european musical instruments in India

bpj at bpj at
Wed Mar 26 21:21:26 UTC 1997

I'm not a musician. I just wish to point out that a lot of European "folk"
violinists rest the violin against the chest rather than against the
shoulder. It may be because it makes it possible to sing while playing, but
basically I think this is just random cultural differences. I have a hard
time seeing the point in debating the "correctness" of different
traditions, be it their way of holding their instruments, their "sound", or
whatever. IMO this thread suffers from some cultural prejudice: does anyone
want to produce an "explanation" why Devnagri is written with a nib that is
cut "backwards" as compared to most other scripts (Roman, Arabic, Hebrew
and even Tibetan)? Barring the unlikely possibility that at some point in
time most Hindu scribes were lefties, and thus wrote Devnagri with a
straight nib, it is just a question of aesthetical preferences, et de
gustibus non est disputandum.

(And yes, although not a musician I dabble as a leftie calligrapher :-)

At 21:51 26.3.1997 +0000, Max Langley wrote:
>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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>>    >>      washington  d.c.      <<
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>>  |  disrael at      (office)
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