Topic of the Day - Musical Instruments - Ghana Vadya and Sushira Vadya

UPSC Exam Preparation: Topic of the Day – Musical Instruments – Ghana Vadya and Sushira Vadya

Ghana Vadya

Ghanavadya or idiophones are solid instruments that do not require tuning. Ghana Vadya instruments are said to be the earliest instruments invented by man. In earlier times, these instruments were the extension of the human body such as sticks, clappers, rods, etc. and were also closely related to objects of utility in daily life such as falams jhanj, pans and pots etc. They are best suited to accompany folk and tribal music and dance and are principally rhythmic in function. This particular variety of instrument does not need tuning prior to playing.

Example: Jal tarang, Ghatam etc.

  • In the Sun temple of Konarak, Orissa, there exists a large sculpture nearly 8 ft height of a lady playing the Jhanj.

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Sushira Vadya

Sushira Vadya or Aerophones are wind instruments. In the Sushira vadya group, sound is produced by blowing air into a hollow column. The pitch of the note is created by controlling the passage and the melody is played by using the fingers to open and close the instrument.


The simplest of these instruments is the flute. Flutes are generally made of bamboo or wood and the Indian musicians prefer these due to the tonal and musical attributes of these materials. However, in addition to the bamboo and wooden flutes, there are references of flutes made of red sandalwood, black wood, cane, ivory, bronze, silver and gold also.

  • Single or double flutes with only one hollow tube with finger holes for controlling the pitch of the note are very common in many parts of the country.
  • Long horizontal flutes with a larger diameter are used to play slow passages such as Alap of the lower registers.
  • Smaller and shorter flutes, sometimes held vertically, are used for Taans, the faster passages, and also for producing higher pitches of sound.

The double flutes:

The double flutes are mostly played by musicians of the tribal and rural areas and are rarely found on the concert platform. They resemble beak flutes which have a narrow aperture at one end. We can find references to these types of instruments in the sculptures of the first century in the Sanchi Stupa which shows a musician playing on a double flute.

  • Excavations of the Indus civilizations have shown bird whistles of clay, and seals which show wind and percussion instruments. Actual musical instruments are made of bamboo, wood, animal hide, etc. which perish when buried for any length of time, hence, flutes made of wood or bamboo have not survived the ravages of time and are not found in excavations of past civilizations.
  • There is reference in the Vedas to an instrument – the Venu which was used as an accompaniment to chanting and recitation. There is also mention of a kind of a flute called the Nadi. The flute has a variety of names like Venu, Vamsi, Bansuri, Murali and so on in the north, and Pullankuzhal, Pillankarovi and Kolalu in the south.
  • The diameter of the bamboo flutes is usually – about 1.9 cms; nevertheless, flutes with wider diameters are also commonly used. The musical text Sangeeta Ratnakara written in the 13th century by Sharangdeva refers to 18 kinds of flutes. These categories are based on the distance between the blowhole and the first finger hole.

Reed instruments:

Reed instruments have one or two reeds inserted in the hollow beak or tube of the instrument, these vibrate when air is blown into them. In this type of instrument, the reeds are bound together with a gap between them before inserting into the body of the instrument. The body of the tube is conical in shape narrow at the blowing end and opening out gradually with a metallic bell at the farther end to enhance the volume of the sound. A set of spare reeds, an ivory or silver needle for adjusting and cleaning the reeds are also hung from the mouthpiece of the instrument.

Example:  Shehnai, Nadaswaram etc.


The Shehnai is a reed instrument in which there are seven holes along the tube which are used for playing the melody by opening and closing them with the fingers. It is known as a Mangal vadya and is usually played on all auspicious occasions in north India such as marriages, temple festivals, etc. The Shehnai is considered to have come to India from West Asia, and there are other scholars who believe that this instrument travelled to China from India. It is now a popular instrument in concerts, the sound is delightful and suited for playing Raga Sangeet.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ghana vadya and Charma Vadya

What is Ghana vadya made of?

Ghana vadya are made of ceramic, wood, metal or glass and the sounds they are capable of generating tend to be of short duration and are generally produced by means of concussion, that is, by striking together two objects capable of vibration.

What is the Sushir vadya?

Sushir vadya are wind instruments. Sound is produced primarily by causing a body of air to vibrate, without the use of strings or membrane and without the vibration of the instrument itself adding considerably to the sound. The tonal quality of these instruments depends on the size and shape of the tube used.

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