Ten of my favourite string instrument songs

After I’d done my piano song posts, I began to think of other musical instruments that appear in the picturisation of songs. Songs where it’s not an orchestra (Ted Lyons and His Cubs, anyone? Or The Monkees?), but a hero or heroine, not a professional musician, being the one ‘playing’ an instrument? Guitars, I thought, would be a good place to start. A ‘guitar songs’ post. I tried by listing, off the cuff, all the songs I could remember as having a guitar-playing actor or actress. Then I went and checked on Youtube—and discovered that several of the songs I’d remembered as featuring a guitar actually featured a different string instrument: a mandolin, for example (in Tum bin jaaoon kahaan), or some even more unusual and exotic instruments.

String instrument songs: Baar baar dekho, from China Town

So this post changed. It’s now a post on ten of my favourite songs, from pre-70s Hindi films that I’ve seen, which feature a string instrument. And, to make it a bit less of a walk in the park for myself, no two songs feature the same instrument. Here goes. In no particular order:

1. Classical Guitar. Tadbeer se bidgi hui taqdeer bana le (Baazi, 1951): A guitar is one of the most recognizable—even to total music ignoramuses like me—string instruments there is. There are, Wikipedia tells me (and my chest swells with pride to be able to say I knew this!) several types of guitars. Mostly with six strings, the nylon-stringed ‘classical guitar’ having the sound projected acoustically while the steel-stringed ‘electric guitar’ does so electrically.

There aren’t, as I thought at first, those many songs in Hindi cinema featuring guitars—especially not in the 50s and 60s (the 70s, with Rishi Kapoor and Taariq in Karz, Hum Kisise Kam Nahin, Yaadon ki Baaraat or Khel Khel Mein, etc, had its fair share of guitars to be seen). Guitars, if Hindi cinema was to be believed, were not instruments one learned to play if one was ‘respectable’: they were purely for social entertainment, and of the kind the well-bred would sniff at. A guitarist was to be found in a nightclub, not a drawing room.

And, of course, no well-brought-up young lady played the guitar. So Geeta Bali, playing the vamp in Baazi, strums her guitar and sings a wonderful ghazal about taking one’s fate into one’s own hands. She may not be really playing the guitar, but she’s not making an outright hash of it the way Dev Anand did in Yeh raat yeh chaandni phir kahaan—or, even worse, Biswajit in Laakhon hain yahaan dilwaale.

Edited to add: Blog reader Sadanand Warrier informs me that the guitar in Tadbeer se bigdi hui is actually an acoustic guitar.

Tadbeer se bigdi hui, from Baazi
2. Sitar. Madhuban mein Radhika naache re (Kohinoor, 1960): Believed to have been derived from the veena and modified during the Mughal period, the sitar is one of those quintessentially Indian string instruments that you see so much even onscreen. Unlike the Westernised ‘not good’ player of the guitar, the sitar player invariably fell into two brackets: the male was usually a classical singer (think Meri Soorat Teri Aankhein, or Baiju Bawra), and the female was invariably an upper class lady (Meena Kumari in Dil Ek Mandir or Jamuna in Humraahi). The point being that the sitar—and its knowledge—classed you as being refined, well-brought-up (if you were female) or serious about your music (if you were male).

With so many lovely songs to choose from—the sublime Poochho na kaise maine rain bitaayi; Hum tere pyaar mein saara aalam; Mann re tu hi bata kya gaaoon—I chose this one. Not because it’s unusual in that the sitar player is, instead of being a full-time musician, a prince—but because the actor, Dilip Kumar, actually took the trouble to learn how to play those notes on the sitar. That’s dedication, and it shows. Plus, as those who follow this blog regularly probably know by now, this song is one of my all-time favourites, irrespective of anything else. How could I leave it out?

Madhuban mein Radhika naache re, from Kohinoor
3. Veena. Meri veena tum bin roye (Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957): Where the sitar is, can the veena be far behind? Well, perhaps. ‘Veena’ is a generic term for a wide range of stringed instruments, ranging all the way from the Saraswati veena (named for the goddess of learning, who is traditionally depicted with this veena in her hand) to the Mohan veena, an odd-looking combination of a Hawaiian guitar and the typical gourd attachment to add resonance.

In Dekh Kabira Roya, Ameeta plays a girl (aptly named Geeta) who is devoted to her music. So devoted, in fact, that she’s made up her mind to marry only a man who shares her love for the art. So, when she realises she’s in love with a painter rather than a singer, what more appropriate way for her to express her sorrow than by singing of the desolation of her veena? Her veena looks like a Saraswati veena, though I’m not certain—could someone confirm this?

I admit I am taking a bit of a liberty with this song, since Ameeta isn’t actually shown playing the veena, but the very fact that the veena is the focus of the song excuses that, I think.

Meri veena tum bin roye, from Dekh Kabira Roya
4. Ektara Gopichand. Aan milo aan milo Shyaam saanware (Devdas, 1955): The most basic of stringed instruments, the ektara (literally, ‘one-string’) is just that: an instrument with one string, held in one hand and with the string plucked with the index finger. A very closely related instrument, but with the string penetrating the centre and ending in a gourd, coconut or hollowed-out wooden resonator, is the gopichand or gopiyantra. Both the ektara and the gopichand were used by wandering minstrels, such as the Bauls, because of their portability.

[Many thanks to Anu, who pointed out this error, since I’d thought the instrument in Aan milo aan milo Shyaam saanwre was an ektara].

And where Baul music is, there will be songs inspired by it, as well as by other folk and/or devotional music. The ektara, therefore, is a familiar instrument onscreen, all the way from Govind bolo Hari Gopal bolo to a song about the ektaraEktara bole (from Yaadgaar). This one, though, a wonderful bhajan (featuring, not an ektara, but a gopichand) sung by Manna Dey and Geeta Dutt, is my favourite: the music is very simple, and the song showcases the simplicity of the ektara gopichand beautifully.

