Traditional variations of instrument

 Sanchayeeta Parashar
Sanchayeeta Parashar
Sanchayeeta is an aspiring writer from Assam who's passionate about exploring different tribes and sharing the beauty of their cultures with her readers.

Music is an indispensable part of human existence. A life without music would be a mistake. 

Music as a whole is an integration of vocal, instrumental, and dance. Assam, the epitome of diversity, displays a wide range of variation in musical instruments from tribe to tribe and community to community.the spread of the population has led to the mingling of music and musical instruments. The environment and ecology of the region inhabited by a particular indigenous community determines the structure of the musical instruments used by them.

For instance, instruments like Pepa, Dotora, Tokari, etc are made from indigenous raw materials like lao (bottle gourd), Mohor Xshing (buffalo's horn), Nal khagori (reeds), etc. The tribal communities like Bodo, Rabha, Missing, Karbi, Deoris, Dimas, etc have their own variations like khram, kham, tak tak, etc to suit their seasonal festivals that centre around cultural ethos. Here is an account of the variations found in some of the prominent instruments among the tribes of Assam.

Avanaddha (membrane-based instruments)


The Dhol is an indispensable membrane-based instrument for the folk dance and music of Bihu.

  • The Deuri community's dhol is known as durum.
  • The missing version with a different playing system is known as dumdum.
  • Tiwas uses Pisu khram.
  • The general sized dhol of the Karbis is called cheng and the smaller sized one is called cheng cha.
  • Joy dhol is generally played with the Deodhani dance. The bardhol, which is large but not heavy, is the principal dhol whose beating is accompanied by smaller auxiliary dhols.
  • The dhepadhol of the Bardhuliyas of Kamrup has a small hole on the bigger membrane where water can be poured to make the sound low yet deep.


A naga is a conical-shaped membrane-based instrument which is covered with hide and played by using a stick.

  • Tiwas uses a small but diverse variety of nagara known as tumbang.
  • Tinki is another variety used by the tea community. Dhamsa is another big, conical-shaped Nagra used by the community. It is suspended from the waist of the dhuliyas (dhol player).


  • The Kham of the Bodos is a big madal-shaped instrument with black paste affixed on both the leather covers. Its length is about 90 cm and its diameter is 45 cm. It is played with the fingers.
  • The Biate tribe possesses a large-sized drum known as khuang, with the serow's hide. A small hole is often made at the centre of each membrane. The smaller version is known as tume khubang
  • The Khram of the Dimasa is a cylindrical wooden drum whose membranes are generally made of deer skin and straps made of buffalo skin. It is played with sticks on one side and with fingers on the other side.
  • The Khong of the Hmars is a big and heavy drum played with sticks on one side and bare hands on the other.

Susira Badya (Wind Instruments)


  • Among the susira badyas,Mohor xihongor Pepa is an integral component of the Bihu celebrations. It is made of Buffalo horns and bamboo reeds. It is played with three fingers and with different techniques. 

The Missing variety uses Reed in Buffalo horn


It is a small wind instrument made of light and soft bamboo pieces which produces low sound. A thin bamboo sheet is placed between the two flat pieces in the Bodo variation called ganggana. In the Missing variety ,known as gunggang,it is played by pulling the thread attached to the end.


Flute is a cylindrical tube of bamboo of uniform bore.Generally two types of flutes are found,

  1. One side blown 
  2. End blown
  • The Bodos use a long Flute known as Siphoong.
  • The Hmars innovated a Flute with 7 parts and they called the instrument pang Che.
  • The Rabha version, called brangshi, has another small light bamboo tube attached to the front part. The Lahakar banhi of Rabhas has two holes , one near the natural knot of the bamboo piece and the other in the middle through where air is blown.
  • Puli or Kuruli is the Missing name for Flute. 
  • Turang, of the Tiwas is about 40 cm long and it has two parts. The first part contains the hole for blowing air inside, and the second part has holes for fingering. It is used in the Tiwa dance Sagrami Sawa.


Kali is a tube made of bamboo, weeds or brass that gradually widens towards the horn. The body contains six to seven holes to be played with fingers.

  • The Karbis call it muri tangpa
  • Muri is a similar type of instrument of the Dimasas,a narrow wooden tube about a metre long. 

Tata (Stringed instrument)


  • Sarinda used by the Bodos is a well known stringed instrument used in the districts of Goalpara, North Cachar,Kamrup,etc.
  • It has an oval shaped hollow wooden resonating chamber, covered with the skin of an iguana.
  • The strings pass over a bridge of wood or animal horn.
  • The string of the bow is made of horse's hair.


The Ektara has different names like lao tokari,khamak,gopi Jatra and Ananda Lahari.

  • Gopi Jatra's resonator is a wooden cylindrical vessel whose lower opening is covered with a hide.
  • Lao tokari consists of a dried bottle gourd shell with one side covered with goat's skin.

GHANA( Solid instruments)

  • Kartaal is a simple clapper of bamboo. The members of the tea community hold in both hands and press it to produce a rhythmic effect. This is also called bamasa
  • Dhuluki another important element of folk music, is a cylindrical wooden instrument played with fingers.
  • Khanjuri,consists of a Circular wooden frame covered with lizard skin. A rhythmic sound is produced when played with palms and fingers.

When the sun sets in the evening sky, marking the end of a tiresome day, a missing shepherd plays Kuruli, a Bodo plays siphoong, a Hmar plays his pang Che, but all these flutes are made of the same bamboo and they generate the same tune, i.e. the tune of love and oneness.