Dr. M.B. Vedavalli

Head, Department of Indian Music

University of Madras.

Wind Instruments

The flute has been represented in almost all the sculptures. It is found in Amaravati sculptures and Ajanta paintings. Usually in flutes, the finger holes will be on the right side. But in a Siva temple at Araluguppe of Chalukyas, the flutist plays in the opposite direction, i.e. to the left side of the performer. At Jammidoddi temple, long flutes are seen. In the temple at Konarak, a player plays five wind instruments simultaneously. It is called panchaturya.


The earliest representation of the nagaswara is seen in the Ajanta frescoes. Nagaswaram is found represented at Padmanabha temple palace near Trivandrum.


At Mayuranatha Swami temple in Mayiladuthurai, a pair of musicians playing magudi or pungi is represented. In a sculpture at Nanjanagud, Mysore state, magudi has been represented. Instruments like conch, horn of different shapes, etc., also have been represented in many of the sculptures.


Percussion Instruments

Drums represented in sculptures are also of different shapes. Drums with two faces bulging in the middle are seen at Sanchi sculptures, Ajanta paintings, Aurangabad caves.

On top of the Vattuvankoil at Kazhugumalai, Dakshinamurthi is represented as playing on the mridangam which rests on his lap with a strap running over his shoulder to hold it in position. He holds the drum with his left hand and the fingers of the right hand play strokes. This is the only instance in which Lord Dakshinamurthy is playing on the mridangam and not on the vina. A barrel-shaped drum played with two sticks is seen in the Sanchi sculptures. An hour glass-shaped drum is seen in Amaravati sculptures. In the Gupta period, long drums of this type have been represented. Small udukkai is seen in the Jammidoddi temple of Eastern Chalukyas.

At Somanathapura temple, in the outer face of the main building, there are camels with pairs of drums on their back. The drums are in the shape of flower pots. They are played with two sticks held in both the hands. Kudamuzha, a pot drum covered with skin, is found in Jammidoddi temple of Eastern Chalukyas.


 A single faced flat drum like our khanjira is seen in Amaravati sculpture and in the Jammododdi temple of the Eastern Chalukyas. khanjira with new slits in the frame, with circular metal pieces inserted, appears in Orissan sculpture of the modern period.

Tripushkara, a drum with 3 faces is seen at Nataraja temples at Hampi, Chidambaram and Srisailam. At the Arulguppe Siva temple, a drummer plays on a three-faced drum with both his hands. The resonators are pots. The drum rests on the lap of the player.


02A five-faced drum is represented in the Vaideshwaran koil and the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. In this drum, one face is in the centre, and four are in the corners. Siva with 8 arms is playing with five of his arms. At the Tyagarajaswami temple, there is a panchamukhavadhya. It has a bronze shell.

The ghatam is seen in many places like Papanatha temple at Pattadkal and the rock-cut cave temple at Irinjelakkode of the Cheras.


 Cymbals are represented in the Amaravati stupa, Ajanta paintings and Araluguppe Siva temple. Brahma talam is seen in the Ajanta caves. Ilattalam is seen in the rock-cut Cave temple of Irinjellakkode of the Cheras. Cymbals of different sizes are found in Belur temple and in the frescoes of Thanjavur big temple.

Gongs like semakkalam and chengala are represented at Aihole and in other Chalukya sculptures. Jalatarangam is found in the Padmanabhapuram palace. There are eight cups struck with two sticks.



 It is seen in Arkeshwara temple on the eastern face of the wall at Hale Alur. The long soundboard on the instrument is provided with two legs for support. The instrument is placed in front of the performer who is playing upon it with sticks held in right hand. This is the only instance that we find it in South Indian sculptures.

Besides these sculptures, it is worth mentioning the musical steps found in Darasuram, in front of the balipitham. These steps, when tapped, produce the notes of rage sankarabharana in the ascending order on the left and in descending order on the right.

Besides these sculptures and paintings, the Mysore Oriental Manuscript Library has a paper manuscript of the work Sri Tatvanidhi written by Krishnaraja Wodeyar III who ruled Mysore.

In this work, each and every aspect of the art has been personified and given in paintings. There are pictures for all the important aspects of music like svara, raga, tala, etc.

For all the above aspects, dhyana slokas are given and are represented visually in the form of paintings. The style of painting is distinct from that of other Rangamala paintings in the costumes, ornaments, instruments, etc. For each one of the sapta svaras, thirty two lakshanas like vamsa, jati, varna, gotra, etc. are given. Based on this the picture is given. The lakshanas for svaras given are identical with these given in the Mahabharata chudamani, a Tamil work published recently.

The author gives the classification of the Raga-Ragini system as given in the Sangita Darpana which mentions six male ragas, Bhairava, Malavakousika, Hindola, etc., and five raginis for each male raga, altogether thirty-six ragas. The pictures given here are based mostly on the work Sivatatva Ratnakara of Basavappa Naik, the ruler of Keladi dynasty who ruled between 1679 – 1714 A.D.

Even in the Sapta talas, twenty-four lakshanas are mentioned and have been represented in pictures. Thus, sculptures and paintings in which the various aspects of music are found provide valuable sources for the study of the history of Indian music.


  1. Music in Indian Art. M. Hariharan and Gowri Kuppuswamy, Sandeep Prakashan, Delhi. 1985
  2. Musical Instruments in Indian Sculpture. G.H. Tarlekar and Nalini Tarlekar. 1972
  3. Archaeology of Indian Musical Instruments. Sandeep Prakashan, Delhi. 1985.
  4. Mysore as a Seat of Music during 19th and 20th Centuries. Dr. M.B. Vedavalli, C.B.H. Publications.
  5. Mahabharata Choodamani.

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

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