Instrumental Indian Music

Instrumental music is generally the basis of the Hindustani category of Indian classical music. Though instruments are used in the background during Carnatic performances, they form an important part of Hindustani music. There are a number of Indian musical instruments that are classified into 3 categories, which are:

  • Stringed instruments: Sitar, tamboora, sarangi, dilurba and veena, etc.
  • Wind instruments: Flute popularly known as bansuri, shehnai, naferi nagasvaram, etc.
  • Percussion instruments: Tabla, pakhawaj, mridangam, dholak, etc.


Here is a brief introduction to the various musical instruments of India:

  • Sitar is a stringed instrument and is played with a plectrum worn on the finger.
  • Sarod is a stringed instrument carved from teakwood and is played with a plectrum generally made from coconut shell. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan is known for his sarod compositions
  • Sarangi is a musical instrument that is played with a bow. I it not used for solo instrumental performances as it requires a vocalist to complement its tunes
  • Tanpura is a stringed instrument that produces the essential backdrop for all Indian music compositions
  • Esraj is a stringed instrument commonly played in the northern region of India
  • Santoor is an instrument that originated from Kashmir. Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma is known globally for his santoor performances and compositions.
  • Veena is an ancient stringed instrument.
  • Tabla is the name given to the two-drum set, which is played by musicians. Pandit Zakir Hussain is amongst the popular contemporary tabla maestros.
  • Pakhawaj is a long bodied wooden drum that has both the sides covered in skin.
  • Mridangam is similar to the Pakhawaj, with a variant texture at the two ends.
  • Dholak is a cylindrical side drum that is made from solid wood.
  • Jal tarang is a water-xylophone that has six china bowls of varying sizes containing water and is played with two sticks.
  • Pung is a Manipuri side drum with its ends covered with varied skins.
  • Bansuri is the Indian name for the flute, which is carved from bamboo
  • Shehnai is a wind instrument with a tube that widens at the lower end. This instrument is generally played during celebratory of festive occasions.

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