european musical instruments in India

Max Langley mlangley at
Wed Mar 26 21:14:07 UTC 1997

As a long time violinist, and professional, I have to say that I am
unimpressed from a practical and acoustical standpoint at anyone's playing
the violin with the scroll held by the foot (feet). This remark is not
made in ignorance of the actual performing on Indian instruments--I
studied sarod and voice for a while with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan at the Ali 
Akbar College. Pandit Subramaniam, who I have had the happy opportunity to
experience in concert, is obviously well-trained in a Western style and
very able in every technical and musical way--the method of bowing always
tells the tale. For him, such a manner of playing represents an adaptation
of Western training to Indian performance ways. That is not true for many,
if not most of, Indian violinists. Indian-trained violinists tend to have
a wild and raspy wound, not vocal at all, and rather like home-grown
fiddlers everywhere, even if they are in a formidable possession of
musical knowledge. It is not really comfortable to play the violin sitting
down, if comfort were the determining factor--which in the case of Indian
violin-playing it is not. There is not a feeling of rightness with the
instrument that is the case with sarod, sitar, and probably srangi. I
cannot speak for the vina. I sense that Indian instrumental playing is
related to the lap as a center of weight and balance. The violin was not
designed with that orientation in mind. Pandit Subramanian, of course,
plays well and has adapted his exquisite musicianship to the tradional
requirements of Carnatic music....Max Langley

> From: David R. Israel <davidi at>
> To: Members of the list <indology at>
> Subject: Re: european musical instruments in India
> Date: Wednesday, March 26, 1997 1:04 PM
> Chandan Raghava Narayan wrote:
> >Isn't it curious that the violin in Indian classical music
> >(Carnatic) is played with the scroll of the instrument resting on the
> >arch of the foot? I find this interesting because I was always taught
> >never to touch items associated with "Sarasvati", ie. books, paper,
> >and musical instruments, with your feet. The instrument can just as
> >well be played in the Western "upright" manner... Might this have to
> >do with it being a Western instrument? -chandan
> and this morning, Das Menon replied --
> > This may have more to do with the fact that 'gamakas', an essential
> > part of Carnatic music, is difficult to play with the violin held in
> > Western style.
> That explanation seems to echo what the well-known Karnatic violinist 
> L. Subramaniam told me when I interviewed him (for a small newspaper, 
> abt. a dozen or more years ago).  He remarked something to the effect 
> that when the violin scroll is rested on the foot, it makes the whole 
> playing process looser & freer (the instrument thus being "anchored" 
> at both ends) -- I guess there's more freedom both for neck & arm.
> In terms of the question of the instrument & the foot, a comparative 
> case is that of sitar in Hindustani music -- the base of which which 
> is traditionally rested on (I believe) the sole of the right foot.
> Still, I don't know if these cases of practice quite solve the 
> mystery raised by Chandan -- and one imagines there must have been 
> some manner or route of justifying the seeming gesture of disrespect 
> -- whether in case of violin or sitar.
> Another note about the violin in Indian music.  L. Subramaniam 
> alluded to me some of the Tanjore court history discussed in some 
> detail by S. Palaniappan.  But he *also* refered to the belief 
> (probably a prevalent belief) that the violin has ancient antecedents 
> in the so-called *ravana* [or some cognate word?] -- a legendary 
> bowed-string instrument associated w/ the Lord of Lankha, of epic 
> fame (&/or infamy).  The general sense of this reference by the 
> musician seemed to be a suggestion that South Indians were 
> predisposed to favor such a bowed string instrument as the violin due 
> to this ancient history -- and/or, a sense that it's something they'd 
> seen before that had thus been re-introduced by the Dutch folks.
> best,
> d.i.
> p.s.:  I just joined your august ranks a day or two ago -- expecting 
> mainly to sit back & soak up the scholarship [I not being any sort of 
>  proper Indological academic] -- but so happens this particular 
> thread touched on familiar issues.
>  .
>  .....
>  ............
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