sarangi| A nepali musical treasure

What is Sarangi?

A sarangi is a short-necked, bowed musical instrument widely used in the Indian sub-continent. Sarangi embarks the melody in hindi classical music which is believed to resemble human voice the most. Besides, sarangi imitates instruments like gamaks and meends. As per the Persian myths Sarangi is made up of two words: seh and rangi. Seh is Persian for three while rangi is Persian for colors. So in Persian, Sarangi is an instrument with three melody strings which adds colors to life. Another well bought etymology suggests that the name came from ‘sol rang’ which means hundred colors. Despite many etymologies giving different nomenclature, the origin of sarangi has not been excavated.

A typical Nepali Sarangi

The length of Sarangi varies from 2ft to 2.5 ft,6 inch wide and 4.2 inch high weighing approximately 2kg. Sarangi is carved from wood, wood made hollow, chiseled and carved. Tun wood, teak or mango wood are preferred to make this instrument (tun preferred over others). Sarangi can be differentiated into 3 parts: belly (the hollow part), neck and head. Belly is covered with young goat skin and three strings run from head to the belly. The strings are made by using goat’s intestine. It is played by using an arched bow held in an underhand grip in the right hand and the person seated holds the instrument against his left shoulder in a vertical position.

Historical Significance of Sarangi in Nepal

In Nepal, Sarangi is a cornerstone to folk music. Unlike India where sarangi is a part of classical music, Nepal has always found sarangi to be an integrated part of folklore. Gaine or Gandharva ethnic groups are the pioneer of the instrument. The rural areas in Nepal might lack facilities but are enriched with folk songs and sarangi plays an integral part. The eastern part of Nepal is home to the Gandharvas, mainly Bhojpur district. Sarangi is used to express melancholy as words accompany the music. A very famous song aamai le bhanthin ni by Jhalakman Gandharva depicted a son’s miserable death and how he asks his family to move on. The music of sarangi is so melancholic, sometimes I wonder if “Gloomy Sunday” was accompanied by sarangi.

Nepali Folk Music and Sarangi

Even though new musical instruments have taken over the traditional ones, Sarangi is inevitable in nepali folk music. Nepal is partly urbanized and still majority of the population prefers listening to Sitar over Guitar and still majority carves for the melody of traditional instruments. In the gandharva family, the sarangi is considered a divine instrument. The kids learn to play sarangi from their early childhood. Playing sarangi is not an easy task. However, the Gandharvas who have excelled in playing sarangi teach their children from the very beginning. It is a tradition to handover the skills to the upcoming generation. Prior to television and radio, Gandharvas would wander places playing music and spreading news. The music would intricate the stories of wars and bravery and misery. After the conquest of Prithvi Narayan Shah in unified Nepal campaign, gandharvas were hired to sing songs of glory with the help of sarangi. In a gandharva society, elders pass the tradition of playing sarangi to the younger ones. This is how sarangi has been preserved through all this years.

Nepali folk music and Sarangi has an indelible relationship.

Legacy of Sarangi In  Nepal

The music of sarangi is enriched with emotions as the one listening to it will be filled with them. If one was to breakdown the notes in sarangi he would be amazed to find out how beautiful music it produces. However, the popularity of sarangi has not remained intact since very long. People have inclined their interest towards modern music and folklore has taken a detour. As how music has developed these days, modern musical instruments have been popular. People are naïve about the existence of sarangi. Some bands have taken measures to preserve the folklore. Kutumba, a very famous musical band, has sought after traditional musical instruments and released instrumental music of various famous songs of Nepal. However, this effort looks so little in terms of conserving our tradition. So, strong steps need to be taken in order to preserve the tradition and this flamboyant musical instrument. Sarangi has been an imminent part of our music since the very beginning. Everyone must know the importance of sarangi and take special measures to promote them.

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