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Colored drawing of a Bengali sarangi player by François Balthazar Solvyns. First published in 1796

Sarangi ( Persian سرانگى) is the most widespread string instrument in northern India and Pakistan . The group of sarangis includes variants that are played in folk music and in classical Indian music .

Design and style of play

General characteristics of the sarangi group of instruments are:

They are cut from a block of wood; the one-piece sound box is covered with an animal skin on which the bridge is located; the neck has no frets ; the instrument is played in a vertical position.

Classic sarangi

Anant Kunte (* 1930) accompanies the singer Shruti Sadolikar at a concert at the University of Washington , Seattle, July 2007.

The sarangi has the shape of a box about 62 to 68 centimeters long, 15 centimeters wide and 11 centimeters high. Indian mahogany ( Toona ciliata, syn. Cedrela toona, in India: Tun ) or teak are preferred . The resonance body ( pet ), hollowed out from the top, has a slightly asymmetrical waist in the middle, is covered with goat skin parchment and is hardly wider than the fretless fingerboard ( pathari ). The broad neck ( chati or sina ) including the vertebral box is hollowed out from the back. A leather strip ( tasma ) is placed across the body in the lower area , on which the bridge ( ghurach, ghoraj ) is placed. The bridge is made of ivory (plastic for cheap instruments) and has the shape of an elephant. The sarangi has three thick melody strings from the intestine, sometimes even a drone string made of steel and 30 to 40 (usually 35) resonant strings ( tarab ) made of metal (steel, copper or brass) which of a piece of leather on the lower edge along the entire width The fingerboard can be directed upwards to adjusting screws on the side. The first, thickest melody string on the right is called sur or tip, the middle one is called pancham or dor and the third string is called kharaj. The three melody strings are usually tuned to C - G - C, i.e. the root note - fifth - octave. Another possibility is the root - fourth - octave. The melody strings run over the bridge, the sympathetic strings through a hole drilled in the bridge for each string. 11 of these strings are led in two groups up to the main pegbox to tuning screws at the upper end. These are the most important sympathetic strings, they are tuned to the main notes ( swaras ) of the raga to be played. The other sympathetic strings are also divided into two groups: 15 are tuned chromatically , the remaining 9 in turn to the notes of the raga. Both groups have a range of just over an octave.

The fingerboard of a classic sarangi. Fingernail contact with the strings. Sarangi player Surjeet Singh (* 1961 in Delhi)

While playing, the musician sits cross-legged on the floor and holds the sarangi upright on his left shoulder. The instrument is propped up on the floor or in the lap. The approximately 70 centimeter long bow ( gaj, gaz or kamani ) made of Indian rosewood ( Dalbergia , in India: shesham ) is slightly curved, covered with a thick bundle of horse hair and is grasped with the right hand. It does not have to be retightened. The palm of the hand points upwards, the middle and ring fingers are placed between the wooden stick and the hairs. The same bow is also used for the three other North Indian string instruments mayuri vina , dilruba and esraj . The strings are not pressed down, but touched by three fingers of the left hand with the top of the nail on the edge of the skin. To do this, the fingers must be rubbed with talc . This method allows glissando ( meend ) to be played, as is customary in the classical dhrupad style, and a strong vibrato to be created around a note (gamak) , which is a characteristic of the 17th century khyal style. The thumb does not grip the strings. Depending on the doctrine, it should be pressed on the neck while playing or slide along it for better mobility.

The sarangi , especially with the possibility of producing an intense gamak, offers enormous tonal variation possibilities, but is difficult to play and requires a high level of concentration when tuning. Of all instruments, the sound of the sarangi is said to come closest to the human voice - the ideal for all Indian classical music . The sarangi has a soft, yet sharp and slightly nasal tone. The name is made up of sau ("hundred") and rang ("color"). A hundred timbres are awarded to her.

