consultant to:
The Musical Instrument Museum
Phoenix, Arizona, USA

The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) celebrates the similarities and differences of the world's cultures as expressed through music - a language common to us all - from the MIM Mission Statement.

Rolf Killius has worked as a South Asia Consultant for the new Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. The museum opened its gates to the public on the 24th of April 2010. In this role Rolf worked with the museum's curatorial team responsible for the planning and implementing the exhibition content. In Pakistan, India and Bangladesh he collected a representative number of traditional musical instruments, filmed instrument making and performances and interviewed the makers and musicians.

Pakistan - Music of the Sindh/Indus Valley

As a country with the sixth largest population in the world (140 million inhabitants) it is extremely difficult to select a region for music research and collection to be represented in an exhibition. In July 2009 Rolf visited the Sindh province and Karachi in Pakistan, where he collected musical instruments and recorded musical performances. There he was guided by the professional singers and musicians of the Sufi shrine Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Bhitshah.

For many reasons it seems justified to start a Pakistani research project in Sindh: the river Sindhu (or Indus) is the most important river delta in Pakistan connecting south and north; it could be regarded as the ‘jugular vein’ of Pakistan. The river hosts some of the earliest remains of human cultural activities (such as Mohenjo Daro and Harappa). From early times this valley has been a confluence of community religions, Hindu and Islamic belief systems with the result of producing a very sophisticated musical culture (and has established a relative peaceful neighbourhood for all these different communities).

Though Pakistan is culturally an extremely diverse country the Sindh region traditionally shows coherence between the different musical cultures prevalent. Most of the musically relevant Sufi shrines (such as Bhitshah and Sehwan) are situated in the Sindh valley. Finally, Sindh shows an interesting folk-classic continuum, which seems typical for other parts of Pakistan.
Unlike most of the news about Pakistan, the life in most parts of Sindh, influenced by Sufi shrines, is a haven of tolerance and peace. Muslims of all denominations, Hindus, and Christians visit the shrines of the Sufi mendicants where the professional musicians and singers spread their peaceful messages at the highest musical levels.

Been & Murli PlayersTanbouro Players & Singers
Been and Murli Players                                                                                Tanbouro Players and Singers 


With 140 million inhabitants Bangladesh is one of the most populous and densely populated country in the world, but culturally extremely diverse. Therefore the collection of musical instruments concentrated on three geographical areas (roughly related to communities):

          Bengali folk music instruments as known all over Bangladesh.

          Musical instruments of the indigenous people living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, including Chakmo, Mro,
          and Bawm (collectively called Jhuma).
          Musical instruments of the Adivasi, indigenous people, who have mainly settled in the plains, such as the Santal and  Oraon.

Thus the general theme of the Bangladesh research is introducing people through their music and their musical instruments.

For this work it had to be accepted that Bangladesh and West Bengal (now part of India constitute of a single cultural region (based on common language, customs and traditions). From 1947 the eastern part of Bengal became part of Pakistan and after the liberation war in 1971 Bangladesh constituted itself as an independent nation.

Musical instruments belonging to the Hindustani music tradition (north Indian art music) were only collected in West Bengal (India). This is justified because Kolkata is the former cultural capital of India and still regarded as an important centre of Bengali and Hindustani music. Also, after the partition of India , many eminent classical musicians (like Allauddin Khan, Vilayat Khan, Radhika Mohan Moitra) left East Bengal for Kolkata.

In the cultural socialisation of Bangladesh the folk music culture (ie the more traditional and more modern genres alike) and the Bengali language have become important in expressing the identity of being ‘a Bangladeshi’ (juxtaposed to being ‘a Bengali’). Therefore Bangladeshi folk music sets them apart from the Kolkata (India) centred and Urdu/Punjabi speaking “West” Pakistan (who ruled until 1971) alike.

The geographical area, socio-religious setting, and languages form the context for a distinctive music and dance culture in each collecting area.

Though non-Bengali communities constitute only of a small part of the population, they offer a wealth of music cultures. The main Bengali population are mostly Muslim or Hindu (around 10%); while the Adivasi and Jhuma peoples believe in ancestor or community religions, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. Languages spoken in the research areas belong to four language groups, which are North-Indian (Bengali, Chakma), Tibeto-Burman (Mro, Bawm), Austro-Asiatic (Santal), and Dravidian (Oraon). Also, each of the groups live in a distinctive geographical area, that is Bengali in the river deltas, Santali and Oraon in the hotter plains, and Mro, Bawm and Chakma in the hills (Chittagong Hill Tracts).

