Sarangi (Nepali)

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Sarangi music performed by Balaram Gandarbha in Kathmandu

The sarangi (Nepali: सारङ्गी) is a folk Nepalese bowed string instrument. Traditionally in Nepal, the Sarangi was only played by people of Gandarva or Gaine caste, who sing narrative tales and folk song.[1] However, in present days, it is widely used and played by many. It is also used widely in Nepali music. The sarangi has largely usurped the role of the previous Gaine instrument, the plucked lute arbajo.[2][3]


Nepali sarangi

Traditional Nepali Sarangi is made up of a single piece of wood. Having a neck and hollowed-out double-chambered body, they are often made from a very light wood called khirro. In the modern days, the use of other woods like Saaj, Lakuri, Mango wood has increased. The lower opening is generally covered up with dried skin of Sheep or Goat upon which the bridge rests, while the upper chamber is left open. Some modern Sarangi players use the Komodo Dragon skin because it keeps the tune of the Sarangi more stable and makes the sound deeper. But, the skin of Goat and Sheep is much more popular because of its easy availability. The neck is fretless, and the strings are tied upon and tuned with the tuning pegs, which are called Kunti or Murra.

The Sarangi consists four strings. The original strings were made up of sheep intestine, similar to the use of catgut (made from the intestines of cattle) in violins. The village people allotted intestines of sheep, sacrificed during major festivals like Dasain, to the Gandarvas. The Gandarvas left the intestine in a pot for some days. Once the meat was fully rotten, it was pulled out, leaving behind the fine nerves of the intestine which were then woven to get the strings, which produced fine quality sound.[4] However these days, readily available nylon and steel strings have generally replaced gut strings.

The bow was traditionally strung with horse tail-hair (as used in violin bows), but, in the modern days, nylon bowstrings are common. Different notes are made by pressing the strings slightly with the nails of fingers of the left hand and bowing the strings with right hand.

The range of the traditional Sarangi almost covers two octaves. The four strings of Sarangi are tuned to Pa, Sa, Sa, Pa i.e lower fifth, root, root and fifth note of a particular key. Then, it is played on that particular key. In the traditional period, the Gandarvas used to find the root note according to their vocal range and then tune the Sarangi accordingly by ear. Then, they used to sing their song along with the Sarangi. But in the modern days, the Sarangi is tuned according to the alphabetical notation. The size of Sarangi differs according to the scale it suits on. Generally, a Sarangi suits to be tuned on 3-4 scales.

Because of its popularity, historical importance and socio-cultural value, the Sarangi has been featured by a number of television and radio programs in Nepal. The life imitating radio drama Katha Mitho Sarangiko and radio magazine Sarangiko Bhalakusari produced by BBC Media Action Nepal have used the term sarangi in their names as a tribute to this outstanding instrument. Dilu Gandharba, the popular vocalist and composer, has developed video tutorials on Sarangi.[5]

The Sarangi Players: Gandarvha & Gaines[edit]

A song performed by Balaram Gandarbha in Kathmandu
A bamboo sarangi from Nepal

The Nepali word "Gaine" is the synonym of Gandharva which is derived from Sanskrit language. According to Brihad Nepali Shabdakosh (Extensive Nepali Dictionary) Gaine is known as caste which members are famous for singing the songs of national legacy (Gatha).They have composed a lot of historical songs (as Sabai, Gatha, Karkha) praising the then kings, prime ministers, national heroes and nation as well.[6] In ancient time, the Gaine travelled from village to village, singing about everything from legendary heroes and ongoing battles to tales of what they saw on their journeys and the lives of the people they encountered on their way. That tradition is still seen in village areas where Gandarvhas travel to other villages and sing songs to raise income. It is their main occupation. They also make sarangi to sell on markets.

Sarangi In Modern Nepali Music[edit]

In modern Nepali music, Sarangi is one of the famous instruments. The modern playing technique is slightly different from the traditional technique. Traditionally, the Gandarvas used to bow the root note continuously along with the notes of the song. As Sarangi is usually the only instrument used in their songs, except some Nepali percussion like Madal, the continuous sound of the root note provides the ambiance and fills the song. But, in the present days, the Sarangi is played along with various other instruments in the song. So, the Sarangi players these days do not bow the root note continuously as it creates a sort of disturbance to the song. Only a single string is bowed. So, among the four strings, only three strings are directly bowed. The 1st string (tuned on fifth note), 2nd string (tuned on root note) and the 4th string (tuned on lower fifth note) are bowed. The third string (tuned on root note) is not bowed but it fills the music by resonating. Moreover, unlike the traditional way of playing the Sarangi in a single scale, modern players have started to use scaling techniques to play the Sarangi in different keys. Along with the folk tunes, the Sarangi players also experimenting the use of this instrument in modern and western genres these days.

With the rise of Nepali folk bands like Kutumba (band), Sarangi music has inspired many other new Nepali musicians to play and learn this traditional nepali instrument. Kiran Nepali, the Sarangi player of Kutumba Band is one of the famous modern sarangi players. He is a third-generation sarangi player in his family.[7] Kiran Nepali runs a sarangi centre in Kathmandu called Project Sarangi where sarangi lessons are given to aspiring musicians. Jhalak Man Gandarbha, a nepali folk singer is also one of the famous sarangi players and singers who has composed many heart touching songs in Sarangi. He had made songs about heroism of nepali soldiers in various battles and emotional songs describing the misery of the family of poor soldiers dying in wars. His most famous composition "Aaama Le Sodhlin" is one of them.[8]


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  2. ^ James McConnachie; Rough Guides (Firm) (2000). World music: the rough guide. Rough Guides. pp. 198–. ISBN 978-1-85828-636-5. Retrieved 24 March 2012.
  3. ^ Alison Arnold (2000). South Asia: the Indian subcontinent. Taylor & Francis. pp. 698–. ISBN 978-0-8240-4946-1. Retrieved 24 March 2012.. ... one of the most important of these rites is puja 'worship' performed to music of the sararigi and the arbajo, believed to be its predecessor.
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