Aan milo aan milo Shyaam saanwre, from Devdas
5. Balalaika. Naacho ghoom ghoom ghoom ke (Sarhad, 1960): Moving on from the very Indian instruments of the previous three songs, an instrument which isn’t often seen in Hindi songs (I have to admit this is the only example I can think of): the balalaika. The balalaika, a Russian string instrument with a distinctive triangular body and (typically) three strings, comes in a wide range of sizes, all the way from piccolo to contrabass.

While Western instruments like the guitar and piano are commonly seen in Hindi cinema, the balalaika is not—and this song, picturised on a group of tribal dancers, is hardly the setting I’d have expected to find it in. But composer (and singer, in this case) C Ramachandra was famous for his use of Western tunes, so I’m not really surprised (though, a thought: is there really a balalaika to be heard in the music?) Dev Anand makes a bit of a hash of ‘playing’ the instrument, but the song is a peppy, foot-tapping one.

Naacho ghoom ghoom ghoom ke, from Sarhad
6. Lyre. Yeh kaisi ajab daastaan ho gayi hai (Rustom Sohrab, 1963): And this—considering I’m so mad about history—is the one that gives me the greatest thrill, because it actually features what looks like a replica of the oldest surviving string instrument in the world, one of the lyres of Ur. Over 4,500 years old (and therefore probably still around in some form during the time the historical Rustom Sohrab is set), the lyre shown in the film, being played by Suraiya, is a large four-sided one similar to the Queen’s Lyre at the British Museum. It stands on the floor, a heavy (and ornate) wooden frame with vertical strings plucked by the fingers.

Yeh kaisi ajab daastaan ho gayi hai is a lovely song (composed by Sajjad Hussain), and rendered beautifully by Suraiya, but I have to admit that knowing someone did their research before the picturisation adds to my enjoyment of it. Interestingly, two other songs from Rustom Sohrab also show musicians using string instruments: a crescent-shaped harp-like one in Phir tumhaari yaad aayi ae sanam, and a flattish instrument, its strings played with curved sticks, in Ae dilruba ae dilruba.

Yeh kaisi ajab daastaan ho gayi hai, from Rustom Sohrab
7. Setar. Dil ka na karna aitbaar koi (Halaku, 1956). Still in the Middle East, but with a string instrument that is still in use, not an artefact in a museum. The setar (so named because it originally had three—‘seh’—strings, though a fourth one was added about 250 years ago), though its name sounds very like that of our sitar, is actually quite different: it’s a much smaller instrument, slim and long-necked, which is held rather like a guitar, and strummed.

In Dil ka na karna aitbaar koi, though Lata Mangeshkar (singing for Helen) gets to sing the bulk of the song, Rafi joins in every now and then with a line, which allows me to go with my rules of the game: the person playing the instrument should also be singing. I have no idea who this actor is, but the song is a lovely one with a definite Middle Eastern flavour to it. And the setar fits right in.

Dil ka na karna aitbaar koi, from Halaku
8. Banjo. Kitna haseen hai mausam (Azaad, 1955): Another fairly exotic musical instrument, for India: the banjo owes its origin to Africans in colonial America, and was the backbone of traditional African American music before its popularity spread to minstrel shows and more in the 19th century. The banjo is characterized by a circular cavity (over which is stretched a thin membrane—either of skin or plastic) which acts as a resonator.

Like the balalaika in Naacho ghoom-ghoom-ghoom ke, the banjo in Kitna haseen hai mausam is a musical instrument rather incongruous with the setting of the song. Azaad is a good old-fashioned ‘raja-rani’ film, set solidly in the not-too-distant but somewhat amorphous past in India—not quite the place or time one would expect to see a banjo. But Meena Kumari does ‘play’ it, and Dilip Kumar later carries it for her, in a song that’s a lovely little ‘along the way’ serenade to love and life.

Kitna haseen hain hai mausam, from Azaad
9. Mandolin. Tera dil kahaan hai (Chandni Chowk, 1954): Now, moving on to another ‘foreign’ instrument: the mandolin. The mandolin originated in Italy, and is a typically hollow-bodied instrument made of wood, with either a round, a flat, or a carved top. For a string instrument that hails from lands far removed from India, the mandolin makes surprisingly frequent appearances in Hindi cinema. This is the instrument Waheeda Rehman plays in Kaheen pe nigaahein kaheen pe nishaana; Shashi Kapoor plays it in Tum bin jaaoon kahaan. It’s also the instrument Nalini Jaywant strums so frantically in Beimaan baalma.

And it appears in this ethereal song from Chandni Chowk. Smriti Biswas, playing an Egyptian dancer (and therefore exotic enough to be strumming a mandolin?), uses it to render a sensual, seductive song—in a tune which Roshan, the composer for Chandni Chowk, was to reuse more than a decade later in Rahein na rahein hum.

Tera dil kahaan hai, from Chandni Chowk
10. Ravanahatha. Saiyyaan jhoothon ka bada sartaaj niklaa (Do Aankhen Baarah Haath, 1957): And finally, after all those firang instruments, back to a very subcontinental one: the ravanahatha. The ravanahatha, also known by various other names (including the intriguing ‘ravana hastra veena’) draws its name from Ravana himself, who—according to legend—worshipped Shiva with music from this instrument. At any rate, the ravanahatha was once popular in Sri Lanka and Western India, especially in Rajasthan and Gujarat. (Incidentally, a writer named Patrick Jered has researched and authored a book—Finding the Demon’s Fiddle—on the elusive origins of the ravanahatha; the book’s due for release later this year).

As you can see in Saiyyaan jhoothon ka bada sartaaj niklaa, the ravanahatha is a folksy-looking instrument, very portable even though it consists of two parts: the string instrument itself, and the bow used to play it. While I do prefer Ae maalik tere bande hum when it comes to the songs of this film, I think Saiyyaan jhoothon ka bada sartaaj niklaa has a certain rustic charm to it. And the fact remains that the picturisation matches pretty well the music Vasant Desai actually used: a string instrument, drums, and Lata’s voice. That, in itself, is quite an accomplishment.

