, called gamakas, imitate an expressive shake, or embellishment, vocalists produce to emphasize certain notes in a raga.

Mridangam

The mridangam is a barrel-shaped percussion instrument made from a hollowed-out block of wood with a drumhead on each end. The right head is smaller than the left and is tuned to the main note, or do. The drumheads are fashioned from overlapping layers of skin, stretched with leather straps that run along the sides of the body. Each head produces a different tone. The pitch is adjusted by moving small wooden cylinders between the drum and the leather straps to increase or decrease tension on the heads. A patch of iron filings is placed on the higher drum; a patch of rice flour on the lower. The player can produce an array of different sounds using various finger striking techniques.

Tambura

The tambura, a drone instrument, is an essential part of every classical concert, North or South Indian. Players usually sit behind the main artist so he/she can constantly hear the drone. The number of strings varies from four to six, tuned to the pitches, do and sol in various octaves. Fine silk threads called jiva are carefully positioned between the bridge and the strings in order to enhance the effect of ringing overtones. Nowadays some artists use the electronic version of the tambura.

Saraswati Veena

The Saraswati veena (also spelled Saraswati vina) is an Indian plucked string instrument. It is named after the Hindu goddess Saraswati, who is usually depicted holding or playing the instrument. Also known as raghunatha veena it is used mostly in Carnatic Indian classical music. There are several variations of the veena, which in its South Indian form is a member of the lute family. An artist who plays the veena is referred to as a vainika. It is one of the three other major types of veena popular today. The others include vichitra veena and rudra veena. Out of these the rudra and vichitra veenas are used in Hindustani music, while the Saraswati veena is used in the Carnatic music. more

Notable Vainikas

  • Veenai Ranganayaki Rajagopalan
  • Manchala Jagannadha Rao
  • Prashanth Iyengar
  • Veenai Dhanammal
  • Emani Sankara Sastry
  • Jayanthi Kumaresh
  • Madurai Shanmugavadivu
  • Chitti Babu
  • Punya Srinivas
  • Rugmini Gopalakrishnan
  • S. Balachander
  • N. Ravikiran
  • Doraiswamy Iyengar
  • Kalpakam Swaminathan
  • Prince Rama Varma
  • Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer
  • K.S. Narayanaswamy
  • Nirmala Rajasekar
  • Veene Sheshanna
  • Revathy Krishna
  • Veena Srinivas
  • Veena Venkatagiriappa
  • Rajeshwari Padmanabhan
  • Sujana Vadlamani
  • Veena R Pitchumani Iyer
  • E. Gayathri
  • Jaysri-Jeyaraaj
  • Vasa Krishnamurthy
  • Kaza Subhashini Sastry
  • Vijay Venkateshwar Inala

Gottuvadhyam

The gottuvadhyam (also known as gottuvadyam, chitra veena, chitraveena, chitra vina, chitravina, or mahanataka vina, is a Carnatic string instrument played mainly in South India. It is usually used as a solo instrument in Carnatic music. It resembles the Saraswati veena in its general form. It is a complicated ancient instrument with twenty-one strings. Unlike the traditional veena or sitar, it is fretless. The fretless nature of the instrument makes it the closest instrument to reproduce sounds to a vocal standard. There are six main strings used for melody that pass over the top of the instrument, three drone strings, and about twelve sympathetic strings running parallel and below the main strings.

The approach to tuning is in some ways similar to the sitar; in other ways it is similar to the Saraswati veena, but in many ways it is unique. It is played with a slide in a manner somewhat like a lap steel guitar. The fingers on the right hand are usually used with plectra to pluck the metal melody strings while a cylindrical block made out of hardwood (often ebony), water buffalo horn, glass, steel, or recently, teflon held in the left hand is used to slide along the strings. Appropriately, the name gottuvadhyam literally means “block instrument.”

The gottuvadhyam was popularised in South India by Sakharam Rao of Tiruvidaimarudur. It was later taken up and further popularised by Narayana Iyengar, who was a palace musician of the old state of Mysore. Sangita Kalanidhi Budalur Krishnamurthi Sastrigal was a noteable exponent. Chitravina N. Ravikiran (b. 1967) is the most prominent artist of the current age, and is the inventor of a variant, the navachitravina. Seetha Doraiswamy plays the Balakokil, a smaller version of the Chitraveena.

