european musical instruments in India

David R. Israel davidi at wizard.net
Wed Mar 26 12:16:45 EST 1997


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 the
> 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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