Why Indians Equally Loved and Hated The Harmonium

In the second part of our series on the story of the harmonium, Sharmadip Basu explains why some Indians hated the harmonium while many others loved it, why some banned it, and others patronised it. Listen to know more.

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In the second part of Unboxed — The Harmonium In India,” host Sharmadip Basu details how the European-origin harmonium, adapted for Indian conditions, became a favoured instrument across genres.

Despite its affordability, portability, and durability, nationalists criticised its foreign origins, and purists disapproved of its inability to handle microtones (shruti).

Figures like Nehru, Gandhi, Tagore, and Coomaraswamy expressed their disdain, and eventually it was banned on All India Radio. Despite this, the harmonium flourished among the masses and gained acceptance among some Carnatic and Hindustani musicians.

Frustrated by the ban, harmonium players staged a satirical funeral procession, as pall bearers carried their harmonies to a specially created grave and buried their instruments in a unique show of protest that harked back to a similar protest staged when the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb banned music. The harmonium later returned to Indian airwaves and became a staple in musical genres among the diaspora. 

Listen to the full story on Ep 2 of Unboxed — The Harmonium in India” on Radio Azim Premji University. Don’t miss the first episode of this series.


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