About Indian Percussion Instrument Jal Tarang


Jal Tarang is a unique instrument in the sense that it is both a percussion as well as non-percussion instrument. Basically, it is a series of china clay bowls of descending size layed in a circle, or row or any other convenient configuration. These bowls are tuned to the notes of Raag being played by adjusting the amount of water held in the cups. When struck with chop-stick like strikers, these bowls produce very sweet chime, tickle like sound and can be used to play solo as an accompaniment of Tabla, or as an accompanying percussion instrument, mostly seen with Kathak style of dancing.

To put it in simple words, Jal tarang is a set of china bowls that are filled with water.  Each bowl is struck with a light wooden mallet to cause it to ring.  Jal tarang is not very common and is normally found in the accompaniment of kathak dancers.

History of Jal Tarang: The Jal Tarang consists of multiple China bowls. The number of bowls depend on the notes that are to be played. Then in each cut is poured a certain quantity of water so as to adjust the pitch to the required extent. This is how Jal Tarang gets its name from. Where jal is water, and tarang mean wave. 

The water-filled cups are then positioned in a semicircular manner and the player sits in the center. The player with the help of one small bamboo stick in each hand, strikes out the melody by striking it on the rims of the bowls. As far as it being popularly known as an Indian Percussion instrument, we cannot be very sure of the origin of this instrument, as there is very little historical evidence to prove the same. It is said that Alexander, on his return from India to Macedonia, managed to take some jaltarang players with him, a fact however, yet remains to be substantiated. 

Vatsyayana's Kamasutra mentions about a certain water instrument called udaka vadya which, it is assumed might have been the jaltarang. Jal-tarang finds its first mention in Sangeet Parijaat. This medieval musical treatise categorizes this percussion instrument under Ghan-Vadya (Idiophonic instruments where the sound is produced by striking a surface). 

SangeetSaar considered the set with 22 cups to be complete Jal Tarang and the set with 15 cups to be of mediocre status. Cups, of different sizes were made which were either of bronze or of porcelain. 

Playing The Jal Tarang: In the modern times however the china bowls are the preferred choice of the artists instead of bronze or porcelain, and the total number of such cups preferred has been around sixteen in normal concerts. The Cups used for re-producing  Mandra Swar, the notes of lower octave, are large while those used to re-produce the higher octave, or Taar Swar are smaller porcelain cups. Water is then poured into the cups and to adjust the pitch, the volume of water in cups is increased or decreased. The number of cups depends on the melody being played. The bowls, like it has been mentioned earlier are mostly are arranged in a semi or in a way that he is able to reach them all easily The player then softly strikes or gently hits the cups with a wooden stick on the edge or border to create the sound. Its not as easy to tune the instrument as it sounds and needs some skill which can be attained with practice, proper guidance and experience. An accomplished player can display his skills by playing some fine nuances while at it.  SangeetSaar also mentions that if the jal tarang player is able to rotate the water through a quick yet lithe touch of the stick, he can successfully display nuances and the finer variations of the note can be achieved.

Jal tarang is a dying art. Inspired by Jaltarang, glass music became popular in sixteenth century Europe using glasses in place of cups. Another variation of the Jaltarang is found in Jaisalmer district in Rajesthan in India, where a single metal plate, called the thali or tasli are used as an accompaniment by applying different strokes to produce different tones and rhythms. The thali are first filled with water and its termed as Jaltaal, then these water filled thali or tasli are gently hit to create sound waves. Although Jal Tarang has been prevalent for over five hundred years now, the instrument attracted several enthusiasts in the first half of twentieth century. The instrument was extensively used in film music and orchestral compositions. However, this percussion instrument, jaltarang is losing its popularity and  this is due to its design and delicate built besides the lack of ease the player faces and undergoes while trying to play the more complex Ragas. Very few artistes in recent times have been seen to adopt it as their main instrument for classical performances and take it forward.

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