India’s rich cultural heritage has given us some of the most amazing yet unique musical instruments. It is often said that when words fail, music speaks and these instruments are proof of that. From different parts of the country, and from different cultures - here are 10 unique musical instruments you’ll only see in India.
Pepa is a hornpipe instrument made from the horn of a buffalo. It’s an important musical instrument from Assam, particularly used during the Bihu dance. It is usually played by a young Bihuwas (a male Bihu artist) and is often compared to a flute. The pepa has different names in different tribal communities of Assam - Pempa, Xuri, Singra and some even call it Pepati.
Pakhawaj is a barrel-shaped, two-headed drum, which is also known as mridang. Though it looks like a dholak, it’s tuned in the same way as a tabla. A percussion instrument, the pakhawaj has a mellow tone. It’s used as an accompaniment with different forms of music and dance performances.
Padayani Thappu is a frame drum with wooden rims and leather walls on one side. This instrument is played by hand, unlike parai thappu, which is played with sticks. Padayani is a ritual dance of Kerala and the thappu is used as an accompaniment. It creates percussive music rhythmically and is a treat to the ears.
This instrument is a popular local instrument found in Punjab and Rajasthan. It has been adopted by Sindhi and Balochi musicians and is used in the genres of Jugni, Jind Mahi and Mirza. It looks like two flutes combined and is played by using three fingers on each side.
Sursingar is an instrument that is quite similar to sarod and the name means ‘embellishment of melody’. In terms of size, it is larger than the sarod and produces a deeper sound. It is made from wood or leather and its neck has a metal fingerboard. The strings of this instrument are played with a metal plectrum, while the bridge is made of a flat horn.
A gubguba is a percussion string instrument and it either has dried gourd or wooden resonator through which a gut string is attached. When this instrument is played, its body is held by the player below their arm and the free end of the string in the fist of the same hand. The string is plucked by a plectrum in the other hand.
Kuzhal is a double-reed instrument used in the temples of Kerala. It is supposed to have a shrill sound and is often compared to a nadaswaram. It looks like a shehnai and so a lot of people have confusion between the two instruments. The kuzhal is commonly played at temple festivals.
Udukai is a membranophone instrument from Tamil Nadu. It is used by folk musicians and is similar to other Indian hourglass drums, and has a small noose stretched over one side. The udakai is played with the hand and its pitch and tempo can be altered by pressuring the lacing in the middle. The damru that Lord Shiva holds in his hands is also referred to as udukai.
Sambal is a drum-like musical instrument from Western India. It consists of two drums attached together and one drum has a higher pitch than the other. With skin heads stretched on the top of each drum, this instrument looks a lot like tabla.
As the name suggests, this instrument is believed to have its origin among the Hela people of Sri Lanka during the reign of King Ravana. It is an ancient stringed instrument, used in parts of India, Sri Lanka, and areas around these two countries. It is also known as the ancestor of the violin.