Saiyyaan jhoothon ka bada sartaaj nikla, from Do Aankhen Baarah Haath
Which songs would you add to this list? (And, a special request: if you can add songs with string instruments that haven’t been covered in my list, I’d be especially grateful! I’m sure there are songs out there featuring rababs and saarangis and santoors and whatnot? Bring ‘em on!)


136 thoughts on “Ten of my favourite string instrument songs

  1. Yet another interesting collection by you. I am particularly impressed by your including the Ravanahatha – an instrument that I had obviously seen in that song, but never knew what it was. I take my hat off to you on that one.
    An interesting side-point – not quite what you were asking for, but related to this thread – there is a song in “Hum sab chor haiN” with a very very young Shammi Kapoor (the film is from 1956) called “O Mr Banjo” and there is no banjo to be seen in it for love or for money.


    • Thank you! I’m glad you liked the post. I must admit I hadn’t known about the ravanahatha before I set about compiling this list. It took a lot of research to learn more about it.

      And yes, I had come across O Mr Banjo (I’ve seen Hum Sab Chor Hain, though years ago). I rewatched the entire song, hoping there would be a glimpse of a banjo. But yes, nothing. So disappointing. Especially as she does play a mandolin in another song from the film; why not a banjo here? :-)


      • Somewhere in the comments, I think you asked about the cello In Hindi cinema. While this song is totally age-inappropriate for your collections, it is the only case I know of in HFM where the cello is prominent. And I love the song. This video actually has 2 songs mashed together, the first by Alka Yagnik and Javed Ali, and the second by Vijay Prakash. I am very fond of both the songs.


        • Thank you for that! While I haven’t seen the cello or bass much in old Hindi cinema (only when played by club bands – as in Mera naam Chin-Chin-Choo), it seems to be rather more visible in newer films. I haven’t seen Yuvraaj, so didn’t know about Tu muskura. Yes, it is a lovely song. :-)


  2. Thank you for imparting knowledge about string instruments. What an array of classical musical instruments was used in old Hindi songs! A great guitar song I can think of is “Baar baar dekho…” from Chinatown. “Laakhon hai nigaah mein …” has Joy Mukherjee just using the guitar as a prop – he doesn’t play it at all! “Suhaani raat dhal chuki …” (one of Rafi’s best songs) featured a string instrument, though I’m not sure which one it was (mandolin?).


    • You’re right about Suhaani raat dhal chuki using the mandolin. Here it is:

      Another relatively little-known but nice song which features the mandolin (at least I think it looks like a mandolin, though I recall seeing somebody refer to it as a rabab) is this one; Bechain nazar betaab jigar from Yasmin:


  3. The moment I saw the list and the subject, I had to read it immediately. You have done such wonderful research, Madhu. Well done. To me everything held in hand and strummed was a guitar, and when music was to be produced from strings with the help of a bow was a violin.
    I’d never heard of ‘balalaika’, and to have recognised it in Dev Anand’s hands is amazing. Didn’t ever notice it was a triangle.
    The other which I thought was a real discovery both instrument wise, and song wise is the ‘setar’. And of course the ravanahatha.
    The songs are all in my favourite list too, especially the ektara one aan milo shyam sanware , sitar – Madhuban mein radhika, classic guitar – tadbeer se bigdi hui , not forgetting the banjo – kitna haseen hai mausam, and lyre – ye kaisi ajab dastaan.
    Can’t remember any violin song right now.
    I did a bit of research too, just now (thanks to you for having ‘jagrit karo’ this instrumental interest :-) )about the difference between lyre and harp, and it says, lyre is strummed like the guitar while the strings of the harp are plucked.
    I really don’t know if this is a harp or a lyre in the song, because I don’t think Nimmi is doing justice to it. She could be playing it like Ajit plays the piano in main khush naseeb hoon LOL so that we can’t make out what it is.
    Thank you Madhu for this unique topic.


    • Pacifist, thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. It’s been one of the most satisfying posts for me too to compile – challenging, and I managed to learn quite a bit as I went about doing my research. Two of the instruments I’ve written about – the setar and the ravanahatha – were new to me. And I spent a lot of time looking for a song with a violin (I was certain there must be one, especially in Barsaat, where RK’s character used to play the violin – I remember my father mentioning that Van Shipley played it for his character). But, no go.

      I was sure there was some black-and-white Hindi film, raja-rani type, which had someone playing a harp or lyre! I actually went through the songs of Aab-e-Hayat, Halaku, Changez Khan etc looking for one, but never thought of looking through Udan Khatola. Haal-e-dil main kya kahoon had just slipped my memory. Thanks for reminding me. :-)


  4. I watched Madhuban mein Radhika carefully. What an amazing song. I think it encapsulates everything that was pure and excellent about Hindi film music of the Golden Era. Apart from the sitar, there is good use of a couple of other string instruments. There is some terrific tabla. Mohammad Rafi’s classical virtuosity is on full display. And there is Kumkum’s beautiful classical dancing. While it may be a cliche, the four people (actor, playback singer, music director and songwriter) who contributed to this song, which represents a strong Hindu tradition, were all Muslims. Hats off to this team.


    • It is a superb song, isn’t it? I fell in love with it during my last few years in school – so deeply in love that when I used to go walking in the school grounds with my friends during the lunch break, we’d all sing it! Most of our classmates thought us quite mad. But we loved Madhuban mein Radhika naache re. (And, though you don’t mention it, I also like the occasional singing by the other character – he’s supposed to be comic, but I do think his singing is actually good).


  5. Great and innovative post !!!!. Love most songs, and learnt a lot about instruments.
    Here are mine —
    1) Sitar (I hope this is a sitar)

    2) Whatever instrument Dev Anand is playing & making a fool of himself (referred to as a generic saaz, saxophone perhaps)

    3) Again whatever instruments Rajesh Khanna is playing (Bandmaster, baaja whatever, dafli etc etc etc)

    4) Amitabh playing the Peti, I believe it is called harmonium, hopefully I am right. Nevertheless, by far his best song


    • I do like Hum tere pyaar mein saara aalam: such a lovely song. It was in the running for the sitar song in this post, but lost out to Madhuban mein Radhika. As for Sabke dil hain bechain: the saxophone is a woodwind instrument, not a string instrument. ;-) And whatever band-baaja thing Rajesh Khanna’s playing in Meri pyaari beheniya banegi dulhaniya, it seems to be of the same family. Woodwind, not string.

