Sarangi – The Instrument

Sarangi is short-necked string instrument used in both Nepali and various other Asian folk or classical music. Mostly in Nepal, Sarangi is a popular instrument in the folk music scene with recently use in modern music. There are different forms of Sarangi, but particularly Nepali Sarangi is a bowed, hollowed instrument with four strings. Sarangi started as a popular musical instrument in the Western part of Nepal and is said to most resemble the sound of the human voice, as it is able to replicate human vocal ornaments.

Traditional Nepali Sarangis are carved from a single block of wood (often made from a very lightwood) into a unique box like shape with a fretless neck and hollowed-out double-chambered body, while the size and design of the Sarangi can vary. The original strings were made out of sheep intestine; the fine nerves of the intestine are woven into strings that produce fine quality sound. And as for the bow, it was traditionally made with horse tail-hair. The Sarangi makes different notes by touching the strings with the nail of fingers of the left hand.

Sarangi- The history

Historically and according to Hindu mythology Gandharva’s have been depicted in epic of Mahabharata and Ramayana as singers in the court of God. They used their singing abilities to act as messengers between the Gods and the humans. As per the stories, Lord Bramha bestowed Gandharva’s from the court of Gods with Sarangi as their instrument, which was later brought into the human world.

As the history of Nepal goes, Gaine or Gandharva are a community of occupational caste musicians who were allocated to be means of information or messengers and entertainers. Traditionally, Sarangi was the choice of instrument for the Gandarva’s or Gaine’s to compliment their storytelling songs.

Previously with limited modes of communication Gaine’s travelled from village to village as story tellers singing about everything from the praise of the king, the legendary battle tales and everyday life of people.  They sang narrative tales, folk song and religious hymns and were also known to be travelling messengers.

Apart from being messengers they were also entertainers who have been an integral part of cultural and religious celebrations and customs like Dashain. The Gandharva’s or Gaine’s have played a very important role in preserving history, traditions through their folk songs and folklores based on their oral traditions. With Gandharvas and their singing abilities also came their folk musical instruments like Sarangi,

Sarangi – The Present

In the present context, the art of singing folklores, playing folk musical instruments and the whole concept of oral culture has been depleting. The traditional idea of oral culture has now been replaces by efficient and easy digital and physical connectivity.

The Gaines have been displaced from their traditional professional practice and have diverted to other professions which has been a danger to their art of performance and to preservation of our oral culture. With modern forms of entertainment and reduced oral culture, the tradition of passing down knowledge from generation to generation has also been compromised.

Sarangi is considered as an instrument that expresses emotions through music. Sarangi has always been a companion of the Gaines as they showcased their art of converting incidents and emotions into songs and music. With the depletion of the art form of the Gaines, the use of Sarangi has also been compromised.

Sarangi – The Evolution

With the changing times there have been certain modifications made in Sarangi, with use to be a very traditional musical instrument. Though most of the part in making the Sarangi is still very traditional and particularly handmade, but there have been some altercations made to fit the modern times. Some of the changes like the use of modern nylon or metal strings instead of the traditional gut stings and also the replacement of traditionally made house tail hair bow, which has now been replaced by nylon string.

In recent years even modern Nepali music has been incorporating traditional and folk musical instruments. With the rise of Nepali folk bands like Kutumba, traditional instruments like Sarangi have found a platform.