14 Indian musical instruments like Sitar, Sarangi with sounds

1Shruti Box
2Tamburi or Tanpura
6Rudra Veena
9Sur Shringar

India is known for its diversity. In fact, the name India is a recent name given to us by the Britishers. India came from the word Indus which in turn was derived from the word Sindhu, the original Sanskrit name of one of the ancient rivers of India. There is another name for India, that is Bharata. A resonance of music can be found in this name. We can expand Bharata as follows:

BhaBhavathe emotional part of the song
RaRagathe tune, which is a mixture of notes (or Swaras)
TaTalathe beats, on which the raga stands

If there is a balance among the three, on which the whole nation stands, there will be an understanding and respect for the diversity, observed in every nook and corner of this nation.

There are different forms of music, among which the classical status is given to the two main versions. 

  1. Carnatic
  2. Hindustani

To know about the difference between these, please watch the below video.

The purpose of these two types is different. While Hindustani music came into existence on the main purpose of entertainment, Carnatic music’s existence is pure devotion. Let us not go too deep into the history and purpose. 

Any type of classical music, Hindustani, Carnatic or Western, has seven basic notes that form an octave. However, Hindustani and Western classical are closely bound with respect to the special notes. There are twelve of them in both of these. Whereas in Carnatic, there are twenty-two notes altogether that can only be played in separate types of instruments like Veena, Flute, Violin, etc. that support it.

Since Hindustani and Western Classical have the same number of notes, the instruments used in Western Classical can be used directly in Hindustani, like Harmonium, Piano, Guitar, etc. To play in Carnatic, there is a need for the instruments to have those extra notes that it demands. 

Let us see in this article the varied types of instruments that each of these classical boosts of. 

As we discussed before, Carnatic was purely created for the purpose of devotion. If you listen to the songs composed in Carnatic, you will get the hang of it. Because this is the main purpose of Carnatic, the instruments should support this very purpose. This is very evident from the list that we are going to read further on. Of course, there are many common instruments that are used in both the classical forms of music. We will go through the instruments on the basis of their classification.

1. Shruti Box

Shruti Box

Shruti is the smallest interval of pitch that the human ear can detect or a musical instrument can produce. Shruti is different from Swara. Swaras are a part of Shruti. Before a song is sung, the Shruti is played. The instrument or voice should be in unison with the Shruti, that is selected prior to helping tune the voice or an instrument.

Before the advent of Shruti Box (now having an electronics variant), Tambura was used for this purpose. When the voice or any other instrument is in unison with the Shruti Box, it results in resonance, as the frequencies match. This, as directed by the musical giants, is a way to start singing, singing in unison with the matched frequency of the Shruti.

The instrument used for this purpose is called as Shruti Pettige in Kannada, Shruti Petti in Tamil and Telugu, and Sur Peti in Hindi, all sounding similar, derived from Sanskrit.

2. Tamburi or Tanpura

Tambura Tanpura

This is an instrument that has a round-shaped bowl, based on an elongated tube on which necessary strings are attached, making it a string instrument. The bowl is usually from ten inches to one and a half feet wide. It does not play tunes, nor does it help in beats. It just supports the overall harmony of the performance in creating a chord that is continuously sounded throughout. Hence it is used as an accompaniment, which is also called a drone.


It is rested vertically on the thigh on one side, held in both hands. One of the hands supports the tube containing the strings from below. The other hand plays the string producing the required drone sound that resonated and makes a base for voice and other instruments.


We see that this is used mostly by people with intentions of singing devotionally. This was being played by singers like Tulsidas, Purandaradasa, Tyagaraja, including sages like Narada Maharshi if you go back into history. All this clearly indicates that this was a simple instrument that was played by people from the Bhakti Movement. 

These two are the main basic instruments that are common across Indian classical music that form a basic set of functions, complementing each other.

The advanced instruments can be classified into

  1. String Instruments
  2. Wind Instruments

String Instruments

There are several types of string instruments in both Hindustani and Carnatic. There are further different variants from 

3. Veena


The southern Veena is one of the major instruments that is used in Carnatic. This is the instrument that Goddess Saraswati, who happens to be the goddess of knowledge is known to be holding. Being a string instrument, it is known for its earnestness. 


Having a large body hollowed out of a block of wood, It is rested horizontally on the thigh on one side, held in both hands. One of the hands supports the tube containing the strings from the bottom. The other hand plays the string producing notes.


