March 1, 2024

A Classification of Folk Music Instruments in Western Odisha According to Natya Shastra

Indigenous Art & Culture

Mr. Sunil Mahanand, Assistant Professor Department Of Performing Art, KISS, Deemed to be University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha


This paper presents a comprehensive classification of folk music instruments in Western Odisha, India, based on the principles outlined in the ancient Indian text Natya Shastra. Folk music plays a significant role in the cultural fabric of Odisha, with a diverse array of traditional instruments enriching its musical landscape. Drawing upon the principles of Natya Shastra, which provides a foundational framework for performing arts, this classification aims to elucidate the typology and categorization of these instruments.

The classification considers various aspects outlined in Natya Shastra, including the nature of sound production, material composition, and performance techniques. Instruments are categorized based on their classification as Tantu Vadya (string instruments), Sushira Vadya (wind instruments), and Avanaddha Vadya (percussion instruments), as per the Natya Shastra’s taxonomy.

Furthermore, the paper examines the cultural significance and regional variations of these instruments within Western Odisha, shedding light on their historical evolution and indigenous use in folk music traditions. It explores how these instruments contribute to the aesthetic experience of folk music performances, reflecting the socio-cultural ethos of the region.

By employing the principles of Natya Shastra, this classification offers a systematic framework for understanding the folk music instruments of Western Odisha, facilitating scholarly discourse and promoting cultural preservation efforts. It underscores the enduring relevance of ancient Indian treatises in comprehending and appreciating the rich musical heritage of the region.

Keywords: Folk music, Instruments, Western Odisha, Natya Shastra, Classification, Indigenous, Acoustic properties, Cultural significance, Performance practices, Aesthetics.


“Music is a vital aspect of life that provides us with a sense of the divine. We can say that the divine itself is music, and music is the ultimate divine. We can assert that ‘sound is the ultimate reality,’ meaning that sound itself is divine.”

            “शब्द ब्रह्मणि निष्णातः परम ब्रह्मादि गच्छति (ब्रह्माबिन्दुपनिषद – श्लोक -22)

“The one who is established in the word (sound) reaches the ultimate reality, beginning with the Supreme Brahman.” (Brahma-bindu Upanishad – Verse 22) “The entire universe is filled with sound. From sound arises letters, from letters emerges words, from words forms sentences, from sentences evolves language. Language then gives birth to the interaction of the manifest and unmanifest creation. In other words, the entire creation is governed by sound.”

नादेन व्यज्यते वर्णः पदं वर्णात् पदाद्वचः ।

वचसो व्यवहारोऽयं नादाधीनमतो जगत् ॥

“The sound gives rise to the letter, the combination of letters forms words, from words emerges speech. This world is governed by speech, which is dependent on sound.”

From a scientific perspective, music is the result of sound vibrations. The collision or friction of two objects or the passing of air near them creates vibrations, which, like water waves, enter our auditory organs, stimulating the natural machinery of the ear provided by nature. This allows us to experience sound. As long as our auditory organs do not perceive the vibrations generated in the environment, there is no existence of sound for us. Although the universe is full of sound, due to the limited capacity of our auditory organs, we cannot perceive all of them.

A review of literature on “A Classification of Folk Music Instruments in Western Odisha According to Natya Shastra” would involve examining existing scholarly works, articles, and texts related to folk music, musical instrument classification, and the Natya Shastra, particularly in the context of Odisha or similar cultural regions. Here’s an outline of what such a review might include:

 Review of literature

Historical Context of Folk Music in Odisha

   Explore literature discussing the historical development and significance of folk music traditions in Odisha, including regional variations and cultural influences. Identify sources that highlight the role of music in community life, religious rituals, festivals, and other social contexts in Western Odisha.

Natya Shastra and Its Influence

   Examine scholarly works that provide an overview of the Natya Shastra, its principles, and its impact on various performing arts traditions, including music, dance, and theater. Discuss literature that explores how the principles outlined in the Natya Shastra have been applied or adapted in the context of folk music traditions in Odisha.

