Indian Violin

Direct European contact with India dates from the voyage of Vasco da Gama in the 15th Century, when the inhabitants of Calicut laughed at the poor quality of the gifts that he had brought for the local ruler. It is a lesser known fact that Indian musicians played at the court of James I as part of a diplomatic exchange in the late 16th Century. It is not known how James reacted but it is known that the super-rich Moghul emperor Jahangir was contemptuous about the presents he received from the relatively cash-strapped English king.

It is likely that the British colonial armies (and especially their Irish and Scottish contingents) carried violins with them during their campaigns on the sub-continent during the course of the 18th century but it was not until the end of that century that the violin was adopted by Indian musicians - most notably by Dikshitar and Vadivelu. In the space of a hundred years the violin became almost de rigeur as an accompanying instrument for vocalists throughout the South Indian (Carnatic) musical sphere.

The indigenous sarangi was still the preferred accompanying instrument in the North Indian (Hindustani) arena but was gradually adopted by some musicians, primarily as a solo instrument.

Structurally the Indian violin is identical to the Western instrument but in India the playing posture is different (see photos below) and the tuning is also different. In the North the violin is usually tuned Pa, Sa, Pa, Sa (Sa being the tonic note and Pa the fifth above) in the South it is usually Sa, Pa, Sa, Pa. The absolute pitch is variable - Balu Raghuraman, for instance tunes his Sa to D# whereas Jyotsna Srikanth tunes to E. This low tuning puts the instrument more comfortably into the vocal range and gives it a more sarangi-like tonal quality. However, this is not essential for getting an 'authentic' Indian sound, Manoj Baruah, for instance, tunes his Sa to D.

Padmashree Dr. Smt. N. Rajam


I am indebted to Candida Connolly for the following page of South Indian ornaments, (see Bibliography). Indian musicians tend to assimilate ornamentation by osmosis and seldom refer to specific ornaments in any kind of formal way - as is done here. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that the ornaments are played by sliding with one finger but this is not always the case, sometimes a downwards gliss, for instance, begins with the second finger but ends with the first finger which has imperceptibly taken over in mid-flow. The Indian equivalent of the acciacatura is performed with one finger barely leaving the string as opposed to the Western way of doing it which makes the two notes quite distinct.



Poornima : Raga Moods for Meditation - Manoj Baruah / Urban Prayer

Raga Violin Recitals - Manoj Baruah / Urban Prayer

Violin Virtuoso - Pandit D.K. Datar

Tone and Rhythm - Pandit D.K. Datar - Magnasound / OMI D4HI0074

Violin - Padmashree M. S. Gopalakrishnan - Manasound / OMI D5CI5013

Parur M. S. Gopalakrishnan / Ustad Sultan Khan (sarangi) - Jugalbandi Live at Shivaji Park - Navras NRCD 0065

Indian Strings Jugalbandi - Pandit V. G. Jog & Pandit Bismillah Khan (shenai)

75th Birthday Celebration - Pandit V.G Jog - Navras NRCD 0076

How To Learn Violin - Johar Ali Khan (VCD) - The Pyramid

Vibrant Violin of "Sangeeta Kalanidhi" - Dr. T. N. Krishnan & Dr. N. Rajam - Oriental Records ORI CD140

Music Is Music - Jugalbandi (duet) - Prof. T. N. Krishnan and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan (sarod)

Dr. Smt. N. Rajam - (LP) - The Gramaphone Company of India - ECSD 2718 (no longer available)

Vocals Through Violin - N. Rajam - Magnasound / OMI D4HI1325

Singing Violin - Kala Ramnath - Neelam NICI102

Nishigandha - Fragrance of the Night - Kala Ramnath - Ninaad NCCD 0009

Luminous - Kala Ramnath - Audiorec - 766032 1057-2

Sensitive Strains of Violin - Sangeeta Shankar - Magnasound Sirocco

Vidwan Balu Raghuraman


Basic Lessons on the Violin (Indian) - Vidwan Balu Raghuraman - Suswaralaya College of Music

Sundaram - Ganesh and Kumaresh - Sense 062

Shantham - Ganesh and Kumaresh - (2CDs) Shrutilaya SCD 5028

Vasantham - Ganesh and Kumaresh - Home Records 2005

Parivaar - T. N. Krishnan and N. Rajam - Kriyative World Music KWM100628-2

Insight - Dr. Jyotsna Srikaanth - Theme SJ002

The Creative Genius of Dr. L. Subramaniam - (LP) Oriental Records BGRP 1012

Le Violon de l'Inde du Sud - L. Subramaniam - (LP) Ocora 558585/86

Who's To Know - L. Shankar - (LP) ECM 1195

Vaulting With The Strings - Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan - Dunya Records

Madhura Mohanam - Hosahali K. Venkataram and Hosahali K. Subba Rao


Colours of India - Ganesh and Kumaresh - (DVD) - Music Today DVD M04172

Omnipresence: Golden Krithis Vol. 2 - M.S. Gopalakrishnan / Universal 06024 981 0154

Natural Elements - Shakti with John McLaughlin - Columbia 489773 2

M.R.C.S. - L. Shankar / ECM 1403841642-2

Rising star of Hindustani violin, Manoj Baruah,
who plays left-handed on a 'right-handed' 5-string. (photo copyright Hamido Frank Kardell)

Manoj's website


The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians - Edited by Stanley Sadie - Vol. 9 - India - 1980, Macmillan, London

Indian Melodies for Violin - Candida Connolly - 2004, Schott & Co. Ltd. London - With accompanying CD

Violin Techniques in Western and South Indian Classical Music - Dr. M. Lalitha - 2004, New Delhi

South Indian Gamaka and the Violin - Gordon N. Swift - 1990, Asian Music, Volume XXI-2

For a copy of this article go to

This page is still under construction. I intend to add more information about the instrument, the players and the techniques involved. If you have any suggestions or requests please send email to Peter Ridsdale - echo.park(at)