Regional sarangi variants

The Nepalese sarangi with an open sound box corresponds to a sarinda

In Nepal , the most common traditional string instrument is a sarangi. However, this describes a three-stringed instrument similar to the sarinda with which stories are told in folk music. Basically, sarangi and sarinda are viewed as two different groups of instruments. While the body of the sarangis is one-piece and closed, the sarindas have an upper part of the resonance body that is common to all shape variants and is open towards the strings.

Slightly smaller than the Nepalese sarangi , but the chikara is of the same shape . Your three strings are tuned to the root note, fourth and fifth . In addition, there are usually five sympathetic strings that are tuned to the fifth, sixth , seventh , root and the second note of the higher octave . Such strokes play in the Kathmandu valley wanderers and beggars, who belong to the unclean in the Newar caste society. Some semi-professional musicians work as butchers and tanners at the same time and settle on the edge of the village.

In Kashmir, there is a small saran or sarang with a rectangular, narrow-waisted body, two steel, two gut and eight, ten or 19 sympathetic strings. It is similar to the Kashmiri plucked lute rabab. Both are part of an ensemble called Chakari ( Chakkari ). The saran length is 54 centimeters smaller than the modern Indian sarangis .

Dhadd sarangi is the name of the string lute in Panjab after the Dhadi ensemble, which consists of three musicians and singers and performs epic folk songs to accompany sarangi and the small hourglass drum dhadd . In the religious music of the Sikhs , the group is supplemented by a narrator who reports on the deeds of the heroes who perished as martyrs.

An ancient four-string sarangi that had no sympathetic strings was in use in Gujarat in the 19th century . The Sindhi sarangi played in the same region and in Rajasthan in the 19th century had around a dozen sympathetic strings. This Sindhi sarangi is now a somewhat simpler instrument and sounds tinny, but resembles the usual concert sarangi and is accompanied by the double-headed barrel drum dholak in folk music of Rajasthan . The Sindhi-sarangi with up to 25 sympathetic strings is mainly used by the Langas musicians together with the dholak . They play on the orders of their patrons at their family celebrations and at village festivals. Another caste of musicians who live partially across the border in the Pakistani province of Sindh are the Manganiyars. Both groups are Muslim. Musically they differ, as the Manganiyars use the string instrument kamaica ( kamaicha ) with a circular, wide body, which is completely covered with parchment on the top (and is linguistically related to the kamantsche ) instead of the sarangi .

In the Adivasi regions of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh there are various string instruments belonging to the sarangis , which are called chikara as in Nepal . A chikara has two melody strings, made of bronze and steel, and seven sympathetic strings. The body looks like an upside-down sarinda . More highly developed chikaras , which look more like a modern sarangi , are sometimes called kingra , as in Uttar Pradesh . Wandering yogis (Kingiriyas) accompany their religious songs.

A simpler group of string instruments, which does not belong to the sarangis , but which is widely used, are the one to three-stringed spit lute, the body of which usually consists of a coconut shell. These include the two-string ravanahattha in Gujarat and Rajasthan with a dozen sympathetic strings, the three-string bowl skewer lute bana in Madhya Pradesh, known as kingri in Andhra Pradesh , the single-string banam in central India and the single-string pena in the northeast Indian state of Manipur .

There are regionally other types of sarangi instruments in folk music, and the classical sarangi is not standardized either. High-quality instruments allow connoisseurs to recognize the master workshop. Meerut in Uttar Pradesh is considered to be the center of sarangi production . The instruments most valued by today's musicians were built in the workshop of Abdul Aziz Behra († around 1945).


In addition to a mythological derivation of the sarangi and a presumed origin in the ancient Greek lyre , a recent development has also been suggested. According to this, Miyan Sarang (Niamat Khan), a court musician of the Mughal emperor Muhammed Shah Rangila (1702–1748), could be the inventor of the instrument. Niamat Khan ( Niamat means "heaven") was a revered singer of the Dhrupad , Khyal and Tarana singing styles.