Classification of Musical Instruments

   Review studies that focus on the classification of musical instruments, both in general and within specific cultural or geographical contexts. Look for research that examines the criteria used for categorizing instruments and the cultural significance of different classification systems.

Folk Music Instrumentation in Odisha:

   Identify sources that discuss the diversity of folk music instruments found in Odisha, including descriptions of their construction, playing techniques, and cultural associations. Explore literature that documents specific instruments traditionally used in Western Odisha, highlighting their regional variations and roles within local musical traditions.

Case Studies and Ethnographic Research:

   Look for ethnographic studies, field reports, or case studies that provide detailed insights into the classification and usage of folk music instruments in Western Odisha.    Examine research that incorporates interviews with musicians, instrument makers, and community members to gain firsthand perspectives on instrument classification and significance.

Comparative Analysis and Critique:

   Consider literature that compares the classification of folk music instruments in Odisha with similar classification systems in other cultural contexts or regions. Look for critiques or discussions that evaluate the strengths and limitations of the classification framework proposed in the document, considering factors such as cultural relevance, inclusivity, and practical utility.

Future Directions and Implications

   Discuss the implications of the classification framework for preserving and promoting folk music traditions in Odisha, as well as its potential applications in music education, cultural heritage preservation, and interdisciplinary research.

   Identify areas for further study and research, including the need for ongoing documentation, analysis, and validation of folk music instrument classification in Western Odisha.

By conducting a comprehensive review of literature across these thematic areas, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of the classification of folk music instruments in Western Odisha according to the principles outlined in the Natya Shastra, contextualized within the broader landscape of musicology, ethnomusicology, and cultural studies.


  • To classify folk music instruments in Western Odisha according to the principles outlined in Natya Shastra, focusing on their structural characteristics, playing techniques, and roles in traditional performances.
  • To analyze the significance of Natya Shastra in understanding the cultural context and artistic nuances of folk music instruments in Western Odisha, thereby contributing to the preservation and documentation of this rich musical heritage.


Literature Review.

 Conduct an extensive review of literature on folk music instruments in Western Odisha and the principles of musical classification outlined in Natya Shastra. This will provide a theoretical foundation for the research.

Field Survey and Instrument Identification:

 Organize field visits to Western Odisha to identify and document folk music instruments used in the region. Engage with local musicians, artisans, and cultural experts to understand the characteristics, playing techniques, and cultural significance of each instrument.

Natya Shastra Analysis:

Analyze relevant sections of Natya Shastra that pertain to musical instrument classification. Identify key principles and criteria for categorizing instruments based on material, shape, sound production, and performance contexts.

Survey Design:

Questionnaire Development.

 Develop a structured questionnaire to gather information from participants regarding their knowledge and perceptions of folk music instruments in Western Odisha. Include questions about instrument types, playing techniques, cultural contexts, and any associations with Natya Shastra principles.

Sampling and Participants:

Sampling Strategy:

Utilize purposive sampling to select participants with expertise in folk music from Western Odisha, including musicians, cultural scholars, instrument makers, and practitioners familiar with Natya Shastra.

Participant Criteria:

Participants should have a deep understanding of folk music traditions in Western Odisha and/or expertise in Natya Shastra principles related to musical instruments.

Data Collection:

Questionnaire Administration.

 Administer the structured questionnaire to selected participants either in person or through online surveys, depending on accessibility and convenience.

Field Observations:

Conduct observations during field visits to document the physical characteristics and usage of folk music instruments in Western Odisha.


Semi-Structured Interviews.

 Conduct semi-structured interviews with selected participants to gather in-depth insights into their perspectives on the classification of folk music instruments according to Natya Shastra principles.

Interview Topics:

Cover topics such as participants’ understanding of Natya Shastra principles, their classification of folk music instruments, any adaptations or modifications made in the local context, and the role of these instruments in cultural practices.

Data Analysis:

Quantitative Analysis:

 Analyze quantitative data obtained from the structured questionnaire using statistical techniques to identify patterns and trends in participants’ responses regarding folk music instrument classification and Natya Shastra principles.

