A few years ago, I stumbled across a stack of old, sepia-tinted, black and white pictures of my grandmother as a teenager. Amidst the many photographs that I saw of her posing coyly with her large family; I noticed a solo picture of her kneeling down and playing a long stringed musical instrument that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It had a medium sized sitar neck, with heavy metal frets but was shaped very differently than a regular sitar or a veena. I ran to my grandmother, clutching the picture in my hand and asked her what instrument she was playing. Her enigmatic eyes gave away the nostalgia that she felt at the moment. “That’s the Dilruba” she told me. “It was quite a popular music instrument back then, but I don’t think anyone plays it now,” she added.
A google search later told me that the Dilruba and its variant Esraj’s popularity had been declining and by the 1980’s they had almost become extinct. It was only many years later that because of rising influence of the ‘Gurmat Sangeet’ movement, the instrument had once again been attracting considerable attention. However not all musical instruments share the same fate.
Though we take immense pride in the rich musical heritage of our country, there are several instruments, both classical and folk that are either lost to time or are on the verge of extinction. These musical instruments, most of them which find a mention in ancient and notable literary works have shaped the Indian Classical and Folk music through time. While many of these listed below, still thrive in little nooks and corners of the country, it won’t be long before they are lost to us forever when theirs is a legacy that needs to be preserved.
The shape of this bowed instrument resembles that of a peacock. Carved out of wood, it is attached with an actual peacock bill and feathers. With sixteen frets, four melody strings and fifteen sympathetic strings, the mayuri, or peacock is associated with Saraswati, the goddess of music; and is also a symbol of courtship. This instrument has a strong connection with Punjab as the sixth Guru, Har Gobin is said to have invented this instrument. It has a rich, sonorous sound and produces mellow music. Although this instrument was nearly extinct, it is gradually making a comeback with Sikh musicians playing this instrument as an accompaniment for Sikh devotional music.
This Indian Jaw harp also known as morsing is a tiny wind percussion instrument played using the mouth and left hand. The rhythmic musical instrument consists of a metal tongue and metal ring on the middle and can create many patterns of sounds. Morchang was widely popular in Rajasthan as well as in the Carnatic music of South India and Sindh (Pakistan) in the20th century, but is now hard to find.
Nagfani that literally translates to snake hood is an instrument made of brass tube with a serpent stylized head. Commonly seen around being carried by holy men, it was widely used by tantric or mantrik ritual performers, because of the power harnessed by invoking the serpent which coil around the neck of Siva, Hindu god. Usually found in the western regions of the country, especially in Gujarat and Rajasthan; this bold and beautiful instrument is now on the verge of extinction.
An ancient musical instrument of Manipur, the Pena is made of a slender Bamboo rod attached to a drum shaped dry coconut shell. A string made of horse tail is fastened from end of bamboo road over drum and is played with a rod. The Pena is believed to be the source and origin of all tunes of Manipuri Folk songs. It has been reported that this mono string instrument has only 145 active players remaining in Manipur, played as an accompaniment musical instrument during Lai Haroba, a festival of the Meities.
Considered as the sweetest instrument; this harp like instrument that resembles a bow requires both hands to play with strings tuned to a specific scale. Its name comes from a mythological animal called Yali, since the tip of the stem was carved as the animal. Yazh was a popular instrument in Tamil Nadu and finds mention in ancient literary works, but it disappeared from the country, years ago. Today it is only found in museums and with a few instrument collectors.
Ejuk Tapang is an Assamese instrument made from Tita Lau, an inedible gourd. The instrument resembles that of the snake charmer’s flute, but the sound produced is quite different. Apparently, the inedible gourd it is made from is considered unholy to be grown in the backyard of a household thus causing a dearth in its cultivation resulting in the slow death of this instrument.
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