      Also, while Rimjhim gire saawan is a lovely song, the harmonium isn’t a string instrument. A keyboard instrument, Wikipedia tells me.


      • You are absolutely right, I did not catch the exact specs, missed that only string instruments to be posted.
        Here are some more —-

        1) Guitar

        2) Violin followed by electric guitar

        3) Ek Tara

        4) Guitar. Joy M just carries it, but does not play it; probably for the best :)


        • Govind bolo hari gopal bolo was on my shortlist too, but then I decided in favour of Aan milo aan milo Shyaam saanwre, which is a song I can listen to over and over again. :-) And I’m so glad you put in Dard-e-dil dard-e-jigar and Chaand mera dil: Rishi Kapoor and Taariq are always synonymous with the guitar in the 70s, to my mind. Here’s Rishi Kapoor again, with the electric guitar, in Humne tumko dekha tumne humko dekha:

          Much as I like Laakhon hain nigaah mein, the mere fact that Joy Mukherji doesn’t even pretend to play the guitar excluded it from my list.


  6. What a lovely and unique post this is, Madhu! As the other comments have said, hats off to you for bringing in so many ‘new’ instruments to the fore. I have seen the Ravanahatha used in many films but never knew it was called that. Again, while I had seen the Balalaika, I’d not known its name.

    To add to your list:
    1. Bagpipes: A song that is not one of my favourites: Bol radha bol sangam (But at least he looks like he is playing it. And he probably was!)

    2. Raj Kapoor again, on the daph this time (and one of my favourite songs): Dil ka haal suno dilwale from Shree 420

    3. Tanpura – which is technically an instrument, no? Duniya na bhaaye mohe from Basant Bahar. It’s a lovely song, even if you have to watch Bharat Bhushan. :)

    4. Bharat Bhushan again. Playing the been.


    • Anu, thank you for the appreciation! And for the songs – they’re so lovely, all of them. Some more than others (the only exception – which I see you too have listed as an exception – is Bol Radha bol; that song always tends to put me off. And it reminds me of something my father quotes as Shammi Kapoor having said when Sangam was released: “Bhai sahib ko half pant nahin pehenni chaahiye thhi“).

      But, coming back to the songs you’ve listed: I hate to – after having done that to Samir – also rain on your parade. :-( Duniya na bhaaye mohe does qualify, since a tanpura is a string instrument (thank you for adding that to the list, by the way!), but as for Bol Radha bol, Dil ka haal sune dilwaala and Ik pardesi mera dil le gaya: the bagpipes, daph and been are not string instruments.


  7. What a fabulous theme for a list!
    I had great time reading the article. I was particularly happy to read the information about the instruments themselves. Didn’t know about Ravanahatha. Ravana himself, was supposedly, a good veena player. Was also happy to see saiyyan jhootn ka bada from DABH. I like this song a lot, though I didn’t like it much before.
    Banjo in kitna haseen hai mausam is a bit outlandish, but we Hindi film fans are used to such things aren’t we? Setar was entirely new for me. Well not entirely, because some of my Middle Eastern acquaintances have asked me about it and its relation to sitar, but ignoramus as I am, I didn’t know what they were talking about.
    Speaking about lyre reminds me of harp, which has also been used quite often in Hindi films, in costume dramas like Uran Khatola

    I also didn’t think that Balalaika would make an appearance in Hindi films, but not really surprising what with Indo-Russian friendship during those times.
    So nice to see aan milo shyaan sanware. Just love this song.
    Talking of veena, what is a rudra-veena and how does it differ from the normal veena?
    Madhuban me radhika is a nice song, but it just won’t run up any higher in my charts. Most probably,b ecause I used to think that the song is madhuban mera dikha naache re.
    Just love tadbeer se bigdi huwi. Hindi film actors mawling guitars comes right next to the other principal crime in Hindi films, kneading the piano keys.

    Thanks for this informative article, Madhu!


    • Some additions to the list. Not all of them are my fav songs, but most of them are, and some of them don’t fit in your time epriod, but still…
      Sitar in
      koi gaata main so jata

      ajhun na aaye balama

      Guitar in
      sama hai suhana suhana

      Mandolin in
      Mil mil ke gayenge do dil jahan

      This should have been Anu’s contribution, not one of my fav songs but just for the record, a sarangi song.
      aansoon bhari hai


      • My darling Harvey, that is not the sitar that Amitabh is playing in Alaap – it is the tanpura. It is used to provide the shruti or pitch in classical singing.

        I would have added the song from Parvarish myself, but I thought I would spare Madhu the sight of too many Raj Kapoor songs at one go. :)


          • The Sarawati veena as it is also called, is usally made of a single piece of wood (inferior ones are made of three different pieces to form the neck, the head and the resonator), with seven strings – 4 playing strings and 3 drone strings stretched over 24 immovable brass frets. The best Saraswati veenas come from Tanjore; they are mostly used in Carnatic music.

            The Rudra veena on the other hand, has between 22-24 frets (which are movable), the same seven strings (4 main and 3 subsidiaries), but with two resonators made out of pumpkins (instead of being hollowed out of wood) fixed under the bridge nearon both ends. The body of the Rudra veena is usually made out of teak, though recently I found bamboo ones as well. So far as I know, the Rudra veena is used more often in Hindustani classical music, especially for the dhrupad.

            Thus ends my vishesh tippani on the differences between the two. I can always confuse you even more by mentioning another veena – the vichitra veena. :)

            (Madhu, sorry for taking over your comments board.)


        • “I thought I would spare Madhu the sight of too many Raj Kapoor songs at one go. :)

          LOL! But I did hope you would come up with some song I didn’t remember from Barsaat where he plays the violin. :-) Is there one? I looked, but couldn’t find one.