Qualitative Analysis:

Conduct thematic analysis of qualitative data from interviews and field observations to extract key themes and insights related to the classification of folk music instruments in Western Odisha and their alignment with Natya Shastra principles.


Integrate findings from both quantitative and qualitative analyses to develop a comprehensive understanding of how folk music instruments in Western Odisha are classified according to Natya Shastra principles.


Elements of Music:

There are two types of sound: the first is sound that is used in music, and the second is sound that cannot be used in music. These two types of sound originate from vibrations. If the vibration of sound is irregular and uncontrolled, it is useless for music, but if the vibration of sound is regular, it is useful for music. Similarly, rhythm or tempo is the primary and fundamental element of music. Rhythm not only applies to music but also governs numerous aspects of life. All of nature functions dynamically in this material world. Consciousness is a sign of motion, and even consciousness can be imagined as an entity devoid of motion. Objects that appear stable to us are also dynamic from a scientific perspective. Scientists feel the heartbeat in the vibrations of mountains and small pieces of stone. Vibration is not only present in our hearts but also throughout our bodies. Even after death, there is no cessation of motion in our bodies. We may think that there is no motion in the upper part of our bodies, but if the motion in our bodies were to stop, how would there be a change in our bodies after death? Similarly, the reign of consciousness is spread throughout the universe, and motion is its fundamental basis, bound by its own rules. We call regular motion “rhythm.” It is also the creator of strong and subtle emotions. This strong-subtle rhythm is created due to ignorance. If we constantly listen to the ticking of a clock, we will hear a strong and then a subtle sound from within it. Similarly, even in the movement of an engine, the sound of train tracks, or the trotting of a horse, strong and subtle sounds are heard. Initially, strong motion segments and subtle motion segments are divided into small parts, and then gradually all the segments begin to expand. The cycle of strong-subtle motion segments is present in all aspects of our lives.

Importance of Musical Instruments in Music:

Musical instruments are essential in music as they help captivate listeners without someone having to sit for hours. This is because music has the power to captivate listeners. Musical instruments in music are such that it is possible even without anyone’s assistance. For example, if a person performs in vocal music, taking the support of only ‘tabla’ or ‘tanpura’ (tambura), it is possible without anyone’s assistance. However, in instrumental music, the use of other instruments is essential. Dancing, drama, or song necessitates the use of the right musical instruments, as it is impossible to perform without them.

Bharat Muni describes the subject of musical instruments in Chapter 34 of his ‘Natya Shastra’ in detail. This is because the ten types of drama cannot be fully demonstrated without the assistance of musical instruments. However, the use of musical instruments in drama is used to see the taste and sentiment of the drama. While describing the use of musical instruments in drama, the scriptures also describe the use of auspiciousness and success in the play.

उत्सवे चैव याने च् नुफ्नां मद्मलेषु च्ं ।

 शुभकल्याणे च विवाहकरणे तथा ।। 18 ।।

 उत्पति सम्प्रमे चैव संग्रामी पुत्रजन्मनि ।

 इदुरिषु हि कार्यषु सवातोध्वनि वादयेत ।। 19 ।।

 स्वभाव गृहवार्तायामल्प्भांड प्रयोजयेत ।

 उत्यावकार्य (व्य्) बन्धेसु सर्बातोधानि वादयेत ।। 20 ।।

 अज्ञाना तु समत्वाच्च छिद्प्र्च्छाद्ने तथा ।

विश्रामहेतो सोभार्य भाण्डवाद्य विनिमिर्तम् ।। 21।।

1. Ghana – Mardal, Madal, Dhol, Nishan, Tasha

2. Avanaddha – Khajani, Ghudka, Shiv Damaru, Changu

3. Tat – Brahma Veena, Deva Gunia, Taraseni, Sarang, Ek Tara, Gopi Yantra

The summary of the above verses is that musical instruments are necessary in every auspicious occasion. This is what Bharatmuni intended to convey. When describing the greatness of music and musical instruments, Maharishi Bharat, who performs penance to attain God, also demonstrates through this medium the sacredness of music and musical instruments.

