Dr. M.B. Vedavalli
Head, Department of Indian Music,
University of Madras.

Sculptures and paintings form some of the important sources for the construction of history of Indian Music, especially for the study of various details regarding the musical instruments.

Though descriptions about the construction and size of the musical instruments are given in literature, the visual representation of the instruments in sculptures and paintings enables us to have a clear picture of the shapes of the different parts, and technique of play of the instruments that were in vogue during the different periods.

The kings of various dynasties who ruled over India were benevolent patrons of all arts and they gave enormous grants for the construction and renovation of these temples. The temples constructed thus were not only places of worship but were the repositories of all arts like music, dance, painting, and sculpture.

The performance of music and dance held in temples formed one of the themes for the sculpture and painters. Of these two arts, sculpture has been a very popular art throughout the history of arts. Each and every wall of the temples in India has been decorated by the sculptures of artistic beauty. But compared to the sculptures, painting is seen only in few places.




Among the musical instruments depicted in sculptures, some of them are similar to the descriptions given in the musicological works and other sacred and secular literature. In many cases, the imagination of the sculptures have also crept in.

The following, are some of the important places in which we find the specimens of the art left behind by the various dynasties who ruled over India.

  1. Amaravati and Jaggayyapeta of Satavahanas.
  2. Ajanta, Ellora and Aurangabad caves of Vakatakas.
  3. Badami, Aihole and Pattadkal of Western Chalukyas.
  4. Mahabalipuram, Tiruchy, Tirukkazhukkundram and Kanchi of Pallavas.
  5. Kailasanatha temple at Ellora of Rashtrakutas.
  6. Tirupparankundram and Kazhugumalai cave temples of Pandyas.
  7. Jammidoddi of Eastern Chalukyas.
  8. Darasuram, Chidambaram and Thanjavur temples of Cholas.
  9. Chalukyas at Hampi and Aralaguppe.
  10. Belur, Halebid, and Sonanathapura of Hoysalas.
  11. Reddi kingdom of Andhras at Srisailam.
  12. Vijayanagar kingdom.

Painting is seen in the following places:

  1. Ajanta paintings of Vakatakas.
  2. Mural paintings of Cholas at Brihadisvarar temple at Thanjavur.
  3. Lepakshi, Tadpatri and Hampi of Vijayanagar kings.
  4. Early murals at Tiruvanchikulam and Trivikramangalam. Later styles at Trichur, Vaikon, and Ethumanoor.
  5. Chidambaram and Srirangam wherein miniature and mural paintings of Marathas are found.
  6. Paintings at Mysore.

img_03In sculptures and paintings almost all the varieties of instruments belonging to the stringed, wind and percussion are represented. Among the stringed instruments, vinas starting with harp-type to that of 24 – fretted vina have been represented. Vinas of different shapes, sizes and construction are all represented in sculptures and paintings.

img_04In sculptures at Sanchi, Barhut and Amaravati, a bow-shaped harp is found. At Pawaya, the vina represented has a pear-shaped resonator with short neck resembling that of a guitar. It has pegs on either side of the stem. At the Kailasanath temple at Kanchi, the resonator is of semi-globular shape and the dandi which is connected to the resonator leads on to the neck in the shape of the yazh.

In Ajanta frescoes and the Virupaksha temple at Pattadkal, vinas with oval-shaped resonators are seen. This vina has 4 strings and 4 bridges for each string. In the Ajanta frescoes were found a specimen of fretted vina with bow. Thus, we find resonators of so many shapes found in the sculptures.

Postures adopted while playing

 In the sculpture at Pawaya, the vina is held in a horizontal posture. At Nagarjuna konda, it is held in a vertical posture. In the sculptures at Mahabalipuram, both horizontal and diagonal postures are represented. In Virupaksha temple at Pattadkal, there is a sculpture representing vina with oblique posture.

Vinas with frets

In the Virupaksha temple at Pattadkal, vinas with frets are seen. In Kumbeshwarar temple at Kumbakonam, a vina with 2 gourds one at the top and one at the bottom with 4 frets on the top of the instruments is seen. A 12 fretted vina is represented in Belur temple. 24 fretted vina is found in a painting on the outer walls of the Madurai Amman temple. It has only 4 strings. In the Ajanta frescoes, fretted vina with a bow is seen.

Techniques of play

 In the sculptures at Pawaya the strings are plucked by the fingers of right hand and played by the fingers of left hand by pressing the strings downward. In the sculpture represented at Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi, the technique is same as that of the modern period. In the Kailasanatha temple, there is another sculpture in which the vinas are plucked with the left hand and the right hand is placed on the fret board.



In a sculpture at Ajanta of Vakatavas and in a temple at Jammidoddi at Vijayanagaram of Eastern Chalukyas, we find an instrument like a violin. At the Chidambaram temple, the violin is represented in a panel in the wall surrounding inner-most shrine. This violin is a very small one. The posture and manipulation is same as it is used now. But in the violin represented in Agastheswarar temple at T. Narasipura, the posture in which its bow is held as same as found at present. In the palace of Tipu Sultan in Srirangapatnam, a lady playing a violin is represented. The date of the painting is 1784. This shows that the violin came into vogue in other parts of South India even before its advent in Madras about 1800 A.D.



In the Rock cut cave temple at Irunjalakkode of Cheras, two of the gopis are holding a long tambura playing with a bow. In the Bhuvaraha Perumalkoil in Srimushnam, a musician is represented as holding a tambura in upright position with gourd top and pegs at bottom. The modern tambura is represented in Padmanabhapuram at Trivandrum.


Dotar, a drone instrument

The dotar is seen on a pillar at the Venugopalaswamy temple at Srirangam. It has a large flat gourd and 2 tuning pegs and a bridge.


 The tuntina is represented in the sculptures at Badami. It is a hollow cylindrical vessel made of wood to the outer side of which a bamboo stick is fixed, a string passes through the centre of the skin covering the lower side of the vessel and is fastened to the peg at the end of the stick. This instrument is used in the folk music of Maharashtra.

                                                                                                Continued ……………

Source: Journal of Indian History and Culture, September 1996, C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research, Chennai.


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