Musical instruments used in Assamese folk songs and dances


29th Jan 2011


There are various types of folk musical instruments in Assam. Great varieties of instruments are played to the accomplishment of dance performances and the folk songs.


The folk musical instruments of Assam can be classified into four categories. These are:


         i.Percussion instruments (anaddhva vadya)

       ii.Wind instruments(susir vadya)

      iii.The stringed instruments(tata vadya)

     iv.The solid instruments (Ghana vadya)


Percussion instruments (anaddhva.vadya):



The important ones are the dhol, nagra, daba, khol, mridanga, jaidhol, etc., all anaddhva.

Dhol: The dhol, the common drum is used in Bihu dance. Others are generally used in religious functions, the khol being the principal tala instrument for Vaishnava music. Assam dhol is one of the most essential parts of Bihu, the most important festival of the state. This musical instrument accompanies the famous Bihu dance of Assam. The dhol of Assam is the main instrument that maintains the rhythm of the spring festival of Bihu.


The dhol is a percussion instrument. This musical instrument of Assam resembles the drum very closely. This Indian drum is played with two sticks. The dhol in Assam is made of a wooden barrel. The two open ends are completely covered with animal skin. The pitch of the sound produced by the dhol depends on how tightly the skin is being attached to the barrel. For tightening and loosening of the skin, there are ropes. Sometimes bolts and nuts are also used for this purpose.

The dhol is an important part of the folk entertainment and culture. Each and every beat of the Assamese dhol celebrates the life, culture, tradition and daily routine of the people of rural Assam.

The beats of the Assam dhol reflect the rhythm of the daily lives of the people in the villages of Assam. Jaidhol also used in wedding ceremonies. Khanjari, small and light, and a combination of drum and cymbals, also belongs to this class. Taka, a simple instrument of a piece of bamboo-tube split from one side, is beaten to keep time measurement in a Bihu song and dance.



Khol : Khol also called mridang, is a folk drum of northeast India.  It has a body made of clay, a very small head on the right side (approximately 4 inches), and a larger head on the left side (approximately 10 inches). 

Nagada: Nagada are the kettle drums of the old naubat (traditional ensemble of nine instruments).  These drums are about 1 - 2 feet in diameter, and played with sticks. 




Today this instrument is usually used to accompany shehnai

Wind instruments (susir vadya):


 Wind instruments (Susir) used for Assamese folk music and dance are the flute,

 The ciphung bahi of Bodos, the kali, the singa and the gagana.


        Chiphung: The chiphung is an important part of the Bodo festival. The ciphung is a long wind instrument made of bamboo and resembles the flute in many ways. Flute played at Bodo festivals.

        Kali: Kali like its more developed version the Sehnai, is played in wedding ceremonies. It is an important part of the Assamese wedding ceremonies.




            Singa: The word singa or pepa derives from the word sing (horn) is made of a buffalo-horn with a little bamboo pipe thrust into it; pepa inseparable from the Bihu festival, is in fact is only a reed pipe, which is usually connected to a buffalo-horn. The pepa of Assam is an intrinsic part of the traditional folk music of the state


The sound of the singa mingles harmoniously with that of the dhol to add grandeur      to the music of Bihu. This instrument is an essential part of the Bihu dance performances. The music emitted by the traditional pepa of Assam gives the listeners an idea of the festive mood of the people residing in the small villages of Assam. Its music is also an integral part of the evening entertainment in the rural areas of Assam.


        Gagana: Gagana is a small, split-bamboo instrument, very finely cut and delicate. Young women play it by holding it between the teeth, striking with the right forefinger, allowing the wind to pass as and when necessary. The sound emitted by this instrument is of short and high-pitched. It accompanies the dhol during the Bihu dance performances. Their sounds together make the performance appear very lively and gorgeous. The Bihu festival of Assam thus remains incomplete without the sound of the Assamese gogona.


The stringed instruments (tata vadya):


        Tokari: Tokari played like an ektara or sitar, is widely used by folk singers and by wandering minstrels who sing mystic songs like Deh Bisarar Geets.

        Serenda:  serenda is a Bodo instrument played with a bow. It is look like sarod.

        Been: Been is played with a bow; it is an evening companion of village youths who may roam about playing lilting folk-tunes.


The solid instruments (Ghana vadya):


      Taal: Of the Ghana classes, the most important is Tal (cymbals) which has many a ramification like bhortal, khutital, karatal, mandira, etc. Bhortal, the largest pair of cymbals, used by the Vaishnavas. The tiniest, the Khutital is played by Oja-pali performers.

      Kah: Kah a flat bell, and Ghanta, sounded during the progress of worship, fall under the Ghana class.