How Indian Is The Harmonium?

Once scorned by purists as harm-omnium’ and criticized by nationalists as an assault on the Indian musical ear, the harmonium has firmly entrenched itself in India’s musical landscape. Join Sharmadip Basu, faculty in history and social science at Azim Premji University, as he presents this engaging two-part series on the history of the harmonium in India

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Growing up in West Bengal, Sharmadip Basu believed the harmonium, a common sight in the region’s middle-class households, was an Indian instrument. However, while reading Milan Kundera’s novel, The Joke, he stumbled upon a mention of the harmonium in Moravian folk music, prompting him to delve into its origins.

His findings fascinated him even more. The harmonium had arrived in India through Christian missionaries but was then adapted and embraced by musicians across various religious groups, being used in Brahmo Samaj hymns, Sikh kirtans, ghazals, bhajans, and more. Initially transformed by Dwarknath Ghosh, a Bengali instrument-maker, to suit Indian conditions and playing styles, affordable versions soon flooded the market, gaining popularity among folk musicians.

Despite criticism from nationalists, purists, and figures like Gandhi, Nehru, and Tagore, who disparaged its sound, the harmonium remained widely loved. And in defiance of being banned on All India Radio, its popularity endured.

In the first part of our two-episode series on Radio Azim Premji University, explore the tale of how the harmonium took root in India and captured the hearts of Indians. Unboxed — The Harmonium in India is presented by Sharmadip Basu, who teaches history and social science at Azim Premji University.


Akshay Ramuhalli, Bijoy Venugopal, Bruce Lee Mani, Harshit Gogoi, Narayan Krishnaswamy, Prashant Vasudevan, Seema Seth, Shraddha Gautam, Supriya Joshi, and Velu Shankar 


  • YouTube | Czech Moravian Folk Music
  • YouTube | Music for a Found Harmonium — Folk Music (Composer: Simon Jeffes) | Katy Adelson
  • YouTube | Thumri — Barsan lagi || Kaushiki Chakraborty
  • YouTube | Noyono Tomare | Shubhayu Sen Majumdar | Rabindra Sangeet | Esraj | Instrumental
  • YouTube | Harmonium Guru — Road Side Musician
  • YouTube | Harmonium — Bengali Full Movie | Arati Bhattacharya | Samit Bhanja | Santu Mukhopadhyay
  • YouTube | Koi Bole Ram Ram — Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — Shabad Kirtan — Punjabi Devotional Songs — Nupur Audio
  • YouTube | Rabindra Sangeet by Debabrata Biswas ( Rare Performance ) | দেবব্রত বিশ্বাস লাইভ অনুষ্ঠান
  • YouTube | নয়ন তোমারে পায়না দেখিতে — জয়তী চক্রবর্তী | Nayano Tomare Payena Dekhite (Rabindra Sangeet) — Jayati Chakrabarty
  • YouTube | Thumri: Jangla Bhairavi — Aaja Balam Pardesi
  • YouTube | BHAIYA GANPAT RAO: Pioneer of Harmonium in India! भारतीय शास्त्रीय संगीत में हारमोनियम का अग्रदूत!
  • YouTube | Govindrao Tembe playa Harmonium
  • YouTube | Indian Classical Instrumental | Ustad Bhure Khan | Raga Bhairavi on Harmonium
  • YouTube | Vishmadev Chattopadhyay Bhairavi — Harmonium
  • YouTube | 80 years old German jublet harmonium playing Govindarajulu
  • YouTube | (European) Harmonium vs. (American) Reed Organ (M. G. Fischer — Risoluto)
  • YouTube | The Entertainer played by Harry Hussey on Accordion