Overview into the the Goa’s folk music and musical instruments !

The history of Goa can be tracked from its different forms of music and musical instruments. The musical life of any civilisation is totally linked with the actual life, and social and cultural lifestyle of that community. The lifestyle of man is internally linked to the musical traditions of his civilisation. That is precisely why musical instruments which have arisen from local traditions are absolutely essential from the viewpoint of anthropology. The study of creation of musical instruments, technique of playing them and experiments on flow of wind performed in that connection are considered extremely important in anthropology. One striking point about the musical instruments from Goa is that most folk music and musical instruments are strongly influenced by traditions of South Bharat. This is but natural as formerly Goa was ruled by different dynasties from South Bharat.

Musical instruments from Goa are categorised into percussion, sound and individually played instruments. Some instruments are to be played individually while others are only used for accompaniment. Some of them are used in orchestra. These instruments are played in temples, churches etc. When  studying the origin of musical instruments the human body itself is considered an ancient instrument. It is called a Divine veena (stringed instrument). It is probably because of this very concept that various parts of the musical instruments have derived names such head, face, mouth, trunk, arm etc. The ancient tradition of musical instruments in Bharat is existing from the Vedic period. Even in those days there was a tradition of playing a particular musical instrument on a particular occasion. The Gruhyasutras advise playing musical instruments for wedding ceremonies in the ‘dart’ (ban) method. It is said that before the wedding ceremony four married women should play the instrument called ‘nandi’. During a Mahavrat (vowed observance) the host would play the ‘shatatantri veena’. The wife of the host of the fire sacrifice (yadnya) would play sushirvadyas viz the kandaveeṇa (tantraveena) and picchora (piped instrument resembling a flute). This auspicious folk tradition has been preserved till date.

In current era more number of musical instruments are used in folk music, devotional music and festival music than those used in classical music. This is an overview of both, most popular and rare musical instruments played in Goa.



Ghumat is a folk musical instrument used especially in Goa, bordering Maharashtra (Konkan region), Karnataka (North and South Kanara Districts) and in the Konkani speaking community in Kerala. It is the favourite musical instrument of Goans. Though this instrument is very easy to make it is quite difficult to maintain a rhythm on it. A baked mud pot with two open mouths of different diameters 10-12 centimeters and 20 centimeters is purchased from the potter. After applying sap or gum of a tree to the moulted hide of a mountain lizard it is stretched across and tied onto the wider mouth, with a coir rope, and is then dried in the ̣shade. A rope is tied to both mouths to make a sling to hold the ghumaṭ around the neck. Sound is generated by beating the hide with the right hand placing the left hand on the smaller mouth to adjust the sound. As this is not played by individually shameḷ, jodshameḷ or mhadale are played along with it. It is very popular in villages and is played during puja (ritualistic worship), Ganesh Chaturthi, Shigmo, vrats, jatras (festival of the temple deity) and jagran (worship at night). When played following the norms of classical music it is called ‘sumwarivadan, chandravaḷ, fag, khanpad, arti’ etc. Though among these instruments the ghumaṭ is the main one shamel and kasale are instruments accompanying it. Singers are accompanied by these musical instruments. Playing of the ghumaṭ varies for different folk dance forms.



Mrudang, pakhwaj and tabla

In Goan temples as part of ritualistic worship there is traditional presentation of kirtan (devotional narration of praise of God in prose and poetry). Pakhawaj or pakhwaj is used during celebration of Shankhasur Kalo, Dashavatari kalo, bhajan etc. as accompaniment. Mrudang and pakhwaj are musical instruments which are gradually disappearing from the Goan music scenario and are being replaced by the tabla. As these three percussion instruments are from the Classical music arena and are well-known they are not being described here.