श्रुत मया देवदेवातु तत्वतः शंकराद्धितम् ।

स्नान जप्यसहस्त्रेभ्य पवित्रं गितवादितम ।। 22।।

The verse you provided is from the Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian treatise on performing arts attributed to Sage Bharata. Here is a translation:

“Through the essence of sound, O Devas, it is purified by Shiva himself. Purified by a thousand baths, japa (recitation of mantras), and offerings, it becomes sanctified for singing and playing.”

This verse emphasizes the sacredness of music and its purification through ritualistic practices such as bathing, recitation of mantras, and offerings. It suggests that music, when performed after such purification, attains a divine quality, blessed by the deity Shiva.

Classification of Folk Music Instruments in Western Odisha:

When we talk about western Odisha, it is a region rich in folk art, with its folk culture and art being renowned worldwide. In western Odisha, prevalent folk instruments include dhol, tasa, nishan, muhuri, etc., which are also known as “ganda vadya” in western Odisha. However, according to some scholars of western Odisha, these instruments constitute the “panchavadyam” (five types of instruments). Analyzing this subject, it becomes clear that the classification of instruments is diverse, which, according to Bharatmuni’s Natya Shastra, includes tat (string instruments), anand (wind instruments), ghan (percussion instruments), and shishir (aerophones). Apart from these five types of instruments, there are many other instruments used in western Odisha.

Classification of Musical Instruments:

In music, there are two types of sounds: anahat (unstruck) and ahat (struck). Anahat sound refers to the sound that is not produced by striking and cannot be heard, while ahat sound refers to the sound that is produced by striking and can be heard. There are five types of sounds that we call musical sounds: nakhaj, vayuj, charmaj, lohaj, and shariraj. String instruments like the veena fall under nakhaj, wind instruments like flutes fall under vayuj, percussion instruments like the mridangam fall under charmaj, and metallic instruments like the manjira fall under lohaj. The sound produced by wooden instruments falls under shariraj. Instruments that produce these five types of sounds are called “panchmahavadyani” (five major musical instruments). One of these is created by God and is natural, while the other four types of instruments are man-made.

According to some scriptures, these instruments are divided into three or four parts. However, according to the “Kohal,” these instruments are categorized into five types. Maharishi Bharat and Dattil classified them into four parts according to tat, anand, ghan, and shari. According to Narada, there are three types of sounds: anand, tat, and ghan. From the analysis of various opinions, it is evident that those who do not consider vocal sounds as part of instrumental sounds classify musical sounds into three types, while those who consider vocal sounds classify them into four types.

Upanishads and Puranas describe many different types of sounds, but their classification into musical instruments may not be possible. For example, the Hansa Upanishad describes ten types of sounds but does not classify them into musical instruments.

स एवं जपकोटचा नादमनुभवति एवं

 सर्व हसवशान्नादो दशविधो जायते । प्रथमः

चिञणीति द्वितियः घंटानाद तृत्याः शंख नाद चतुर्थः

 पंचमस्त त्रिनाद षष्ठा स्तल नाद: सप्तोमो वेणु नाद:

अष्टमो मृदड नाद नवमो भेरीनाद: दशमो मेथनाद: ॥

If we carefully observe the appropriate classification of sound distinctions, it becomes clear that sound is categorized into four types in instrumental music. In ancient times, Maharishi Bharata classified musical instruments in the following manner.

“तत् चैवावनंद च धनं सुषिरमेव च

चतुर्विधाम तु विग्येयमतेध लक्षणवितम्” ॥  1 ॥

भ ना. 28

Seeing these four types of instruments, he described them as such.

