Rajasthani folk music has been appreciated and lauded by many. The unique music of the state stems from its instruments. Let’s get to know some of the most renowned ones.
For many centuries now, Rajasthani folk music has been appreciated and lauded by patrons. There are several instruments behind the melodious music that is produced in the state.
These instruments are made from a variety of materials which gives rise to distinct sounds. For instance, dried shells made of gourds are used for gorse stems, bamboo is used for flutes and clay pots double up as drums. Largely, the musical instruments of Rajasthan are classified under four main categories - String, Wind, Autophonic and Percussion.
Also known as Tata Vadya, these instruments produce sounds when a chord or string is vibrated; either by plucking or by bowing. The pitch and duration of the sound depends on the length of the string and the tautness at certains degrees. The most popular string instrument of Rajasthan is the Sarangi. It is a multi-string instrument that produces sound when a finger or bow is drawn across it. While a violin is bowed in the opposite direction, a Sarangi is played as it is. Barmer and Jogis of Marwar, Langas of Jaisalmer, are known to play it very often.
Another popular string instrument is the Ravanhathha. Made out of the belly of a coconut shell, it also has bamboo attached to it. They consist of two strings called horse hairs which in turn are supported by more strings. The bow used to draw the strings comes with a ghungroo on it, which when played together creates melody. Some historians and locals also claim this to be a precursor to the violin. The Bhil community is known to play the Ravanhathha on a regular basis.
Other stringed instruments widely used in the state include Kamaycha, Ektara, Bhapjang, Jantar, Surinda and Chikara.
Sushira Vadya is an instrument that produces sound when air is blown into it through the mouth. When the air enters the hollow column, the opening and closing of fingers over the passage causes melodies to flow. They are generally made of wood or bamboo and both the materials lend a characteristic sound.
Shehnai, (most commonly played in Indian weddings) is one of the most popular wind instruments in Rajasthan. On one end, there is a double reed and on the other is a bell. It usually has six to nine holes. The person playing this has to control the breaths to produce various kinds of sounds.
Another popular instrument in this category is Poongi. This is mostly used by snake-charmers and is made out of gourd. It has two tubes - one is used to drone and the other for the notes.
The langas (a traditional musician community) have a Poongi of their own called Murla. Satara, Peli, Algoza, Nad are a few other instruments which are well known.
Said to be the earliest musical instruments to be invented by humans, autophonic instruments are also known as Ghana Vadya. Mostly made out of metal, these need not be tuned. They simply need to be clanked in a rhythmic fashion to produce invigorating sounds.
Autophonic instruments have hemispherical metal cups, made of bronze and brass. They are beaten together to induce sound. Ghungroos also belong to this family, in which small, round metallic bells are strung together. Jhalar and Khadtaal also fall under this category.
Commonly called Avanaddha Vadya, percussion instruments make sounds when they are hit with something. Usually, animal skins are stretched over metals, earthen pots, across wooden frames or barrels for this purpose.
Instruments like Nagadas (nagara) and Matkas are some popular types of percussion instruments. Nagadas are folk drums that are played with a Nafeeri and Surnai (the sticks). They are rendered in combination with Tasha and Shenai on important occasions. As for Matkas, they are earthenware that have covered mouths and tapping on them produces sounds.
The Langas and Manganiars, both of whom are flagbears of Sufi music from the Thar region, have won millions of hearts and taken their folk music to the world stage. While the Langas mostly use wind instruments, the Manganiars use percussion. Shapes, sizes, materials and of course, the way the instruments are played, result in various sounds.
Edited by Roshni Shroff
Some resources to help you understand more about the music in Rajasthan: