The social and religious life of people living in Kullu district is very interesting. Villagers have great faith in their gods and goddesses who move around in palanquins. The villagers celebrate their own fairs and festivals in which musical instruments play a significant role. While locals relish dancing to the beat and tone of this music, the rhythm of folk instruments makes even the palkis of devi-devta sway in glee.
Although music in India has always been individualistic, in Kullu playing of an instrument in an ensemble has greater significance. Nearly all the instruments are complementary to each other and when played alone they
lose their effect. In fact the folk music of Kullu is a symbol of the collective experiences of its people, particularly those played during the ceremonies associated with the Devi- Devta.
Following are the instruments that are played by the followers of the devta:
The nagara is a familiar sight in almost all parts of Kullu.Fashioned from an alloy of brass or bronze and shaped like a pyramid, this is an instrument made of thin metal sheets with a narrow bottom and a wide mouth. It is covered variously with the hide of buffalo, cow or ox and is bound by leather rope in order to tighten the grip of the hide. It is beaten by sticks called ‘choubhe’ across a surface nearly one foot in radius. The nagara is placed in temples and used during worship. In Kullu district, it is played in accompaniment with the dhol by a ‘nagarchi’ who beats it while balanced against his belly.
Similar to the nagara is an instrument called baam. Massive in size, it is made of metal sheets with a narrow bottom and a wide mouth. Its mouth–about two feet in radius–is wrapped in buffalo hide and is mostly used in religious ceremonies of devta. The baam is beaten forcefully with big sticks; the resultant sound, loud and deep, not only fills the hearts of the people with zeal and zest but also creates a fearful atmosphere at the ceremony.
Daffal is used in Holi songs and at religious procession in Kullu. It is also known as ‘daff’ and is made of sheep or goat’s hide. Its radius is between one to two feet. It comprises a metal or wooden strip which is bent round to form a circle. Usually leather passes uniformly over the wooden strand and is nailed to it by small metal nails placed closely at regular gaps. Since the leather is fixed tightly to the frame, no provision for tuning is made while fashioning the instrument. Daffal is commonly suspended from the neck, held vertically and beaten with hands. It is held on the palm of the left arm and played with the right hand.
The dhadh is similar to a dhol, except the outer shell is made from the bekhal tree with the two ends wrapped in sheep leather. The length of this instrument is nearly two feet and is about eight inches in diameter. It is
purified by offering prayers and incantation of mantras as the dhadh is played by a person chosen by the devta himself. It remains an instrument connected with the spiritual power of a devta and is played by a select few
Dhol is the most popular instrument of Kullu. It is a two-headed drum, made of wood and copper shell. Its length is nearly 20 inches and the diameter is about 10 inches. Both heads are wrapped in goat or sheep leather called pura. The puras are tied with cotton string or leather. There are eight holes on each side where string is crossed and tied. The wrapped head of right side is struck with a stick called choubhe and the left is played by left hand. The pitch of right side is low, and that of left side, high. Dhols are suspended from the neck, tied to the waist and placed in the lap. It has been depicted in folk songs gracefully.
‘Baaj dey dholiya dheeli nati
Nauchna aasa dhiyadi rati’
(‘Hey dhol player, beat the dhol in slow rhythm, so we may dance through the night.’)The dhol dominates over other instruments whenever ‘naati’ (folk dance) is performed. One who plays these instruments is called
Dhouns vadya is played in Kullu district at every ceremony associated with the devtas. It has been called ‘Dhavas’ in Vedic literature. It is made from the shell of bhekhal tree and wrapped with skin of sheep. In length it is one and half feet, with the diameter being 12 inches. At the time of wrapping this instrument, tantrum-mantram is done in the presence of devta, so that the soul of devta may dwell in it. Its ends are wrapped with leather by tying it to a flexible stick of from the ‘renhush’ tree. Thereafter seven grooves are created through which a red chord is threaded and knotted to a red cloth. The stick used to play this instrument is known as dagga. One who plays this instrument is called dhounsi. It is also used to signal interval and pauses in religious ceremonies. The sound of dhouns is also considered a signal from the devta for the gur.