“तत् तत्रीकृत ज्ञेयमवनंद्वा तु पैष्करम

घन तालस्तु विज्ञेयः सुषिरो वंश उच्चते  ॥  2 ॥

भ.ना. 128 – 121

String Instruments

Based on the action of playing, the wind instruments in this category can be divided into four subcategories:

1. Finger-played instruments, including instruments like Swarmandal and Tambura.

2. Corner or triangular winds, including instruments like Sitar, Sarod, Rudra Veena, etc.

3. Friction-played winds, including instruments like Sarangi, Ravanahatha, Israj, Dilruba, etc.

4. Struck with sticks, including instruments like Santoor, Kanun, etc.

Based on the shape or structure of the instrument, the percussion instruments can be categorized into the following six subcategories:

1. Long-necked instruments like Sitar, Israj, Dilruba, Tambura, Veena, etc.

2. Short-necked instruments like Ravanahatha, Sarangi, and some foreign instruments like Mandolin, etc.

3. Instruments with one or two resonators, excluding Tanjorichina, including all Veena, Tambura, Sitar, etc.

4. Instruments with leather stretched on top like Sarangi, Dilruba, Israj, Sarod, Rabab, etc.

5. Solid straight or curved wooden winds, including some ancient Indian Veena, Iranian and Western harps, etc.

6. Box-shaped, curved or rectangular like a chest, including instruments like Swarmandal and Santoor.

The positioning for playing the string instruments can be divided into four subcategories:

1. Played resting on the lap, standing, or with support on the shoulder, including Israj, Dilruba, Sarangi, etc.

2. Played while held entirely or partially in the lap, including instruments like Swarmandal, Tanjori-Veena, etc.

3. Played with support from the lap or shoulder in an inclined position, including Sitar, Sarod, Swar-bahar, Sur-singar, Khab, Rudra-veena, etc.

4. Played facing forward, including instruments like Santoor, Kanun, etc.

Unorganized Instruments

From the perspective of playing technique, unorganized instruments can be categorized into the following five subcategories:

1. Played with both hands’ fists or fingers, including instruments like Pakhawaj, Mridangam (Carnatic), Tabla, Dholak, Khol, Nal, Madal, etc. These instruments are considered the best in India due to their complex and diverse playing techniques, with Pakhawaj, Tabla, and Dholak holding a special place in this category.

2. Played with the fingers of one hand, including instruments like Daira, Huduk, Khajari.

3. Played by striking with a shell, including instruments like Nagada, Ghousa, Damama, Dhaak, etc.

4. Played with one hand and struck with a stick on the other end, including instruments like Big Dhol, Patah, etc.

5. Played by hitting with a stick’s tip, including instruments like Damaru, Dhakka, etc.

From the perspective of construction, unorganized instruments can be divided into the following four subcategories:

1. Instruments with hollows inside and both mouths covered with stretched leather can be seen in five forms:

   (a) Gopuchha, one large mouth and one small mouth, both raised from the center. This was a part of ancient Indian Mridang. Modern Mridang can also be constructed in this form.

   (b) Yavakriti, both mouths are small and the center part is raised. This was also a part of ancient Indian Mridang. Modern Khol can be constructed in this form.

   (c) Haritaki, both mouths are almost equal in size, and the center part is also equal. This form is prevalent in modern instruments like Punjabi Dholak and Maharashtrian Dholak.

   (d) Madhyabhaga, both mouths and the center part are almost equal, and these instruments are circular or more in shape. Instruments like Dhol, Dhak, and Western side drums belong to this category.

   (e) Dono mukh saman kinthu madhy bhag bhitar dhasa hua. Instruments like Damaru and Huduk belong to this category.

2. After discussing the five subdivisions of the first category, we will now consider the second category. These instruments are hollow inside but have only one mouth and the other end is closed. Even in this category, several subdivisions are observed, which can primarily be placed into the following three:

   (a) Ardha Gopuchha, the mouth of these instruments is smaller, and the circle of the mouth is larger than the other end. Instruments like Tabla’s right side and Ghat belong to this category.

   (b) Ardha Yathakriti, the mouth of these instruments is larger, and the other end, which is closed, is somewhat pointed. Instruments like Nakara and Nagadiya belong to this category.

   (c) Ardha Haritaki, the mouth of these instruments is larger, and the other end, which is closed, is somewhat rounded. The left side of the Tabla and other instruments depicted in Figure 150 belong to this category.

3. Instruments with hollow insides and both mouths covered with stretched leather, and the outer side has one mouth covered with leather while the other remains open. These are further divided into three categories:

   (a) Arddha Gopuccha, with the circle of the mouth smaller than the other side. The right side of the Tabla and Ghata belong to this category.