Notable Gottuvadhyam Vidwans

  • Tiruvidaimarudur Sakharama Rao
  • Kodaganallur Subbayya Bhagavatar
  • Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar
  • Budalur Krishnamurthy Shastri
  • A Narayana Iyer
  • Mannargudi Savithri Ammal
  • Allam Koteeshwara Rao
  • Chitravina N Narasimhan
  • Chitravina N Ravikiran
  • Chitravina P Ganesh
  • Allam Durgaprasad
  • Kiranavali Vidyasankar
  • Vishal Sapuram
  • Gayathri Kassebaum
    (nee Budalur Krishnamurthy Shastri )

Nadaswaram or Nagaswaram

The nadaswaram, also called nagaswaram, is one of the most popular classical musical instruments in the South Indian culture. It is arguably the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic instrument. It is a wind instrument similar to the North Indian shehnai but larger, with a hardwood body and a large flaring bell made of wood or metal.

In South Indian Hindu culture, the nadaswaram is considered to be very auspicious, and played in almost all Hindu weddings and temple festivals of the South Indian tradition. It is part of the family of instruments known as a Mangala Vadya (lit. mangala : auspicious, vadya:instrument). The instrument is usually played in pairs, and accompanied by a pair of drums called thavil.

The nadaswaram contains three parts namely, kuzhal, thimiru, and anasu. Traditionally the body of the nadaswaram is made out of a tree called aacha. It is a double reed instrument with a conical bore which gradually enlarges toward the lower end. It is usually made of a type of ebony. The top portion has a metal staple (called Mel Anaichu) into which is inserted a small metallic cylinder (called Kendai) which carries the mouthpiece made of reed. Besides spare reeds, a small ivory or horn needle is attached to the Nadaswaram. This needle is used to clear the reed of saliva and other debris and allows free passage of air. A metallic bell (called Keezh anaichu) forms the bottom end of the instrument.

The Nadaswaram has seven finger-holes. There are five additional holes drilled at the bottom which are used as controllers. The Nadaswaram has a range of two and a half octaves like the flute. The system of fingering is similar to that of the Indian flute. But unlike the flute where semi and quarter tones are produced by the partial opening and closing of the finger holes, in the Nadaswaram they are produced by adjusting the pressure and strength of the air-flow into the pipe. Hence it is a very exacting instrument. Also, due to its intense volume and strength it is basically an outdoor instrument and much more suited for open spaces than for closed indoor concert situations.

Notable Nadaswaram Vidwans

  • Thiruvavadudurai Rajaratnam Pillai
  • Thiruvengadu Subramania Pillai
  • Sangita Kalanidi Thiruvizhimizhalai Subrahmanya Pillai
  • Thiruveezhimizhalai Brothers
  • Keeranur Brothers
  • Semponnarkoil Brothers
  • Thiruvidaimaruthur P.S. Veerusami Pillai
  • Dharumapuram A. Govindarajan
  • Namagiripettai Krishnan
  • Karukurichi Arunachalam
  • Sangita Kalanidhi Sheik Chinna Moulana
  • Madurai brothers
  • Thiruvarur S Latchappa Pillai
  • Sheik Mahaboob Subhani
  • Subhan Kasim and Subhan Babu
  • Sembanarkovil Brothers

Venu (bamboo flute)

The venu (Sanskrit: वेणु; veṇu) is a bamboo transverse flute used in the Carnatic music of South India. Although it is often called Carnatic flute or simply flute in English, venu is the instrument’s ancient Sanskrit name. It is also called by various other names in the languages of South India, including pullankuzhal in Tamil (koLalu) in Kannada. It is known as pillana grovi in Telugu (Andhra Pradesh). It is called Bansuri in Marathi (Maharashtra), and is used extensively for Hindustani classical music.

One of the oldest musical instruments of India, the instrument is a keyless transverse flute made of bamboo. The fingers of both hands are used to close and open the holes. It has a blowing hole near one end, and eight closely placed finger holes. The instrument comes in various sizes.The venu is associated with the god Krishna, who is often depicted playing it. This kind of flute is mainly used in South India.

The venu is capable of producing two and half octaves with the help of overblowing and cross fingering. The flute is like the human voice in that it is monophonous and also has the two and half octaves sound reproduction. Sliding the fingers on and off the holes allows for a great degree of ornamentation, important in the performance of raga-based music. Wax is used to mellow the pitch and create some of the gamakas.

Notable Flautists

  • Palladam Sanjiva Rao
  • H. Ramachandra Shastry
  • T. R. Mahalingam
  • B.N. Suresh
  • Sangita Kalanidhi T. Viswanathan
  • T K Radhakrishnan
  • T A Hariharan
  • Cochin Ranganathan
  • Prapancham Seetharaman
  • Sangita Kalanidhis Sikkil Kunjumani & Neela
  • Sangeetha Kalanidhi Dr. N. Ramani
  • Sikkil Mala Chandrasekar
  • T. S. Sankaran
  • S. Shashank

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