Music has always been an identity of a country: Blues will always be associated with the US, Reggae will always be associated with Jamaica. But even more so than music, musical instruments and the typical melodies played on those instruments are more than a pride of a country.
More so for India, where classical music—both Carnatic and Hindustani style—has strong roots in, musical instruments shaped the music style in the past. Just listen to was Mohan Bhatt playing the Mohan veena, or Vikku Vinayakram playing the mridangam, you will realize that those sounds will only sound right in those instruments. But in the musical world where electronic instruments and western music has taken over, there are Indian instruments that have lost its way. Here are few Indian instruments that are on the point of extinction:
A major instrument in Hindustani classical music, Rudra Veena is known to be the “mother of all stringed instruments.” It also has mythical value, in that the term “Rudra” is associated with Lord Shiva, and Rudra Veena is supposed to be Veena that is dear to him. But the instrument has very few players left across India, though the instrument has meditative qualities. If you look back, it’s only Ustad Asad Ali Khan, Ustad Bahauddin Dagar, among few others, who were playing it in a larger scene.
Also known as the taus, Mayuri is a string instrument played with a bow and has a figure as that of the peacock, literally. It has a strong connection with Punjab since Har Gobin, the sixth Sikh Guru, is said to have invented the instrument. Once a popular instrument during the seventeenth and the early eighteenth century, Mayuri seems to have had lost its way, but efforts have been made to resurrect it recently; individual Sikh musicians have been playing the instrument as a melodic accompaniment for Sikh devotional music.
The Indian Jaw Harp, Morchang is a wind percussion instrument and can be used to play rhythms by using mouth and left hand. It was mainly used in Rajasthan as a part of Carnatic music style, and also in Sindh (Pakistan). When R.D. Burman and S.D. Burman used the instrument in Hindi cinema, and also Varun Zinje playing the instruments on the street, the instrument seemed to have resurfaced during the 20th century. But today, the instrument, along with the players, is difficult to find.
Made out of copper or brass and having a hooded shape as that of a snake, even with a serpent stylized head, with round and open mouth, Nagfani was once used by Tantriks or Mantrik ritual performers. The literal translation of Nagfani is “snake hood” and is also known as the serpentine horn. It has a strong association with Shiva and as such, is associated with Sadhus. People could find the instruments around Gujrat and Rajasthan back in the days.
Only found in museums and some instrument collectors today, Yazh was once famous in Tamil music. The harp instrument is said to have a sweet sound and required both hands to play with strings tuned to the specific scale. The name comes from the mythological animal Yali, since the tip of the stem was carved as the animal. Historical writings suggest that there was four type of yazhs: Periyazh (21 strings), Makarayah (19 strings), Cakotayazh (14 strings) and Cenkottiyazh (7 strings). Also, Mayil Yazh resembled a peacock and Vil Yazh resembled a bow.
Also known as Bana, Bena or Tingtelia, Pena is traditional mono string instrument that used to be associated with Meitei community of Manipur in India. It has been reported that only 145 active players are remaining in the home of the instrument, Manipur. It was also played as a traditional instrument in some parts of Bangladesh and as an accompaniment musical instrument during Lai Haraoba, the festival of Meiteis that’s celebrated to worship their gods.