Musical Instruments Used in Bharatanatyam

By Marjorie Gilbert

The Bharatnatyam is a classical dance that is widely performed in India and around the world. Its origins are mixed, for it includes some elements from Sadr, a palace dance performed in Southern India, as well as Deva Dassis, a dance performed by temple girls. While there can up to two vocalists that perform the accompaniment for this dance, there are more musical instruments used in Bharatnatyam.

Violin

This is a popular instrument that's used to accompany Bharatnatyam. The violin is not actually an instrument native to India. In India, the musician holds the violin differently than the Western musician. Instead of tucking the violin beneath the chin, the musician props the bottom against the shoulder and the top against the foot--this because the musician usually sits cross-legged on the floor.

Kanjira

The kanjira is similar to an instrument that's familiar to Westerners: a tambourine. This instrument is made from stretched lizard skin on a circular frame made of wood. Unlike the many metal jingles on the Western tambourine, the kanjira has only one.

Manjira

The manjira is another musical instrument used to accompany the Bharatnatyam. To Westerners, the manjira look like diminutive cymbals. These are made of brass. Instead of clapping them together like cymbals, the players wrap the strings attached to the back of the manjira around their fingers and cling them together by bringing one manjira down with one hand when bringing the other up with the other hand.

Venu

The venu is an Indian flute that's made of bamboo. There venu that's used most with Bharatnatyam is the transverse. The transverse venu has holes along its length which allows the player more flexibility to created various tones and notes.

Surpeti

The supreti provides the drone for the Bharatnatyam. Now, the player does not have to rely on the simple, hand actuated instrument that looks like a box. The surpeti can be an electronic instrument which can be plugged in.

Mridangam

The Mridangam is a large drum that rests on the player's right ankle and foot. The player uses two hands to play this drum: the left hand plays the large head of the drum and can even add flour to create the distinctive tone of this drum. The player uses the right hand to play the smaller of the mridngam's heads.

About the Author

Marjorie Gilbert is a freelance writer and published author. An avid researcher, Gilbert has created an Empire gown (circa 1795 to 1805) from scratch, including drafting the gown's patterns by hand.