Vedic Musical Instruments: A Gift from God

The string instrument veena, the primordial percussion instrument damaru, and the wind instrument flute form a special trinity among Indian musical instruments. These instruments can be categorized as divinity’s choice as far as Hindu culture is concerned, for they are played to create the three components of music – melody, rhythm, and expression – by an ensemble of divine instrumentalists. The veena of Goddess Sarasvati creates the vedic musical notes (swara), the damaru of Lord Shiva ties everything together with rhythm (tala), and the flute of Lord Krishna is the source of expression and mesmerization. It is believed that Lord Shiva’s child, Lord Ganesha, is the maestro of mridang, an offspring of the damaru, but we may choose not to count this evolved form of the damaru separately.

Influenced by this symbology, followers believe that God adores musical sounds and they should offer vibrations from musical instruments in temples as a part of their devotion. In this context, Hindu scriptures have given a preference to some instruments over others. For example, the Skanda Purana tells us that besides the sound of Pranava (Omkar), the sounds of the bell (ghanta), the mridang, and the conch (shankh) are the favorite of Lord Vishnu. Today, while the sitar and the tabla have replaced the veena and the mridang to a considerable extent, particularly in North India, music from the newest instruments continues to be offered to God by professional musicians of all faiths.