Although vocal music has always been the mainstay of Hindustani classical music, one of the most spectacular features of India's rich musical tradition is the evolution of a wide range of musical instruments - percussion, wind and string instruments. As in its vocal counterpart, in the context of Indian classical instruments, the characteristics of a gharana for each instrument would include the structure, tuning system and the tonality of the instruments together with specific application of "tantrakari baaz" or the vocabulary of the instrument. For instance, Imdad Khan was the creator of the Imdadkhani or Etawah gharana and Allauddin Khan, the founder of the Seni Maihar school etc.
There has always been creative individuality within the tradition of a gharana. Just as Vazebua, Omkarnath Thakur, Vinayak Rao Patwardhan and D.V. Paluskar were exponents of the same khayal gharana (Gwalior), they each had an entirely different style of singing. Similarly, in the instrumental landscape, Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee, both stars of the Maihar school and both students of Allauddin Khan have distinctive styles of their own within the Maihar framework.
Instruments in Hindustani Classical Music
Initially North Indian stringed instruments were restricted to the been and the Seni rabab. The been or the veena has traditionally been the forerunner to all stringed instruments in the sub-continent. Known by a variety of names, like the vipanchhi veena, bharat veena, tritantri veena, ghoshak veena etc., it is essentially a long necked lute with one or two large resonating bowls made of gourd, held across the lap by the player. Today, only two varieties of the veena are in use - the rudra veena and the vichitra veena. This venerable instrument, sonorous in quality was especially popular during the Moghul period.
The seni rabab, which is extinct today, and not to be confused with the Afghan rabab, was a variation of the veena, with a skin covering the resonating chamber instead of wood. It had a fretless fingerboard. The Seni Rabab was later modified by Jafar Khan, one of the descendants of Tansen, by the addition of a metal fingerboard, a wooden membrane covering the resonating chamber and metal strings. This instrument came to be known as sursringar and was a forerunner of the sarode.
In the late 18th century, as the khayal introduced romanticism in North Indian vocal music, by refashioning the dhrupad styles of the period, the sitar came into being, as a derivative of the tritantri veena, to counter this new dimension in vocal music. A similar aspiration towards both dhrupad and khayal, the ideal that instrumentalists always attempt to approach, later led to the evolution of the sarode from the Afghan rabab and the sursringar. A larger version of the sitar was the surbahar, which came into existence in the 19th century.
An instrument that has the unique distinction of being the closest to the human voice in its richness and melodiousness, is the Sarangi. Though, it is one of the most expressive and versatile instruments that has evolved on the Indian soil, it is faced with oblivion today.
Santoor, a Persian word, meaning a hundred strings has been referred to as the shata tantri veena in Indian musical history. Until very recently, in India, it was only heard in the hills and valleys of Kashmir, played in a style of music known as the Sufiana Mausiqi, as an accompaniment to the hymns of the Sufi mystics.
Chief among Indian wind instruments are the flute and the shehnai. The Indian flute or bansuri began as a humble folk instrument. Its classical name is vanshi, as it is made from bamboo or vans. The shehnai is a north Indian oboe, said to be of Persian origin. The sound of the shehnai is considered particularly auspicious.
Author - ITC SRA
Though Indian classical music has a number of stringed instruments of the bowed variety, the introduction of the violin to it, is quite recent. In fact, it is the first western instrument to be absorbed completely into Indian music.