Classical Indian Musical Instrument Resources

Traditional Kirtan Instruments

Kirtan is a tradition established by First Guru Nanak and his minstrel companion Bhai Mardana. Traditional instruments used to perform Kirtan are an integral aspect of the Sikh worship service which is musical in nature. Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of Sikhism is a compilation of hymns composed in raag, India’s classical music system. A variety of instruments such as Tabla, Harmonium, Kartal and stringed instruments are played to accompany vocal expression of adoration whenever sacred shabads are sung in praise of the divine. Kirtan may be performed in a formal gurdwara setting, by professional ragis in schooled in classical raag and specialized instruments, or by amateur kirtanis and sangat singing simple devotional tunes accompanied by simple rhythm instruments in a home program.

Traditional kirtan instruments made in India, and surrounding Asian, or Arab countries may be manufactured by music companies specializing in ancient techniques involving construction and assembly done by hand. Specialized instruments, which are often one of a kind creations, may not be easily obtained, as they generally have to be hand carried, or individually shipped, to destinations outside of India. Online resources can be a viable option for hard to find instruments which may not be purchased in European, or American music stores, or otherwise procured.

Tabla
Tabla. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

The tabla is a set of large and small drums with animal hide heads and leather lacing which are played in a variety of rhythms to accompany the harmonium, or traditional string instruments. Styles and variations include:

  • Stainless Steel
  • Brass
  • Copper
  • Double Color
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Wearing Embroidered Cream Colored Cotton Kurti While Learning Kirtan
Wearing Embroidered Cream Colored Cotton Kurti While Learning Kirtan. Photo © [Courtesy GoSikh.com]

The Harmonium, also known as Baja or Vaja, is a type of hand operated pump organ popular for kirtan since the 18oos. Various styles of harmoniums include deluxe features:

  • Upright
  • Coupler
  • Scale Changer
  • Collapsible Case
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Singh With Kartal
Singh With Kartal. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Kartal are any kind of hand held percussion instruments which produce a jingle with pairs of small cymbals or zingles.

  • Single Wooden Shaker
  • Double Wooden Clappers
  • Jingle Sticks
  • Chhanne, or Zill, Finger Cymbals
  • Manjira, or Hand Held Cymbals
  • Tambourine
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Stringed Instruments

Tanpura String Instrument
Tanpura String Instrument. Photo © [Courtesy S Khalsa]

Traditional string instruments are among the most ancient of musical instruments used in performing kirtan:

  • Dilruba
  • Esraj
  • Rabab
  • Rebab
  • Rebek
  • Sarangi
  • Sarod
  • Sitar
  • Tanpura
  • Taus, Peacock instrument