The Hawaiian Guitar

Indian Music instrument tradition is coming through ages, say from the Vedic period. There seem various differences in the main structure and the style of playing the instruments due to the capability of an artiste and changing time necessities.

Amongst this group Guitar is still a puzzle for the researchers and its artistes too. It’s not clear whether it’s imported from Europe or is origin of India and migrating for several years, it has been reconstituted through bilateral exchanges.

This article, highlighting the new awareness in this discussion, will be fruitful for musicologist and artistes.


“Hawaiian Guitar has completed almost 100 years in 20th Century proving its significance. It has extensively traveled and have tasted the new mountains of fame, not only in its origin but in whole world, may it be Indian Classical, filmy or English Classical or say it Pop.

The question occurs, why only Guitar? Probably the reason for its popularity in the first half of 20th Century was its portability and cheaper option as compared to Piano. It was more famous often a recording of Joseph Kekaeu on Hawaiian guitar, probably it was due to its melodious sound. That’s why this Guitar is named after Hawaiian and is addressed or origin of Guitar. It would rather justify saying a process, not invention. Many Indians give credit to an Indian sailor Gabriel Davison to play this instrument with a steel bar. He was rather adopted this technique from “Vichitra Veena” of “Gohuvadyam”.

The advance form of this instrument could be seen in Indian Classical music and movies with a variety of names. The history of its entrance in India is very interesting. Young Classical guitar player Sh. Debashish Bhattacharya claims on the basis of his own research that Guitar entered in India with Taan Mae and Band in 1931 from Calcutta. This confirms Gremmie Mass, who happened to be a student of Tan Moe. He forehanded his style to his students and then Guitar was more famous like Calcatian Babu Style.

On the contrary Sh. Chakrapani Singh claims that Guitar is very similar to the ancient Veena “Kacchapi”, later on being migrated to various places and changes, it reentered in India with name “Guitar”. In my own opinion, this is not because in “Manasollaas”, the technique to play veena like tortoise (Korma), and its making, which resembles like today’s Guitar and sarod. In 11th chapter of Manasollaas, this has been described that wood and iron may be used to make koorma Veena, its frat board danda and frame should be made of Khadir’s wood, the distance between the frat board should be 72 fingers, the garbharandhra of both sides should be opened the back of veena should like back of korma etc.

Actually the most of the today’s Guitar resembles old Kacchapi Veena. It may be changed with time, could migrate, and could reenter in India with new frame and new name. This fact is supportive because there are few names of guitar artistes in the court of Babar with the name of vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers.

This means that before the arrival of Sh. Tao Moe guitar had entered in India, because time of Babar is 1526 A.D. That’s why it is better to think that Guitar is a modified form of ancient Kacchapi Veena and probably has some impact of Rawab and Sarod of Afghanistan and Baluchistan.

Whatever the changes and modifications are seen in this instrument, these are all due to the particular style of playing of each artiste and his limitations. It may be said that further development of this instrument be left for future. It is said that Sh. Brij Bhooshan Kabra has established this instrument in Indian classical Music, but this fact is acceptable only as partial truth. If we see from history, this credit foes to Sh. Gopal Singh, son of Sh. Parbatsingh, of Gwalior, who was a student of us tad Hafiz Ali Khan. He used to play in AIR during 1950. This time is between 1935 to 1950, Dr. Chakrapanisingh also confirms this. My grandfather Pt. B.N. Kshirsagar confirms these facts too. He had stayed in Gwalior between 1932 to 1944. Under the tutelage of Pt. Krishnrao Shankar Pandit and Pt. Raja Bhaiya Poonchwale. A few people know that there was tarab and Chikari in the Guitar of Sh. Gopal Singh.

Guitar, in its struggling period was more famous in filmy music then Classical. Sh Sunil Ganguli, Hazara Singh and Ven Shipley are the famous filmy Guitar players of the era.

Dr Kamala Shankar describes in her delegation paper of Chennai Music Academy that the attempt to adopt Guitar as Classical Guitar was done by Sh. Nalin Mazmudar of Allahabad, before fifty years. The time should be almost 1945 to 1950 in random. Sh. Brij Bhooshan Kabra stands next to the time, so it’s not agreeable that he is the founder of guitar, though he made some changes in the instrument. Many artistes adopted his style, can be assumed as a new chapter of guitar.

Sh. Vishwamohan Bhatt modified guitar according to his style. Concept of drone strings, tarab under the main fret board for greater sustainity makes it significant. Whereas Sh. Kabra’s style was gayaki, Sh. Bhatt balanced his playing with gayaki and tantrakaree. His guitars are famous with the name Mohan veena. Sh. Satish khanwalkar used mijrabs to play this instrument to find the techniques of sarod, sitar and guitar at one time. Music is an art and constantly developing. Person and his thoughts are very important in art. That’s why Sh. Debashish Bhattacharya made a few changes again and used Chikari in front of guitar to play extreme laya patterns and compositions. He calls his guitars anandi, chaturangi etc. Sh. Chakrapani Singh has added 32 additional strings and calls his guitar Kacchapi.

On the basis of above discussion, it may be said that Sarod and Guitar can be transformation of Kacchapi Veena, to add of less strings or tarab are due to the artistes necessity but only for those reasons, the tradition and tendency to establish this instruments with new names hammer its originality from India.

One should not disagree to believe this originality from India and we should be opened to accept the developments / modifications with its technique and frame. The decision is in your part, say it Kacchapi or Indian Classical Guitar.

Thanks to:-

1. Sh. Chakrapani Singh
2. Dr. Kamala Shankar
3. Sh. Debashish Bhattacharya

Ref:- 1. Manasollaas – pages 85-86 , Vadyaadhyaya 16, shloka – 586 to 597.
2. Mughalkaleen Bharat – Pages 595 to 596. ( Shaikhee Nai and Shah Kulee were guitar artistes in Babar’s Court)