          • There is, but he is not the one singing, though. He provides the accompaniment to Nargis as she sings Mujhe kisise pyar ho gaya. If you listen to the music and see the placement of his hands (no closeups of just the fingers), you will see him actually play the notes.


            • Wah! That’s quite something. I know we talked about the Kapoors probably knowing how to play the piano (over at my post on male pianists), but do you know if RK actually knew how to play the violin? Or – Dilip Kumar and Madhuban mein Radhika naache re style – did he just learn the notes for this particular section?


              • RK knew how to play quite a few instruments, plus he was a trained classical singer. According to Shankar-Jaikishen, he could play many instruments ‘by ear’ (including the flute) and he definitely knew how to play the harmonium, piano, violin, accordion, tabla, and bulbul tarang. He had once said that his first ambition was to have been a music director. His virtuosity on the violin is amazing, is it not? He looks like he is playing the notes for real.


                • “His virtuosity on the violin is amazing, is it not?

                  Very! He should’ve played a musician in more films. At least he’s credible. I mean, contrast this with Biswajeet in Kismat, also playing a musician…


    • Am I glad to see someone else who thought that the opening line was “madhuban mera Dhika naache re” :) ( as a youngster ). . I also thought that “Tumsa” was a town. In the song yoon to humane laakh haseen dekhe hain, tumsa nahiin dekha. Not knowing the meaning of “haseen”, my conclusion as a kid was that it was another word for towns, so this person had seen many but not tumsa ! It was only after I asked someone where is Tumsa located, that I got the meaning…..


    • I’m so glad you liked this post, Harvey! It was particularly satisfying for me, because I learnt so much. :-) I am a total music ignoramus, really, so nearly all of this required very painstaking research – and I got to learn a lot of new things in the bargain! Time well spent.

      And I see Anu has answered your question about the rudra veena and the Saraswati veena. Good, since I didn’t know it either and would have merely gone and done some Googling. Incidentally, there’s also (as I’ve mentioned in my post), the Mohan veena, which is very odd-looking (you can see a photo here):


      Other than Mera salaam le jaa and O door ke musaafir, I keep forgetting the songs of Udan Khatola! So, thank you for putting in Hamaare dil se na jaana. Here, from a Muslim social rather than a costume drama, is another song which features a harp. Shammi plays it (and sings a little too, which is why this sng was on my long list). Hum jispe hain fida, from Nakli Nawab:


  8. You really do come up with some interesting themes. Ok, I confess I will not be able to add to your list, besides your readers have already done the needful. What I can do however is, what else? I can share some memories. This has to do with Dilip Kumar’s dedication. I do not know how familiar you are with Bombay, Bandra is a suburb of Bombay. Every two years the residents of Bandra host ‘Celebrate Bandra’ a 15 day cultural event. It is fabulous, you pay nothing but you get to feast on both contemporary and classical music, dance, songs. Besides there are plays, art exhibitions, food fests, mini literary fests and so on. In the first ‘Celebrate Bandra’, there was a programme on classical music. While a classical singer Sandhya Khatawate sang the classical ragas, Sanjeevani Bhelande sang the Hindi film songs based on those ragas. The chief guest of this programme was none other than eminent sitarist Ustad Abdul Haleem Zaffer Khan, he was the one who trained Dilip Kumar for this film. he gave a detailed description of his experience of teaching Dilip Kumar and his dedication. For us in the audience this entire programme was a very rewarding experience.


  9. Fabulous post, but I am on the rounds, off to the doctor’s, so I will come back, go through these one by one, and then make my comments, but off the top of my head, the jal tarang is also featured in Madhuban mein …
    And Ameeta cannot play the veena in that position, the strings which are plucked are on the right, so she would have to be seated on the opposite side, but since I have not watched the song, I cannot comment.


    • Yes, I have seen people playing the veena (Ameeta herself does so elsewhere in the film), so I do know that Ameeta cannot play the veena in that position. I do mention in the post, too, that that’s one liberty I’ve taken with that song, since she doesn’t really play the instrument, just caresses it in a forlorn fashion. But since the song’s lyrics focus on the veena, I thought I should give myself that much license!


  10. I must say that you have fab followers of your posts. I saw your post earlier in the day, just skimmed throughout it, was going to read later when I had more time. There were no comments at that time, I come back to it and there are so many fabulous comments and additions within a few hours. I am really impressed with your research on the instrument names. I am familiar with most of the songs in your list but did not know all the interesting names – satar particularly was new to me. I have to look that one up. Off hand, I can add one song for Veena, where the actress actually plays it – well pretends, all she is doing is moving her hands up and down and ( here we go again ) Bharat Bhushan takes over the playing a little better than the actress, nevertheless still just a show Geeta Dutt singing the classical “baat chalat Mori chunri rang Dari,” from the movie Ladki

    Incidentally, there are several types of Veenas, Saraswati, Vichitra, Rudra and Veena.
    One will have to look them all up to find the differences. I know a Rudra Veena is used with Dhrupad singing and is ancient.

    One of my favourite, where the actresses are playing the sitar is ‘jab dil ko satave ghum, tu, ched sakhi sargam from the movie Sargam. There are a couple of close ups where ( I think ) a double is actually playing the sitar, because the rest of song shows just hand movements, not really playing the sitar.

    For violin, there is ‘ek pyaar ka nagma hai’ from Shor

    Once again, quite an interesting and innovative post !


  11. After reading about the Ravanahatha, I had to post this song from the Tamil movie, Sampoorna Ramayanam, which I saw when I was about 5 or 6 years old. In this scene, Ravana plays the veena, and plays ragas appropriate to the occasion or time of day.


    • That was beautiful, Lalitha! It actually gave me gooseflesh, even though I didn’t understand a word. Just the way it was sung, and the so very skillful playing of the veena. Brilliant.


      • I just listened to the song Lalitha, of course did not understand any words, but the music is heavenly ! Thanks to your post, Madhu, one gets to listen to so many hidden gems. I still can’t get over the fact that you came up with 10 DIFFERENT and UNIQUE instruments. I don’t know if they still sell the Ravanhatha instrument made of clay, and a few strings and bow in India, as kids we used to buy it hoping to play just like the seller but never could. I have seen an old movie where a boy is playing it and singing “jhumka gira re” in a folksy manner – same opening tune as the later hit.