The notes produced depends on both the string tightness and its length. Index and middle finger play the four strings primarily, while the ring and little fingers play the other three strings as drones and for the rhythmic accompaniment, that adds to the beauty in the production of music. There are projection areas in the tube that is designated to a Swara. When this is rubbed using the other hand the exact Swara can be produced.

4. Sitar


This is a variant of Veena which is used exclusively in Hindustani. This variant of Veena is a lot different. It looks stylish and has a smaller base than that of Veena. The base resembles the shape of a tortoise. Therefore Sitar was also called Kachchawa. Further, the name Kachchapi was given to one of the versions of Veena later, for this same reason.


Holding this is somewhat different. We can say that it is a combination of Veena and Tambura, due to the fact that it is held vertically.


The fingerboard is about three feet long. They are hollow and deeply concave. The board is about three inches wide. Metal frets are spread across the fingerboard, secured by pieces of the gut. Any scale can be produced with this arrangement. Initially started with three strings, now Sitar has a total number of seven strings. Like Veena, the other strings are used for the drone and rhythmic accompaniment. 

5. Violin

This is a very well known instrument adopted from western classical. Violin is a four-stringed instrument that can do magic among the listeners. It is said that a minister in Maratha kingdom of Thanjavur, Varahappayya, heard a piece of Violin from a European Band. He was the first to get attracted to the rich tonal quality of the Violin. His intervention to get the Violin into Carnatic music has made it possible to a host of listeners to get entertained.


Though it is a western instrument, it has been introduced into Carnatic music in a different style. Firstly, it is not tuned in accordance with western classical. Secondly, it is in unison with the styles of Carnatic, the most important thing is sitting on the floor and playing. The instrument is held by the player between the chest and the right heel. The left hand manages to operate the strings changing notes, while the right hand operates the bow.


It is a medium-sized instrument whose string will be facing up and the bow is used to play. The bow is rubbed against the string, which is when the Violin produces the necessary notes. The bow, when scratched against the strings will produce the note. Each string is a separate octave. The tighter the string the higher octave the string produces. 

6. Rudra Veena

Rudra Veena

This veena is an enlarged version of the classical Veena. It has a tube of length between fifty-four and sixty-two inches. Two very large resonators are attached as a support to the big lengthy Veena. This is said to have been played by Lord Shiva and hence the name Rudra Veena. 


To hold this is a magnificent thing. It is held like any other Veena, with the tube coming to the length almost of the heart making it easier to be played by the taller lot.


It works exactly the same way as that of a classical Veena. The difference is the magnitude. It’s very big and magnificent in a way that it depicts Rudra. Even the notes that emerge out of the fingers will sound majestic.

7. Ektara

Ek Tara


As the name indicates (Ek is one and tara is the thread), this instrument is built with a single string. It is one of the simplest instruments that serve as both drones as well as the rhythmic accompaniment to the wandering joculators. 


This can be held anyway. Horizontally, Vertically or Diagonally. In India, it is mostly held in the diagonal position. One hand will support the instrument by holding it from the bottom and the other from the top of the tube. The hand on the tube will pluck the string.


Since this is the simplest of all the string instruments out there, it is pretty easy to guess how it works. The string plucked from one of the hands generates notes. It is a precursor to the modern Veenas of both Hindustani and Carnatic.

8. Rabab



This is primarily used in Middle-east but has its Indian version used in Kashmir, Punjab, and Afghanistan. It is famous for its two bellies, the first one, the base, that extends till the tube. It is a combination of Guitar, Veena, and Violin. 


Rabab is held horizontally, such that one hand operates the strings like guitar and the other hand, the tube. The tube is not as long as it is in any of the other string instruments, instead, it resembles that of a guitar. 


The operational part of the Rabab is similar to that of a guitar. Fingers, on one hand, is used to operate the strings producing the notes. Sometimes even the finger caps are used to tap the strings to arrive at the notes. The second-hand rubs over through the tube and generates different notes from different strings.

9. Sur Shringar

Sur Shringar

This instrument is a combination of three instruments and is played in Hindustani. It dates back to the famous brothers – Pyar Khan, Jaffar Khan, and Basit Khan. They all flourished in the early part of the nineteenth century and are great musicians by themselves. They are known to be the descendants of Tansen, the last being the Mohammad Ali Khan. 