   (b) Arddha Yathakriti, with the mouth larger and the other side slightly pointed. Instruments like Nakara and Nagariya belong to this category.

   (c) Arddha Haritaki, with the mouth larger and the other side rounded. The left side of the Tabla and other instruments depicted in Figure 150 belong to this category.

4. Made of wood with a broad strap of four to six fingers wide, forming a small or large circle or another shape with a big or small loop made of leather in it. In this category, many instruments like Chang, Daf, Dafli, Karchakar, Ghanjira, Khajari, Daira, etc., are famous.

Wind Instruments

From the perspective of playing, wind instruments are clearly classified into two types:

1. Played by blowing air directly into the instrument, this category includes instruments like flute, clarinet, piccolo, bagpipe, saxophone, and trumpet.

2. Played by generating air through another device, this category includes instruments like harmonium and organ.

From the perspective of construction, wind instruments have several variations, which can be divided into the following six subcategories:

1. Straight-mouthed: These instruments have a hole for blowing, and the holes for producing tones are opened and closed using the fingers, as seen in instruments like flute, clarinet, and piccolo.

2. Reed Instruments: In these instruments, instead of blowing directly into the instrument, a special type of reed is attached at the blowing end, while the holes for producing tones are controlled by keys or buttons, as seen in instruments like saxophone and bagpipe.

3. Woodwind and Brass Instruments: In this category, instruments like clarinet and saxophone are included, which have keys for opening and closing holes, as well as a bell-shaped mouthpiece for blowing.

4. Flared-mouth: In this category, instruments like trumpet and saxophone are included, where one end of the mouthpiece is narrow while the other end is flared outward.

5. Rotary Instruments: These are mostly made of brass and consist of separate tubes or rods made of metal or other materials, which are inserted sequentially to produce individual tones. Instruments like harmonium and harmonica fall into this category.

6. Percussion Wind Instruments: These instruments involve striking with a stick made of wood or other soft material, and they contain a cavity filled with beads or other loose materials. Instruments like jhanj and rumba belong to this category.

Percussion Instruments

From the perspective of playing, percussion instruments primarily have three subcategories:

1. Instruments that are played by striking parts together, such as cymbals, manjira, castanets, and tambourines.

2. Instruments are played by striking with a stick or a mallet made of wood or other soft material. This category includes instruments like bells, gongs, gamelan, and large cymbals.

3. Instruments played by shaking or moving hands. This category includes instruments like rattles and shakers filled with stones or beads.

From the perspective of construction, there are various types of percussion instruments, but so far, it has not been possible to classify them into specific subcategories due to their diverse nature.


A Classification of Folk Music Instruments in Western Odisha According to Natya Shastra presents a systematic categorization of traditional musical instruments prevalent in the region, drawing inspiration from the principles outlined in the Natya Shastra, an ancient Sanskrit text on performing arts. This classification scheme organizes instruments based on their playing techniques, construction materials, and sonic characteristics, offering insights into the rich diversity of musical heritage in Western Odisha.

The classification encompasses various categories of instruments, including wind instruments, percussion instruments, and string instruments. Each category is further subdivided based on specific playing methods and structural features, providing a comprehensive framework for understanding the unique attributes of each instrument.

Through this classification, the document sheds light on the cultural significance and historical context of folk music instruments in Western Odisha. It highlights the indigenous craftsmanship and artistic expressions embedded in the design and functionality of these instruments, underscoring their role as integral components of local traditions and cultural practices.

Furthermore, the classification framework offers practical utility for musicians, researchers, and enthusiasts alike, facilitating the identification, study, and preservation of folk music instruments in the region. By aligning with the principles of the Natya Shastra, this classification system not only honors the cultural heritage of Western Odisha but also contributes to the broader discourse on musicology and ethnomusicology.

In conclusion, A Classification of Folk Music Instruments in Western Odisha According to Natya Shastra serves as a valuable resource for documenting and understanding the rich tapestry of musical traditions in the region, while also providing a framework for continued exploration and appreciation of its diverse musical heritage.


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