The Situation of Traditional Musicians and Instrument Makers in Bangladesh

Though the situation for Bengali folk music is quite good, the general situation of traditional music in Bangladesh is dire: Folk music has been successively replaced by film (Bangladeshi and Bollywood) and international pop music. Rural Bengali instrument makers slowly abandon their crafts, as buyers replace their instruments with factory made modern instruments. Generally the music, dance, and instrument making of the Adivasi and Jhuma communities is neither regarded as an important cultural heritage of Bangladesh nor is their disappearing being considered ‘endangered’. Especially the Chittagong Hill Tracts must still be regarded as one of the few remaining treasure troves of traditional music and dance culture in this world. If no immediate steps will be taken, this intangible cultural heritage will disappear forever.

Drum Makers form Manikgonj Plung Players                                                                                         

Drum Makers from Manikgonj                                                                   Plung Players


According to the collection interests of the MIM in India Rolf has collected musical instruments belonging to the Hindustani (north Indian), Karnatic (south Indian) and devotional art music.

Hindustani Music

In West Bengal (eastern India) Rolf and his co-researcher, the Sarod player, Somjit Dasgupta have initiated what is probably the finest and most comprehensive manufacturing and collection project of Hindustani Musical Instruments ever conducted. Within this project is was also possible to film the making of such rare instruments as the dilrupa, sur-rabab and surshringar, or surbahar.

Hindustani Music is the classical music prevalent in north India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Somjit Dasgupta is a master musician specialising in the string instruments Sarod and Rabab, a disciple of the Hindustani music maestro, the late Radhika Mohan Moitra and also an instrument restorer. Rolf and Somjit commissioned the instrument making from a group of traditional instrument makers in West Bengal, led by the master craftsman Sanot Halder. These makers were guided by the master instrument maker, Mohan Lal Sharma, whose family traditionally made instruments for the late Radhika Mohan Moitra and his gurus.

As in the Karnatic Music collection project in West Bengal the researchers also collected instruments belonging to the devotional and folk music genres. This seems justified as the strict division in ‘folk’, ‘devotional’, and ‘classical’ genres is originally a colonial concept, though still widely used and does not show the interaction between these genres.

Karnatic Music

All the Karnatic and devotional musical instruments were collected in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where the researchers worked with instrument makers of Tanjavur, Madurai and Chennai.

Karnatic music (sometimes spelt karnatik, carnatic, or karnatak) is the traditional art music of South India and Sri Lanka. As in most other Indian musical genres the ensembles consist of four musical elements. The voice or a melody instrument express the melodic component, drums, claypot and jew’s harp (ie. kanjira, mrdangam, gadam, morsing) articulate the rhythmic structure, idiophones (thala) and/or handclapping punctuate the time cycles, and drone instruments provide the basic sounds (usually ‘sa’ or ‘sa’ and ‘pa’). These are mainly the pneumatic or electric ruti-box and the open-stringed lute called a tambura.

All music is voice-based: the voice is used as a solo ‘instrument’, where the melody instrument ‘follows’ the singer. Melodic instruments (such as the vina, violin, murali, and gottuvadyam) imitate the voice, but there is also a specific repertoire for each instrument.

The term raga indicates a complicated melodic system based on tune and scale. A short unmetered introduction – the alapana – is normally sung to introduce a musical piece. Tala describes the rhythmic structure based on a fixed number of irregularly spaced beats to be played within a given tempo; the geometric multiplication or division is maintained throughout the piece.

The main genres are kriti (song), varnam (longer study piece), ragam-tanam-pallavi (the elaborated main piece), padam and tillana (music accompanying dance). The Periyaam is a temple instrument ensemble comprising drum, oboe and cymbals (ie tavil, na dasvaram, and thala).

Karnatic music has been mainly developed and shaped on the base of Hindu devotional music performed in the temples and private households and the Hindu courts of south India.

Makers & Musician - Somjit Dasgupta, Mohanlal Sharma and Sanod HalderTavil Maker Abdul Kareem Dawood
Makers & Musician - Somjit Dasgupta, Mohanlal Sharma  and              Tavil Maker - Abdul Kareem Dawood
Sanod Halder

Musical Instrument Museum Logo

Museum Mission Statement:

Music is the Language of the Soul

The Mission: The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) will celebrate the similarities and differences of the world's cultures as expressed through music - a language common to us all.

Whether we are Inuit or Chokwe, Celt or Han, these instruments help sound out who we are as a culture and as individuals.

With musical instruments from every country in the world, MIM will play homage to the history and diversity of instruments and introduce museum guests to their varied and unique sounds. MIM will be an engaging, entertaining and informative experience, in which the uninitiated and the knowledgeable, the young and the old will feel welcome.

Museum guests will gain an appreciation for both the musical similarities and unique differences among divergent cultures, countries and ethnicities through state-of-the-art exhibits. Integrated audio and video experiences will enable guests to appreciate the sounds of instruments from around the world as well as to see these instruments played in their cultural context.


Contact Rolf: rolfkillius 'at' yahoo.com