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Folk Instruments

The rich musical heritage and tradition of West Bengal is reflected in equal measure in the folk music of its indigenous rural community. Simple work-a-day songs that lend rhythm to the drudge of paddy-husking, songs sung to celebrate a birth or marriage or ritual, or the spiritual songs of symbolic love of the bauls and fakirs are all enhanced by the sounds of the simple folk instruments that accompany these songs.  The general classification of musical instruments, string (both plucked and bowed), percussion and wind, applies to the folk musical instruments of Bengal too.

The multi-cultural groups and religious sects in the districts of West Bengal have their own typical instruments. Locals of the Bhutia Basti in the Hill district of Darjeeling make a variety of ornate trumpets and a blowing conch which has a highly decorated flared megaphone of metal. The Bhutias also make the thanchen, a unique, three metre long ceremonial trumpet in copper embellished with silver, which is played by the monks as an accompaniment for their ritual music and dance.

The Vaishnava Bairagis play drums like srikhol (with a body made of clay), bells like ghungoor and nupur and metal cymbals of different sizes like the mandira, khanjani and kartal. The ghungoors are made up of small metal balls with beads inside sewn on leather belts which are tied around the ankles. The nupur, on the other hand, is a thin copper, brass or silver oblong tube filled with small beads tied below the ankle in the arch of the foot. Both these are made by the Dhokra Kamars metal casters of Malda district in North Bengal.

The instruments used by the Bauls are so simple that they are usually self-made with a little help from local Doms (dead animal skinners), Akure–doms (bamboo basket makers), Bayens (drummers) and carpenters. Besides the one stringed ektara or gopijantra, the Baul often uses his free hand to play the duggi, a small percussion instrument which is slung across his shoulder with a belt or scarf and rests on his thigh. Typical also are the khamak, also known as the anandalahari and the tambourine-like dubki, while in certain regions the dotara and the sarinda are also played.

The dotara of North Bengal accompanies most of the folk music of the Rajbongshis. The bena traditionally used as an accompaniment for the Kushan folk theatre along with the Sarinjya (Sarinda) and Mokha Bansi are a few of the numerous musical instruments that are found only in North Bengal. The bena made from hollow bamboo with an unfretted finger board is played with a cane bow. 

The Santals, the major Adivasi tribe of West Bengal play the buang, banam, madal, which they call tumdak, a smaller variant of the dhamsha, which they call tamak and a variety of horns and flutes which are made in Birbhum and Bankura. 

The dhak (big drum) and the dhol (small drum) the essential instruments for Hindu religious festivals in Bengal are made by the lower caste Bauris and Doms. The largest drum made in Bengal, the dhak is played by Dhakis from the Bayen and Bauri castes. It is barrel shaped with a bulge at the centre and equal sized faces or parchment heads at both ends which are tightened with leather straps. The dhaki generally hangs the dhak from his shoulder with a strap and beats it on one side with two thin sticks to produce a booming sound while swaying gracefully to the rhythmic beat. The kansar (gong), the ghanta (bell), made by metal craftsmen of Kolkata, Nabadwip and Bishnupur, and the conch shell are the usual musical accompaniments.