Sarangi : Lesson 1

The sarangi is the premier bowing instrument of India. Though the harmonium is being increasingly used as an accompanying instrument by vocalists, purists still favour the sarangi. It is their chosen accompanying instrument because of its ability to imitate the human voice to the utmost detail.

Like many bowing instruments in India, the modern sarangi has folk origins. It seems to have evolved from the ravanhatha, a folk instrument which is still played in Gujarat. Another possible predecessor is the saran, an instrument played by the banjaras of Kashmir.

Popular in both its folk and classical avataars, the sarangi seems to have evolved around the time of the khayal and Mohammed Shah Rangile (1719-1748). It started being used profusely for the accompaniment of thumris and light music around the 19th century and got associated with kothas and tawaifs. >From Mohammed Shah Rangile's time, a number of badshahs and nawabs, who were lovers of music, patronised tawaifs (called nautch girls in the British period). These tawaifs like Tannabai and Noorbai sang and danced to the accompaniment of sarangi. That's how the sarangi became linked with kothas.

However, dhrupad and khayal singers also continued to prefer the sarangi to the harmonium for accompaniment in the early part of the 20th century. The 20th century witnessed an unusual phenomenon -- a number of sarangi players like Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Ahmed Khan, who was teacher to Zohrabai of Agra, became vocalists.

The phenomenon can best be explained by the following anecdote about Abdul Karim Khan, who was originally a sarangi player. The story goes that once after he had accompanied vocalist Faiz Mohammed Khan for a recital in Baroda, he refused to accept the Maharaja's gift, since the amount was half of what Faiz received. A spirited young man, he told the Maharaja that he could not settle for a lesser sum, because he believed his music was of the same standard as Faiz's. Whereupon the Maharaja pointed out that accompanists had to take second rank. Abdul Karim Khan is believed to have then thrown away his sarangi and resolved to become a singer. The status of sarangi has not changed to date. It has still not received the status of a solo instrument.

But over the years, the sarangi has exerted a very powerful influence on various vocalists, like Abdul Karim Khan of the Kirana gharana. As a vocalist, he was well known for his evocation of the karuna rasa, which is the sarangi's trademark sentiment. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali of the Patiala gharana also had begun his musical odyssey as a sarangi player and accompanied many female vocalists. The influence of sarangi on his vocal recitals was apparent in his perfection of intonation, ornamentation and his powerful tans, which covered three octaves.

Early 20th century music was heavily influenced by sarangi maestros. Sarangi players taught singing to many illustrious singers like Begum Akhtar of Faridabad, who learnt music from a popular sarangi player called Imdad Khan of Patna.

Thumri exponents like Rajeshwari Devi and Siddwheshwari Devi of the Benares gharana received training from sarangia Ganesh Mishra. Kashibai learnt from Surshahai Mishra, Indulbala of Calcutta was trained by another member of the same family, a sarangi player named Gaurishankar Mishra. Shambhu Khan of Benares schooled the great Rasoolanbai (1902-1974). Sarjuprasad Mishra, a great sarangi player, seemed to have initiated many tawaifs into the art of singing.

Sarangi : Lesson 1 Lesson 2