Taso or tasha and arab


This instrument from the sambal category is very popular. Formerly it was used as an instrument on the war front. One hears this during the festivities of Shigmo. However it accompanies the drum (dhol) in the temples of Goa thrice a day. A wooden, earthen or copper-brass deep bowl called gangal is covered with hide of the goat. The hide is stretched and held in place with brass screws or sewed with threads. Thin cane sticks of about 30 centimeter length are struck onto the leather to create sound. Most of the times this instrument is strung around the neck or tied to the waist. A large tasha is referred to as an arab in Goa. In some Goan villages there is a tradition of organising folk dances to the tune of folk songs amidst playing of the arab during festivals such as Shigmo.


Sanai (clarion)

Sanai and surta

The most well-known musical instrument as in others regions, in Goa the sanai is called shanay by locals. Formerly in Goa temples would appoint traditional artists to play the sanai and the chaughada in the temple. Unfortunately this practice has gradually started dwindling. No new artists are now inclined towards learning sanai and pursing it as a profession. Once upon a time every day, atleast thrice a day the sanai (chaughada) would be played in the major temples. Today due to a dearth of artists the temple administration has to use recorded chaughada music. A sanai is made from shisham wood. It is narrow at one of the ends. It is about 30 to 32 centimeter long, hollow pipe. At the narrow end the diameter of the opening is about 1 centimeter. A two layered clapper made from 2 centimeter long blades of the pala grass is fixed over it. The broad opening is fixed with a nightshade shaped metal horn. The two layered clapper is to create notes, the long pipe is to give the notes a melody and the horn is to increasing the volume or the pitch. The middle pipe has 8 to 9 openings out of which 7 which are in one line are used to create notes and to increase the pitch. The musician does this using 3 fingers of the right hand and 4 of the left. The instrument accompanying the sanai is the surta or sur. The surta can be considered as an example of an undeveloped sushirvadya.


Introduction to some musical
instruments in the folk music tradition of Goa


Just as a tranverse cylindrical wooden pot is used to make a mrudang or pakhwaj so also a 60-65 centimeter long earthen cylindrical pot is used to create a mhadale. Before it is baked the earthen pot is given a slit in the middle. Both its ends are about 20 centimeters in diameter and are covered with the hide of the mountain lizard. The hide is fixed using sap or gum of a tree as in a ghumaṭ. When playing a ghumaṭ this instrument is used as an accompaniment. It is held transversely and secured around the neck with a sling and held in the armpit or on the thigh. It is played by striking the right mouth with the fingers. This instrument is used for accompaniment by the Christian community during the musical of jagor or by the Christian Gawda community during tonyam kheḷ, dhalo etc.


Shamel is a sambal.̣ Made from the bark of Khair tree about 30 cm tall it consists of a hollow vessel held in place by two iron rings. Thin hide of goat is stretched and fitted on to the 16-18 centimeter diameter mouth and tied weaving a rope equidistantly onto the iron rings. However the tension of the hide is adjustable. Generally it is customary to play the shamel in a sitting posture. The shamel is a musical instrument played mainly by the Hindus. The Jod-shamel is a pair tied together and is used like the tabla with a dagga.

The nagara (kettledrum)

The the right sided is shamel. The left sided resembles a dagga and is more rounded. Hence its sound is more bass. In constrast the right sided shamel is high pitched.

The jodshamel is played by tying it around the neck and striking the right one with a straight cane stick and the left one with a rounded cane stick using corresponding hands. It is played as an accompaniment to the ghumaṭ. The jodshamel is played especially during the Shigmo festival at Kankon, Sange etc in Goa, with a group of musical instruments.


The nagara (kettledrum), ghum and chaughada

Today the nagara is played in all the important temples of Goa while ghum is played during shigmo festival in Central and North Goa. During annual festivals (jatras) of temple deities and wedding festivities playing the chaughaḍa is a sign of auspiciousness.


