It is not known when exactly the early musical instruments came into existence in India but they find mention in several ancient texts like the Upanishads, Samhitas, Valmiki’s Ramayana, Bhagwad Gita and the Sangam classics.
Many of the instruments mentioned in these texts date back to 5000 BC. It is widely believed that the earliest known Indian instruments evolved from the Dhanuryantram (bow and arrow) used by primitive tribes for hunting, as also to signal the advent of the enemy. Descriptions in the Ramayana and the Mahabharat of the reverberating sounds of Rama’s bow Sharang and Arjun’s bow Gandeeva, which are said to have demoralized the enemy camp, lend colour to this inference. It is believed that this particular sound later inspired the design and shape of the bowed instruments used by primitive tribes. Various types of crude drums and other musical instruments have been discovered from pre-historic excavations indicating that the use of music and musical was quite prevalent during pre-histotic times.
Excavations at the Indus Valley site have revealed many kinds of musical instruments. These were mainly made of bamboo, bone and animal skins and bear close resemblance to modern Veena and Mridangam. Many Greaco-Buddhist sculptures belonging to the period 5th Century B.C. to 2nd Century A.D. also depict a wealth of string, wind and percussion instruments.
Accordin to the Natshastra of Bharat, there are four classes of musical instruments: Tata or Tantu (stringed), Avanaddha (percussion or drums), Ghana (bells, cymbals and gongs), and Sushira (wind). While some variations in classifications have been proposed over the centuries, the system of Bharat has survived to date. The classes of instruments are divided as follows:
1. Ghana Vadya (Idiophones)
2. Avanaddha Vadya (Membranophones)
3. Sushira Vadya (Aerophones)
4. Tata Vadya (Chordophones).
Flute, Nadaswaram, Veena, Gootuvadhyam, Thavil, Mridangam and Plain drum are ancient Indian musical instruments while Harmonium, Sarod, Shehnai, Sitar, Tabla and Violin are musical instruments very popular now a days. Veena, Flute, Mridangam, Ghatam, Chenda, Maddalam, Edakka, Nadaswaram, Khunjira, Tambura, Gottuvadhyam, Talam and the Morsing (or mukha veena) are popular Camatic Musical instruments. Violin is also popular in Carnatic music concerts.