As opposed to most of the string instruments, this is neither held vertically or horizontally. It is held diagonally. So, the tube rests on the left shoulder and the fingers that play will be on the other hand, which is right in this case.


The Sur Shringar is a combination of three instruments as mentioned above.

1Mahati Veena
2Kachchapi Veena

A small base and the tube to which strings are attached are features of Mahati Veena. The board on which the fingers play is almost like Rabab, which is the version of this that the great Tansen played. And finally, the main body that resembles Kachchapi Veena.

10. Sarangi

Saranagi Instrument

An instrument that is used in Panjabi Dhadi Music and Hindustani Classical, is a bowed, short-necked instrument which is like a combination of Violin and Sitar. It is often credited to the sound that it produces, which is very close to the vocal sound. It resembles vocal sound so much so that it can imitate vocal ornaments such as Gamakam (the shaky sound) and meeds (the sliding movements). It is carved out of a single log of wood, which is its specialty.


The way it is placed on the thigh is very similar to that of how a violin is placed. Since the bow is used to play the strings using one hand, the other hand is used to handle the string. Having three hollow chambers like:


it is usually around two feet long and six inches wide. Goatskin is used to cover the lower parchment, which is the pet with a thick strip places around the waist.


Just like the holding part, which resembles the way that a violin is held, Sarangi’s operation is also very similar to that of the Violin.

Wind Instruments

11. Flute



Flute gets the credit of being one of the earliest musical instruments of India. It belongs to the wind category. Having various names such as:

  • Vamshi
  • Bansuri
  • Kuzhal
  • Venu and so on

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the flute is said to have been used in the Vedic period. It is one of the three celebrated instruments from India, the other two, Mridanga and Veena. 


It is just a cylindrical pipe with a few holes. It is held in many ways, mainly parallel to the ground. One hand on the holes from above and the other hand from the bottom, forming support.


This instrument, though it looks simple, is very complicated from an operational point of view. It is a combination of both the hands and the mouth. While the hands close and open a set of six holes in a fashion that produces the notes, the mouth has to simultaneously blow wind in another hole which will be kept under the mouth. The deeper the pressure in which the wind is blown, the higher will be the octave.

12. Nadaswaram


Music even to this date is an important part of temples and cultural institutions. There are music ensembles that are supported in the temples even today. There are special groups dedicatedly meant for this. One such instrument is Nadaswaram from the Carnatic, which is the same as the shehnai from Hindustani, though there is a major difference in the sound. 


This is held by both the hands, one of whose thumb finger acts as a support in holding the same. Fingers of the other hand are at the top of the pipe helping in covering the holes. Nadaswaram is a double reeded instrument with a conical shape at the end. It consists of twelve holes, with the first seven from the reed are for playing. The other five are called Brahma Swaram and are used to regulate the pitch. 

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By blowing wind into the reeds produce sound. To govern the sound in converting them into notes, the seven holes are used. A combination of designated holes produces the right music. The reed for Nadaswaram is available in the banks of the Kaveri River in South India. 

The difference between this and Shehnai is that the reed of Nadaswaram is fixed on a metal staple and mounted on the top, but, that of Shehnai is directly inserted into the hole of the blowing side. The reed quality differs since they are available in different places and the quality solely depends on what is available closest to the place.

13. Alghoza


This is a simple flute kind of an instrument that has four holes and the wind is blown from one of the ends of the cylinder. It is special to Punjab. Usually, Alghoza is played in pairs, that is two of them from the same mouth. When played this way, one of them acts as a drone and the other the actual notes. It will be a treat for the ears.

They are the exact same as flute, just that this has a lesser number of holes when compared to the regular one.

14. Shringa


Known by its Sanskrit name Shringa is popular in Hindustani. The Carnatic equivalent of this is Kombu, which is a Tamil Term. It has a longhorn more or less in Conical shaped tube ending in a large bell and having a funnel-shaped mouthpiece. It is in a literal sense, the horn of an animal. It is curved and was usually used to call for assemblies in ancient times. 


It is held in one hand from the bottom to support it from falling down. The other hand makes sure that it connects the pipe to the mouth.

It is a heavy instrument because of the materials used. All the notes cannot be played using this, therefore it cannot be used as a mainstream instrument, apart from being used in Functions, Festivals, etc.

Though just by looking at the instruments, it is not that easy to figure out which type of music does this belongs to, on a subtler level, it is not impossible, because, overall, it is all Indian music.

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