Sarangi is a much-cherished Nepali instrument. Originally played by Gandarvas who traveled the country singing folk tunes, the instrument, in recent days has starting taking up a new identity altogether. The four-stringed instrument, traditionally accompanying vocals, is now being adapted as an instrument in bands, ensembles and solo performances, and sarangi players like Kiran Nepali are contributing to the gradual evolution of the instrument, modifying them to suit their needs for the right tone and playability.
The instrument originated in the Indian sub-continent but is quite different from the Indian classical sarangi that consists of several sympathetic strings that resonate to the vibration of the primary strings and the body. Another cousin of the instrument is the sarinda, which is a popular instrument in areas of Pakistan and Afganistan. There are other similar instruments in various parts of the world.
The Nepali sarangi, traditionally, is made out of Khirro or Bagena–woods that are light-weight and soft. It is conman tree is Nepal. Generally a foot long, this apparatus of the Gandarvas is carved out of a single block of wood and has a head with four tuners, a fretless neck and a double-chambered hollow body. The base of the instrument, where the bridge that holds the strings are placed, has a patch of goat skin stuck to it. While four catgut strings were customary in earlier days, owing to the painstaking process of preparing them, sarangi players, these days, generally opt for nylon strings.
But Kiran Nepali’s sarangi–crafted out of the harder and heavier Saaj wood and having a lizard-skin parchment at the base–has strings of steel.
“Sarangi, conventionally, is just an instrument that Gandarvas played to accompany their singing. Hence they used catgut or nylon, which produce lower sounds,” says Nepali.“I make us of the sarangi as a versatile primary instrument and steel strings give me the tone that I am looking for.”