        • “I don’t know if they still sell the Ravanhatha instrument made of clay, and a few strings and bow in India, as kids we used to buy it hoping to play just like the seller but never could.

          I’ve never seen that, but you just reminded me: at Dilli Haat, I’ve seen folk musicians using a ravanahatha and playing folksy versions of old Hindi film songs.


  12. What a wonderful, impressive post! Hats off to you..

    So thats what a Ravanahatha looks like :-) I had read about the instrument (ages back) and I had seen the song too – but never made the connect.

    Loved all the songs you mentioned – though for me, the best guitar song will always be Baar Baar Dekho (oh Shammi! I love him <3.) and a close second would be Lakhon Hain Yahan Dilwale (ohhhhh Biswajeet – he is so so so bad that it is hilarious and memorable). As for Sitar song, Hum tere Aalam Mein would be my pick.

    Enjoyed reading it very much. :-)


    • Thank you, Harini! Yes, (as you can probably see from the first image on my post), I like Baar-baar dekho a lot, too. I had thought of using that as the guitar song on this post, but decided Tadbeer se bigdi hui was a more unusual one, and merited a place here.

      “a close second would be Lakhon Hain Yahan Dilwale (ohhhhh Biswajeet – he is so so so bad that it is hilarious and memorable

      LOL! True, true. He is frightful.


  13. Great post;all the songs the you listed here are my favorites,especially ” Madhuban mein Radhika naache re “.Thank you for providing detailed insight on the “Lyre” as I was curious about its origins.All the songs I could think of are already mentioned above by the readers in their comments.Some songs that I can recall now are-
    “Bedardi Daghabaaz” from Bluff Master

    “Jiya Na Lage Mora” from Buddha Mil Gaya

    and this one from my favorite music director MadanMohan
    Tum Bin Jeevan Kaisa Jeevan from Bawarchi


    • Oh, all lovely songs, coolone160! Thank you so much. And, continuing in the same vein – of sitars, tanpuras etc, and from somewhat later films, here’s Kaali ghodi dwaar khadi, from Chashme Baddoor. A tanpura, I think, but I am not sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This song would not qualify for the post ( the instruments are not used throughout ) nor do I care for the picturization though in its audio form, it was a popular song from Mahal (1949) featuring Harp and Tanpura “ye raat phir na aayegi”


    • Whether or not the instrument is used throughout the song wasn’t a criterion, so Yeh raat phir na aayegi would certainly work. In fact, since I like the song, I had it on my long list. But since one of my self-imposed rules was that the player should also be singing, I dropped it – because while the woman playing the sitar is singing, I already had zeroed in on the sitar song I wanted to list. I had been keen on adding this as a harp song, but sadly, the woman on the harp doesn’t sing at all.


    • It did cross my mind a few minutes back that among the newer films I’ve seen which had a strong theme about music was Sur, and that it probably had some songs with string instruments. (I couldn’t remember any, and hadn’t yet got around to looking on Youtube).Aa bhi jaa aa bhi jaa should’ve occurred to me without searching. Thanks!


    • Okay, I hadn’t seen Rockstar, but I have heard Sadda Haq. From a movie about a rockstar, a song like that would, I suppose, be quite naturally filmed with an electric guitar. I guess Rock On! probably also had songs picturised with guitars, though right now, I can’t remember. In the meantime, the electric guitar also appears here, in a song from a much earlier decade: Simti si sharmaayi si, from Parwaana:


    • Ah, the Rock On! song. I did have a recollection of an electric guitar in the songs in this film, as I mentioned. Didn’t remember which, so was glad to see Sindbad the Sailor – thanks!


  15. and though it is not technically a ‘picturisation’, but the way the acoustic guitar has been used here is great :-) so taking the liberty of posting…


    • I was wondering why nobody had posted Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko, and was thinking I’d probably end up having to post it myself! Thanks. :-)

      P.S. May I make a request? Please mention the song and the film in your comment when you post a link (if you notice, I’ve been doing that in response to all your comments). The problem is, Youtube links often disappear – maybe within months, sometimes within days – because of copyright violations etc. So somebody reading this post after a while may not know what song you’re talking about. Thanks).


  16. I was listening to some songs and here is one more featuring the Guitar. From Munimji, Dev Anand, Nalini Jaywant and Pran ” Dil ki umange hain jawan ” . Quite a comical song between the three of them.


  17. and ‘ek baar kaho’ from the movie of the same name (i think) has a very young and charmimg dileep dhawan serenading kiran vairale with an acoustic guitar


    • Good one! The 70s and early 80s seemed to have a lot of guitars around, didn’t they? The first name that pops into my mind is always Rishi Kapoor, but there were plenty of others, as we can see.


      • Madhu, since you mentioned 70s and 80s, I am taking the liberty of going beyond your pre-70s boundary. There were certainly some lovely guitar numbers in the 70s and 80s. R D Burman and Kalyanji-Anandji used guitar beautifully in a number of their songs. Laxmikanth-Pyarelal also composed a memorable guitar piece in Karz (though the song was not great). Among the songs where the player is also singing, perhaps one of the best performances on a guitar is in Kalyanji-Anandji’s Neele neele amber par from Kalaakaar. Kalyanji-Anandji changed the guitar interludes in this song which is inspired by an all-time classic song by Ilayaraja. The song Ilaya nila from Payanangal Mudivathillai (Tamil) is considered to be one of the best guitar performances in a film song in India. Just close your eyes and listen to the beautiful strains of the guitar. This song was recorded after 16 takes because the guitarist was challenged to get the notes right by Ilayaraja who was an accomplished guitar player himself! If someone can point me to a better guitar song than Ilaya nila in any language in an Indian film song, I would love to hear.


  18. there is actually a whole lot of songs on the guitar , acoustic or otherwise , so posting ‘dil ki baat kahin lab pe’ from teri kasam , where kumar gaurav is ostensibly on an electric guitar


    • I’d actually forgotten there was a guitar in the first version of Yaadon ki baaraat too. This film, thanks to Taariq playing a musician, had the guitar in abundance: there was Lekar hum deewaana dil, Aapke kamre mein koi rehta hai, and even without Taariq, Chura liya hai tumne. A great score.


  19. so i end the guitar treatise with the title song from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom…with an interesting guitar variant (does it have a name?) being played by Amitabh Bachchan , who incidentally has undertaken more interesting/colourful roles with age :-)


    • I had a feeling I had seen a rabab somewhere in a song (other than Ae mere pyaare watan, which wouldn’t qualify since the singer is not the player), but couldn’t recall which. Thank you!


  20. Madhu Ji,
    Back after a long time.
    I found the theme quite interesting. Thanks for the wonderful effort and write-up.
    In the first song, Geeta Bali may not be making an outright hash of it, but the camera does not show her with the guitar after 1:44 minutes. Since we could hear the guitar playing in the interludes we assume that she continues to play the guitar. That brings us to the point that the person singing need not play the instrument (string) for the entire duration of the song and the next two songs, of Dilip Kumar on the Sitar and Ameeta on the Veena, confirm this. You have mentioned this in your narration. Yes, Dilip Kumar is convincing on the Sitar. Balalaika was new to me. Thanks for introducing the instrument to me. Speaking of Ravanahatta, as Neeru has mentioned, we have seen this instrument being played and sold in the streets (of Calcutta) when we were kids.
    “(And, though you don’t mention it, I also like the occasional singing by the other character – he’s supposed to be comic, but I do think his singing is actually good).”
    The other actor was Mukri. I believe the sitar was played by Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan.
    Thanks to Latha for adding the wonderful song from Sampoorna Ramayanam rendered by C S Jayaraman.
    A variety of string instruments you have presented. Enjoyed the songs too.
    I think all the instruments mentioned by you have come up in the comments section. Although Anu ji has mentioned about the difference between sitar and Taanpura, from the comments it seems that some confusion still lingers. The accompanying instrument in the songs Poocho na Kaise, Duniya na bhaaye mohe, koi gaata main so jata, ajhun na aaye balama, Jiya Na Lage Mora, Tum Bin Jeevan Kaisa Jeevan, Kaali ghodi dwaar khadi, ye raat phir na aayegi etc is Taanpura. And the instrument that we see in the songs Madhuban mein Radhika naache re, Hum tere pyaar mein saara alam Kho baithe, Tora man darpan, jab dil ko satave ghum, tu, Bedardi Daghabaaz and ched sakhi sargam are Sitar. Taanpura ha four strings and it is plucked with the first two fingers to maintain the scale.drone/buzz. Here is the example of the Taanpura played in the C sharp scale. Pa, sa,sa,sa. This is repeated in entire length of the song etc.

    Further one may notice that the Taanpura has four strings hence four tuning pegs or Khunti, but no frets or pardas.
    Whereas a sitar is a fully equipped instrument, can be played independently as well as can be used an accompanying instrument. It has seven strings at the top of the frets and 13 strings below the frets for resonance. Thus one will find 7+13 string hence 20 pegs/ khunti.
    If one carefully observes the two sitars used in the song ched sakhi sargam, one will find the strings for providing the resonance are missing, hence lesser number of frets. Actually they are learners sitar and generally used in the initial stages of Talim.
    Sorry for the elaborate explanation.
    Let me add a couple of songs,
    Beena Madhur Madhur Kachhu Bol by Saraswati Rane, film Ram Rajya (1943), music Shankar Rao Vyas, lyrics Ramesh Gupta, instrument Veena

    Although this song is beyond the period set by you yet I could not check the temptation because I felt the composition and quite good.
    Karna Fakiri Phir Kya Dilgiri by Vaani Jayraam, film Meera (1979), music Pandit Ravi Shankar, lyrics Meera Bai, instrument ektaara

    Let me take the opportunity wish you and all the members of your blog A Very Happy Diwali.
    Thank you once again Madhu ji.


    • Venekataramanji, thank you so much! Although parts of your explanation went over my head (I am a complete music ignoramus, as I mentioned in my post – at least when it comes to instruments, I have no idea what ‘frets’ or ‘pardas’ are, for example). But you explained the difference well enough for even me to be able to understand them. Thank you for that – and for the songs.

      And, also, very importantly: a very, very happy (even if belated) Diwali to you and your family!


  21. here is Pran Sa’ab singing ‘ghar khuda tum se kahe’ from Zanjeer on the rabaab..though his time on the rabab is brief, the instrument is prominent in the entire song


  22. flipping channels late at night I stumbled upon kis tarah jeete hain from nai roshni .. hadn’t ever heard the song or known about the movie..but it had Raajkumar with a mandolin (?) slung on his person as he sang..not that he played it but the song was not bad! searching on you tube i heard jitni likhi thi from the same movie. Again an unheard song and with the mandolin slinging still. So although he is not playing them, the hero is moving around with a string instrument (which he does ostensible play!), so taking the liberty of posting them here because the songs were not bad..


    • Thank you. I’ve heard of this film but have never seen it. The songs are certainly not bad, even if Raj Kumar isn’t actually shown playing the instrument (it does look like a mandolin).


  23. Wow…..a great idea for the post, Madhu. I love the theme because I believe that understanding and appreciating arrangements and orchestration in a film song is essential for enjoying a film song completely (apart from picturisation, singing, lyrics etc). Having come late to this ‘strings’ party, I noticed that all the songs I would have included are already covered. Also, I guess all the well known string instruments have been covered. I have one observation, though. A BulBul tarang is also a string instrument. The strings are plucked with the right hand and typewriter like keys are pressed with the left hand. The sound is sweet and melodious. I remember seeing some players use this instrument in my childhood. I have not seen any reference to this instrument here. Can someone identify a song where the BulBul tarang is played?


    • Oh, yes, I came across the bulbul tarang when I was doing the research for this post. I remember noticing videos of people reproducing film songs on the bulbul tarang (I believe it’s also referred to as the ‘Indian banjo’). But I haven’t come across any film songs that are picturised with a bulbul tarang be played.