The term sārang is used in Afghanistan for both the sarangi and the string sarinda from the Persian-Central Asian region, which is played in folk music . Precursors of the sarangi are likely to have originated in this region. The development of the instrument used today happened in India. A derivation of the name from the saranga vina , which is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts on Indian music (such as Narada: Sangita Makaranda, 11th century), is considered likely.

String instruments have (presumably) been mentioned in religious texts since the 11th century. The Jaina author Jineshvarasuri first mentioned in Kathakoshaprakarana 1052 a forerunner of the sarangi as an accompanying instrument for singing, as did another Jain in 1145. Apparently they served as accompaniment in their religious songs from the 10th to the 12th centuries and in folk songs. It remains unclear whether these were the ancestors of today's instrument. An instrument called sarangi and definitely bowed was first described in Akbar's time around 1588. Abu'l Fazl explained in his work "A'in-i Akbari" that the sarangi is smaller than the rabab and is played like the ghichak . It could have been a spit-fiddle. Such an instrument without sympathetic strings, which looks like a forerunner of today's sarangi , first appeared in painting at the beginning of the 17th century. The illustration shows a left-handed, sarangi-playing Hindu ascetic who is accompanied by the drum dhol . In other miniatures from the Mughal period , the sarangi player is also depicted in the vicinity of holy men. Sympathetic strings are likely to have been invented on Indian soil before this time.

Wandering musicians began to accompany their religious songs on a simple sarangi from the 16th century . They were not respected, but at best tolerated. In the cities they could earn money as accompanists to singers. Your social status was significantly below the classically trained musicians (Binakaras), the Dhrupad on the rudra vina (also 'm playing) or the immigrant from Afghanistan Rubab - players, the Rababiya, some of which were highly respected because they most celebrated their pedigree on the Indian musicians Tansen (1506–1589) could trace back. Sarangi players mostly came from the lower castes . European travelers describe Persian and Indian noble dance girls ( kanchanis ) at the Mughal courts who were held in high regard. Only the more ascetic Aurangzeb tried - in vain - to ban dance and music events. The heyday of the sarangi was from the 18th to the middle of the 19th century . Two sarangis , a mridangam , a shrutibox and a pair of hand cymbals (jalra) are described as accompaniments for the popular girls' dances ( nautch ) for southern India . The European violin first replaced the native string instrument in South India.

While the plucked rubab was further developed into the sarod as a solo instrument in classical music in the 1860s , the sarangi gained the reputation of being exclusively a musical instrument for dance performances at an entertainment level (mehfil) . In the palaces of local rulers ( nawab ) and their urban mansions ( haveli ), the music played to accompany dancing girls ( tawaif ) who were also prostitutes was secondary .

Although some of these courtesans were quite powerful, they and their companions on the tabla and sarangi enjoyed no respect. Usually the courtesan's music teachers were sarangi players. Musicians teaching courtesans had an indirect influence on their patrons, so teaching a popular courtesan was beneficial. The social gap between this khyal-style world and the respected dhrupad musicians narrowed as dhrupad singers began teaching courtesans to make a living. By the end of the 19th century, all Indian music enjoyed little respect.

In a period of increasing decadence, it was probably thanks to the influence of Christian colonial rulers or Puritan Hindu formers such as the Arya Samaj that the courtesan profession disappeared towards the end of the 19th century and the sarangi players became unemployed.

An 1870s photograph shows a group of dancing girls with four sarangi and three tabla players. According to the picture description by Curt Sachs in 1915, one of the sarangis had 39 sympathetic strings. The current form of the sarangi dates from the mid-19th century and was probably developed in Delhi. At this time the harmonium was introduced in India - an invention of the French Alexandre-François Debain in 1840, which after its adaptation to Indian needs at the turn of the century gained first place as an accompanying instrument for singers and replaced the difficult-to-play sarangi. The harmonium is quickly available because it does not need to be tuned. For classical Indian musicians, the disadvantages outweigh the sarangi . The indispensable microtones ( shrutis ) and glissandi ( meend ) are not playable, which is why the discussion about the loss of quality in music associated with the introduction of the harmonium continues to this day.