A plate 25 to 30 centimetres in diameter is made from an alloy of copper and brass with a thickness of 1.5 to 2 cm. At the center the thickness is 2 centimetres. On the periphery 2 holes are drilled and a rope or wire is pulled through them. This plate is then hung onto a pole or is held in the left hand and a sound is created by striking it with a wooden stick. In Goa this instrument is played in temples and during Hindu festivals. This is perhaps derived from the words ‘Jai ghanta (victory bell)’ and is commonly played during religious ceremonies.

Kasale, jhanj (cymbal) and tal

Of all ghanavadya used in Goa the kasale is ancient. It consists of two round metal pieces of copper of 15-20 centimetres diameter, made hollow in the center upto 4 centimetres with an opening to pass a rope with wooden handles. Both pieces are struck against each other to create a sound. It is a rhythmic instrument. In other words a kasale is a copper cymbal. This musical instrument is played with a ghumaṭ and shameḷ. When dancing the dance forms of ‘chaurang’ or ‘jot’ during the Shigmo festivities this is used independently to keep the rhythm to the song. The jhanj is a smaller version of the kasale and is mostly made of brass.

The use of the jhanj in arti, kirtan, kalo, jagor etc. is a must. The tal too is used universally in Goa. Ḍhol, dholke and dholak which are drums made from hides are used everywhere in Goa. In most Goan temples they are played during puja or offering besides individual celebration of vowed religious observances (vrat-vaikalya), weddings and other family functions.

Hence the drum has assumed the status of an auspicious musical instrument and is played along with the tasha, sanai, surta, kasale etc.

Karno, banko and shinga

These are sushirvadya played at folk and religious festivals. In Goa they are played mainly during the Shigmo festivities. Karno means karna, a 1.5 meter long metal pipe with one end closed narrowed. The broader end is fitted with a 30 centimetre diameter horn. It is played by blowing from the narrower end. A banko resembles a karno but has a greater diameter. In Goa it is a custom to play the banko thrice, at the beginning, in the midst and at the end of a music recital when five musical instruments are played in the temple. This is especially used  during Shigmo festivities in the Ponda taluka. Shinga is the popular tutari (trumpet) played in Maharashtra. In Bharatiya science of music it is called shrunga, hence it is called shinga (horn) in Goa. Its shape resembles a horn of a cow or buffalo or the crescent moon.

It is made of copper and is played in Goan temples and during religious ceremonies in families.

Surpavo, kondpavo, naksher

The name surpava itself describes the nature and function of the musical instrument. It is a kind of ancient flute. It is played by the Gawli (cowherd) and Dhangar (shepherd) communities when performing folk dance during Shigmo and dasra festivities. The kondpava is 30 to 35 centimetres long and 2 centimetres hollow, flute. In folk dances of the Dhangar community it is used for creating high pitched sounds. Naksher is another sushirvadya played by the Dhangar and Gawli communities. It resembles a pungi (hollow musical instrument used by a snake charmer). This community calls it dudi because it is made from a bottle gourd called ‘markadudi’. A bottle gourd 10 to 12 centimetres diameter is scooped till it is empty. 10-12 centimetre long sticks of 1 centimetre diameter are pierced into it to a depth of 3 to 4 centimetres. On the other side a connecting pipe with a small opening is inserted into the bottle gourd. To prevent leakage of air it is sealed with wax. The instrument is played adjusting the flow of air through the other pipes and by blowing air through the opening covered with a two layered clapper. Formerly as this was played with exhalation of air from the nose in Goa it is called nasayantra. In North Bharat the same instrument is called nagsar. When studying the musical instruments of different cultures and the tradition of playing them it is clear that man struggles to duplicate the melody from living and non-living creation and it is from this eagerness that musical instruments are born. It is through this that man receives the highest form of satisfaction and the realisation that instruments and sounds are inseparable, like the body and soul, dawns upon him. The sound generated by a musical instrument is like Divine Consciousness (Chaitanya) emanating from the body. It is due to this experience of Divine Consciousness that since time immemorial man has blended with music, is continuing to do so and will continue eternally in the future.

Reference : Author – Mr. Pandurang Phaldesai, Chaturang Masik

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