  24. I guess both BulBul Tarang and Santoor are string instruments where you have to sit down and play the instrument. You cannot be dancing or gyrating with a Santoor or BulBul tarang. So, I am not sure if we can find film songs where someone is playing the santoor or bulbul tarang and is also singing.


    • Yes, but it’s the same with sitars, tanpuras and veenas – you can’t dance around with those either. But there are Hindi songs aplenty which feature people playing one of those and singing at the same time. I suppose it’s just a matter of time before someone does find a song with someone playing a bulbul tarang.


  25. Madhu, since you mentioned 70s and 80s, I am taking the liberty of going beyond your pre-70s boundary. There were certainly some lovely guitar numbers in the 70s and 80s. R D Burman and Kalyanji-Anandji used guitar beautifully in a number of their songs. Laxmikanth-Pyarelal also composed a memorable guitar piece in Karz (though the song was not great). Among the songs where the player is also singing, perhaps one of the best performances on a guitar is in Kalyanji-Anandji’s Neele neele amber par from Kalaakaar. Kalyanji-Anandji changed the guitar interludes in this song which is inspired by an all-time classic song by Ilayaraja. The song Ilaya nila from Payanangal Mudivathillai (Tamil) is considered to be one of the best guitar performances in a film song in India. Just close your eyes and listen to the beautiful strains of the guitar. This song was recorded after 16 takes because the guitarist was challenged to get the notes right by Ilayaraja who was an accomplished guitar player himself! If someone can point me to a better guitar song than Ilaya nila in any language in an Indian film song, I would love to hear.


    • Thank you so much for that! I don’t know how Neele-neele amar par slipped my mind, especially as I had remembered it, and had been thinking that if no-one else posted it, I would. The other song is beautiful. I hadn’t heard it before. Really good, and the guitar playing by the actor is impressive. Thanks for that anecdote regarding it.


      • Yes and the ending guitar piece in Ilaya nila is beautiful and quite complicated. S P Balasubrahmanyam, the mellifluous singer who sang this beautiful Tamil number said he had to start all over from the beginning during those 16 takes. It was ‘live orchestra’ recording in those days. Ilayaraja was known to throw new challenges to his musicians and singers all the time and this one is definitely one of the best guitar pieces you will hear in Indian film music. Kalyanji-Anandji had to match the lovely guitar piece in the remake. They also fared quite well in composing the guitar piece in Neele neele ambar par. And I guess the actors in the two movies also had to struggle to make their actions look realistic when “playing” the lovely guitar pieces on screen. Kunal Goswami (Manoj Kumar’s son) was the actor in Kalaakaar.

        Unfortunately, I do not know the names of the two guitar players who played these wonderful pieces as part of the orchestra. They are all ‘behind the curtain’ and sadly, do not get credit for their skill and talent.


  26. This is an amazing concept and I love it. I also like the fact that you restrict the list to string instruments. Thanks to you for re-introducing some of the wonderful melodies and also to others who pitched in with some really sweet songs. All I need is a couple of hours to soak all those songs in.

    I know you mentioned “Sur”. MM Kreem did a fabulous job with Lucky Ali singing “Jaane Kya dhoondta Hai Yeh Mera Man” mostly with Guitar chords that were very melodious. Not a big fan of new age movies but this one I loved. Below is the link of the song (other songs were also really good)


    Sorry about being late for this thread but I only discovered this blog recently and as I mentioned (in my first response) I am truly like a kid in a candy store, who is now going from shelf to shelf cleaning out the stock. :)


    • Just remembered on my ride home, the classic Madan Mohan creation from the movie Dastak of 1970 (would this year be off-limit too?) with some stunning lyrics by Majrooh. The haunting melody “Hum hain mata-e-koocha” was sung beautifully by Lata. Now, the instrument Rehana is holding seems to be Taanpura but the background music is predominantly sitar, to my untrained ears. You decide:

      This is one of my favorite Madan-Lata movie Dastak which had another haunting melody “Mai Ri Main Ka Se Kahoon”. Another song from this movie that had plenty of Sitar was beautiful romantic number “Bainyan Na Dharo”

      One more Sitar classic, this time from Lata-Salil I is from the movie Parakh (1960). Instrumentation aside, the interludes in stanza are breathtaking… Song “O Sajna Barkha Bahar aayi”..

      Hope you enjoy these songs…

      — Kid in A Candy Store


    • Thank you so much, Ashish! I’m glad you enjoyed the songs – I enjoyed putting this post together (even though some errors were later pointed out). At least I got to learn some things about string instruments which I hadn’t known before.

      Dastak would certainly be acceptable; 1970 is cusp, so when necessary, I allow it to pass muster. I also make that exception for films from even a year or two later, which have the feel of an earlier period to them – Pakeezah, for example.

      Oh, and thank you for Jaane kya dhoondta hai – the songs of Sur were nice, and I liked the film too.


  27. Really appreciate the theme and equally informative comments. It took me more than an hour to read and understand each and every comment offered. However , about banjo , how one can forget kawwalis ? With harmonium and banjo , it made great listening. Here is a most popular of them all from Al Hilal ( 1959 i think ) :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXoxYcO77b0


  28. a nice post as usual. liked it very much!
    informative too.
    i didnt know all the instruments that u mention!

    again no songs to post right now.

    may b after few days!

    is it compulsory that the main lead or someone must play the instrument?


    • “is it compulsory that the main lead or someone must play the instrument?

      Not necessarily the main lead (as you can see from some of the songs). Don’t know what you mean by ‘someone’ in this context. Someone must play an instrument, no? It can’t play itself…


  29. what i meant was, is it necessary that the instrument must be played on screen by someone!
    or as in o sajna barkha bahar aayi, satar is in the music but no one actually plays on screen!
    so do such songs qualify?


    • Yes, that’s the point. I’m pretty sure there would be thousands of songs that would feature string instruments being played in the background but not appearing onscreen, but the ones which have them onscreen would be considerably fewer.


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