The Sarangi is a remarkably enchanting instrument which dates back to 5000BC, it was created by the great scholar, Raavan. The name of the instrument translates to mean 'one hundred colors', it is also known as the mother to all stringed instruments as well as the only instrument which is so close to the human voice.
This astonishing instrument was created to sing the praise of the Creator, it was used for this purpose and then with evolution it was used less. In the court of the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib it was brought back to the spiritual arena and used to sing the 22 ballads (Vaars) from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
There is a huge difference between a Dhadd Sarangi or Tota which is used to sing Dhadi Vaars and this sarangi which is also known as a classical or full size sarangi, the purpose and sound of these two instruments separates them clearly.
Technical Specification of Sarangi:
1. Wood: Indian Tunn, it is close to Red Cedar
2. Strings: Natural Gut strings
3. Skin: Goat Skin
4. Bridge: Traditionally made from ivory or bone, now it is more commonly made from rosewood
There are different versions for the meaning and origins of sarangi The word sarangi could be a combination of two sanskrit words: saar (summary) and ang (form, herein different styles of playing instrumental music for e.g. gayaki ang) hence meaning the instrument that can summarize every style of music or playing.
According to some musicians, the word Sarangi is a combination of two words ‘seh'(Persian equivalent of three) and ‘rangi' (Persian equivalent of colored) corrupted as Sarangi. The term seh-rangi represents the three melody strings. Sarangi is widely believed to mean “a hundred colours” indicating its adaptability to a wide range of musical styles, its flexible tunability, and its ability to produce a large palette of tonal colour and emotional nuance.
Sarangi now enjoys the status of a solo classical instrument due to the single-handed efforts of Ram Narayan. There is a variation to the fingering technique that was used by Ram Narayan. It differs from the standard fingering as to when one shifts from the first finger (index) to the second finger (middle finger).
Sarangi music is often vocal music. It is rare to find a sarangi player who does not know the words of many classical compositions. The words are usually mentally present during performance, and performance almost always adheres to the conventions of vocal performance including the organisational structure, the types of elaboration, the tempo, the relationship between sound and silence, and the presentation of khyal and thumri compositions. The vocal quality of sarangi is in a quite separate category from, for instance, the so-called gayaki-ang of sitar which attempts to imitate the nuances of khyal while overall conforming to the structures and usually keeping to the gat compositions of instrumental music. (A gat is a composition set to a cyclic rhythm.)
The sarangi is also a traditional stringed musical instrument of Nepal, commonly played by the Gaine or Gandarbha ethnic group but the form and repertoire of sarangi is more towards the folk music as compared to the heavy and classical form of repertoire in India.
Carved from a single block of tun (red cedar) wood, the sarangi has a box-like shape with three hollow chambers: pet (stomach), chaati (chest) and magaj (brain). It is usually around 2 feet (0.61 m) long and around 6 inches (150 mm) wide though it can vary as there are smaller as well as larger variant sarangis as well.
The lower resonance chamber or pet is covered with parchment made out of goat skin on which a strip of thick leather is placed around the waist (and nailed on the back of the chamber) which supports the elephant-shaped bridge that is made of camel or buffalo bone usually (made of ivory or Barasingha bone originally but now that is rare due to the ban in India).
The bridge in turn supports the huge pressure of approximately 35–37 sympathetic steel or brass strings and three main gut strings that pass through it. The three main playing strings – the comparatively thicker gut strings – are bowed with a heavy horsehair bow and "stopped" not with the finger-tips but with the nails, cuticles and surrounding flesh. (talcum powder is applied to the fingers as a lubricant).
The neck has ivory/bone platforms on which the fingers slide. The remaining strings are resonance strings or tarabs (see: sympathetic strings), numbering up to around 35–37, divided into 4 "choirs" having two sets of pegs, one on the right and one on the top. On the inside is a chromatically tuned row of 15 tarabs and on the right a diatonic row of 9 tarabs each encompassing a full octave plus 1–3 extra notes above or below that.
Both these sets of tarabs pass from the main bridge to the right side set of pegs through small holes in the chaati supported by hollow ivory/bone beads. Between these inner tarabs and on the either side of the main playing strings lie two more sets of longer tarabs, with 5–6 strings on the right set and 6–7 strings on the left set. They pass from the main bridge over to two small, flat and wide table like bridges through the additional bridge towards the second peg set on top of the instrument. These are tuned to the important tones (swaras) of the raga.
A properly tuned sarangi will hum and cry and will sound like melodious meowing, with tones played on any of the main strings eliciting echo-like resonances. A few sarangis use strings manufactured from the intestines of goats — these harken back to the days when rich musicians could afford such strings.