The European violin , which had arrived in the country around 1800 at the latest , was adopted into classical music, especially in South India . In many families of musicians, the sarangi game was no longer passed on. After 1950, most sarangi players stopped teaching their sons on this instrument. Musicians who started out as sarangi players in the early 20th century continued their careers as singers. This was made easier for them, because when learning any melody instrument, a vocal training is at the beginning. Some of the most influential singers had taken this "modernization" path.

Sarangi Gharanas

Gharanas ( Gharana is a master school of a certain musical tradition), which stood for the tradition of playing sarangi and is still associated with it today, are:

  • the Kirana Gharana, whose origin lies in the place Kurukshetra in Haryana and which is particularly widespread in Karnataka ,
  • the Patiala Gharana from the town of the same name in Punjab ,
  • the Indore -Gharana, founded by the singer Amir Khan (1912–1974) , which prefers the light Thumri style
  • and the old Gharana by court musicians from Delhi.

There were several sarangi players among the ancestors of Abdul Karim Khan (1872-1937), one of the most revered Indian musicians, and Abdul Wahid Khan (1871-1949) - both singers founded the Kirana Gharana . Although the kirana gharana was regarded as a sarangi gharana, its musicians declared in the 19th century to be dhrupad singers and vina players ( binakaras ). Conversely, the Binakara gang Ali Khan (1826-1890), who is considered the greatest rudra vina player of the 19th century, had three sarangi players - Haider Khan, Murad Khan and Nanhe Khan - as sons. Sarangi players trace their lineage back to him for the sake of social prestige.

In general, the sarangi had a great influence on the style of singing and the combination of certain tone sequences ( tanas ). Amir Khan (1912–1974), one of the most influential singers of the 20th century in North Indian music, based his use of tanas on the sarangi playing style. He introduced an extra slow khyal singing style (ati-vilambit laya) . The sarangi is mainly associated with the Thumri style. Another singer and former sarangi player was Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1901–1968).

Sarangi master in the 20th century

While the sarinda has remained a folk musical instrument, the resistance of some musicians to the trend made it possible to establish the sarangi to a modest extent as a solo instrument in North Indian classical music at the beginning of the 20th century. This did not prevent the sarangi from disappearing across the board . In the 1970s there were only a handful of musicians who aspired to a career as a solo musician.

  • In the small town of Jhajjar near Delhi , the sarangi game has been preserved in several families of musicians . The most famous sarangi players in this unbroken tradition were Azim Bakhsh and Abdul Majid Khan. In Delhi, Ashiq Hussain from Panipat , Bade Ghulam Sabir Khan († 1962) from Ambala and Shakur Khan (1905–1975) from Kirana were leaders.
  • The family tradition passed from the sarangi player Mamman Khan († 1940) from the Delhi Gharana to his nephew Bundu Khan (1880–1955). He was court musician in Indore and had to emigrate to Pakistan after the division of the country in 1948 . He made the sarangi a classic solo instrument. Bundu Khan enjoyed great prestige as the first sarangi player known in all of northern India . Both performed at the prestigious second All India Music Conference in Delhi in 1918 . However, all of Mamman Khan's four sons became singers.
  • In the Benares Gharana the tradition of Gopal Mishra (1920–1977) was carried on. His older brother Hanuman Prasad Mishra (1913–1999) also belongs to this school. In Varanasi there were some well-known representatives of the Thumri style.
  • Ram Narayan (* 1927) from Udaipur is considered the most important sarangi master of the 20th century . He managed to step out of the role of a vocal accompanist on All India Radio . In the mid-1950s he began performing solo concerts. From the 1960s onwards, touring the United States and Europe, he became the leading sarangi player. One of his students who followed in his footsteps is Sultan Khan .

