Are violins endowed with religious significance? (was Re: european musical instruments in India)

adheesh sathaye adheesh at
Fri Mar 28 03:38:47 UTC 1997

Dear fellow Indologists,

As the second party of the discussion to which Chandan Narayan had
originally alluded, I feel obliged to resuscitate his main discussion, which
seems to have suffered those common pratfalls of Indology, debates on
origins and aesthetics....

Our basic observation was that with regards to traditionally 'Indian'
instruments, such as the vI.nA, or the sitAr, in common practice there seems
to be an explicit prohibition of contact with the foot. Resting the vI.nA on
the thigh or calf would be acceptable, but it should not be allowed to touch
one's foot. At least in our conversation, this was the common practice with
which we were familiar. However, when playing the violin, there is
necessarily contact with the foot. 

This raises a few questions:

** 1) Is this prohibition of 'foot contact' really as explicit as I have
made it out to be?

This is basically the crux of the argument; if this rule is not explicit or
very widespread, then there is no further debate.

However, if it is true, then we must assume it has to do with either the
association of the said instruments with either religious sanctity, or with
levels of respect. (That is, the same respect is accorded to the instrument
as is given to other people, with whom 'foot contact' is also explicitly

** 2)  If either of these is the case, then why the discrepancy when it
comes to the violin? 

I suggest that if the violin was truly considered 'on par' with other Indian
classical instruments, then there would necessarily be this same prohibition
of foot contact, and thus in the development of the Indian playing style
(once again a question of origins) this consideration would have to be taken
into account--perhaps by resting the violin on a different part of the body,
or on a cushion a la the tabla. My suggestion was, although primarily in
jest, the possibility that the early players were indeed conscious of the
disrespectful nature of foot contact, and it was a deliberate statement on
their part....A subalternist approach to classical Indian music, if you will....

Or perhaps, more seriously that indeed the violin is not endowed with the
same sort of sacred overtones as other classical instruments, and thus the
aforementioned prohibition need not apply....

In any case, it would be very interesting to see what are other opinions and
facts regarding these two questions in particular....


Adheesh Sathaye
Graduate Student--Dept. of South/Southeast Asian Studies
UC Berkeley

 At 12:19 AM 3/26/97 GMT, you wrote:
>Mr. Palaniappan's interesting historical account of Maratha patronage of
>classical music along with the introduction of western instruments brought
>to mind an interesting conversation I once had with my friend Adheesh
>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?
adheesh at
	'Suddenly Marathi is everywhere.'--C. Masica, 1991.

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