Another type of drum is the dragh, tad smaller than a dhol but bigger than dholak. It is also two sided with its ends wrapped in goat leather. It is struck on the right with a stick called ‘choubhe’. Dragh is played in accompaniment to the hulaki dance of the deity, and the sword dance of the gur (chela).
Bhana is another name for the thali in Kullu District which is essentially a large metal plate meant for eating converted into a musical instrument. Pierced either at the circumference or the raised rim, a balancing thread allows it to dangle vertically from the person and is beaten with a stick. It has an indefinite pitch and accompanies other instruments of the ensemble dedicated to the devtas.
Chhanchhala or Jhanjh
Chhanchhala is an instrument made of eight metals called ashtadhatu. Similar to kansi, it is a set of large cymbals, measuring five centimeters in diameter around the middle. It is used during puja ceremonies and the khanda Dance.
The ghanti (bell) has an indefinite pitch created by a suspended clapper striking against the rims when shaken. Larger bells have wooden clappers. The ghanti is an essential part in the worship of deities and is also
an object of worship in itself. Made of copper or brass, it is usually found dangling above the main portal of temples. Mostly this instrument is offered to the devta on the fulfillment of wishes and both morning and evening prayers culminate in the vigorous clanging of bells.
Kansi or Manjira
This instrument is made of bronze or brass and is used in itinerant singing, devotional congregations and Holi songs. It requires the cymbals to be clapped against their rims.
Dhanotu is an instrument named after the dhanush (a bow). The shape of this instrument is similar to the ektara and is played with a bow made of an 18 inch long stick from the Rehunsh tree. This stick is tied tightly with the gut string on both corners, so it takes the shape of a bow. This instrument is in vogue in outer Siraj region of Kullu district. It is used with prayers and ballads.
The conch (shankh) is obtained from the spiral shell of a shellfish, with a small groove drilled into it to let in air. It is blown with full force to produce its singular piercing sound. Different occasions demand
different sounds. For instance, during regular prayer ceremonies, it is blown into from both ends, but for funerals, it is only blown into from one end to force the air outwards.
Shaped like the dhatura flower, these six feet long indigenous instruments in silver or copper are called ‘Karnahal’ and are found only in this region of India. A karnahal has two parts joined at the centre. To create
sound it is blown into with force, resulting in a strong and loud sound. While taking in the air it gives out a piercing sound. The karnahal sound is of happy tidings and is often played during dev yatra, dev puja, and folk
dance and wedding ceremonies.
Kahali in Kullu is played only during a special religious ceremony. It is also in two parts like Karnahala, and as long. Only the shape differs and it is made of only copper . It is usually blown into, not outwards like the karnahal.
Nagphani as the name signifies is in the shape of a serpent (nag),itsmouthwideopen includingthesplittongue. Twotothreefeetinlength,it is made of copper and is divided into two parts. In Kullu district this instrument is played in the Khanda dance of devta Jamlu in Shiah, Hawai and Malana villages.
A wind instrument made of brass which has five outlets at one end is called Panchmukhi Kahal. It is played only once a year at Bishu fair held in the month of Baisakh in Rupi area of Kullu district. It is nearly two feet in length.
Ransinga is a popular instrument of Kullu usually played during folk dances, procession of deities, and marriage ceremonies. Narsinha, Nrisinga and Haransinga are different names of Ransinga. It is ‘S’ shaped and is made of copper and silver; it is divided in two. It is a sacred instrument and is played in pairs as well.
Shehnai is called Chhanal in Kullu district. The Shehnai player is called Hesi or Turhi and is traditionally associated with the profession. There are two winnow-shaped reeds two centimeters in length, called peepee, made of Pala grass. The narrower end is fitted into a small tube, technically known as the Pampika which in turn is inserted into the long wooden pipe and is shaped like the dhatura flower.