The sarangi was also used in the khyal and ghazal music of Kabul until the 1970s . In the band of a leading Pashtun singer, Amir Mohammad , a dilruba or sarangi played alongside rubab, dutār and tabla to enrich the Indian sound .


  • Joep Bor: The Voice of the Sarangi. An illustrated history of bowing in India. National Center for the Performing Arts, Quarterly Journal, Vol. 15 & 16, No. 3, 4 & 1, September – December 1986, March 1987
  • Joep Bor, Neil Sorrell, Nicolas Magriel, Mireille Helffer: Sarangi. In: Laurence Libin (Ed.): The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Vol. 4. Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York 2014, pp. 383–387
  • Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in history and present , subject part 8, 1998, Sp. 1003-1009
  • Regula Burckhart Qureshi: The Indian Sarangi: Sound of Affect, Site of Contest. In: Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 29, 1997, pp. 1-38
  • Stanley Sadie (Ed.): The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments . Macmillan Press, London 1984, Vol. 3, pp. 294-296

Web links

Commons : Sarangis  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. François Balthazar Solvyns: A Flemish artist in Bengal, 1791-1803. IIAS Newsletter, No. 28, 2002, p. 15 (PDF; 613 kB)
  2. All famed sarangi players have instruments made by him., December 5, 2007
  3. ^ Ustad Surjeet Singh. ( Memento of July 2, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Homepage (at Internet Archive)
  4. Meend. ITC Sangeet Research Academy
  5. Gamak. ITC Sangeet Research Academy
  6. ^ Next only to the human voice. Indian Express, April 17, 2000
  7. ^ Alain Daniélou: South Asia. Indian music and its traditions. Music history in pictures. Volume 1: Ethnic Music. Delivery 1. Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1978, p. 82
  8. ^ Sunita Dhar: Instruments Used with the Traditional Music of Kashmir. The Traditional Music of Kashmir
  9. Alastair Dick: Sarān. In: Laurence Libin (Ed.): The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Vol. 4. Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York 2014, p. 383
  10. ^ Sarangi, 19th century. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  11. Sindhi Sarangi. Hartenberger World Music Collection
  12. ^ Habib Khan Langa and party. ( Memento from August 27, 2004 in the Internet Archive ) Langa music group with Sindhi sarangi and dholak (at Internet Archive)
  13. Pragya Paliwal Gaur: Lest we forget. Manufacture of Sindhi sarangi and kamaica
  14. Joep Bor, p. 17
  15. Joep Bor, p. 24
  16. ^ John Baily : Music of Afghanistan: Professional Musicians in the City of Herat. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1988, p. 166
  17. Alain Danielou: Introduction to Indian Music. Heinrichshofen's Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 1982, p. 97
  18. Joep Bor, pp. 48-51
  19. Joep Bor, pp. 55-57
  20. Joep Bor, pp. 83-85
  21. ^ Wim van der Meer: Hindustani Music in the 20th Century. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Den Haag / Boston / London 1980, pp. 57, 58, 130
  22. ^ Curt Sachs: The musical instruments of India and Indonesia. Association of Science Verlag de Gruyter, Berlin and Leipzig 1915. Reprint: Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim 1983, p. 122. Caption: Wedding in Delhi, Fig. 83
  23. Harmonium versus Sarangi. 1. Interview of Roshan Shahani with Kishori Amonkar, Jan 9 1994. And: 2. Excerpts from a discussion on RMIC, Jan 10 1996.
  24. ^ Wim van der Meer: Hindustani Music in the 20th Century. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Den Haag / Boston / London 1980, pp. 156f, 161f
  25. ^ Daniel M. Neuman: The Social Organization of a Music Tradition. Hereditary Specialists in North India. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 21, No. 2, May 1977, p. 243 (PDF; 243 kB)
  26. ^ Ustad Sajjad Hussain. ( Memento of the original from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Music Beckons  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  27. ^ Ustad Bundu Khan, Indian Classical Instrumentalist. Indianet zone