european musical instruments in India

Max Langley mlangley at
Wed Mar 26 21:49:02 UTC 1997

One last comment on Indian violin-playing:

It is true that playing with the scroll held in the foot facilitates
playing only if the violinist does not use a chin-rest. In a sense, some
violinists pride themselves on using neither chin-rest nor shoulder-pad. I
confess that comfort this seems more anatomical than technical. But a
shorter fingerboard was in use before ca. 1830, and chin-rests date to the
late 19th and early 20th century. The shorter fingerboard, in fact, suits
the easier technical requirements of Indian music admirably. I would not
be surprised if some Indian violinists did not use the older--and
shorter--string length. The ancestor of both the violin and sarod was the
rebab, an Afghani one-stringed fiddle. 

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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