The Jal Tarang (Hindi: जल तरंग, Urdu: جل ترنگ), Jaltarang, Jal-tarang, Jal-yantra, Jalatarangam or Jalatharangam, is an traditional Indian musical instrument used in Hindustani classical music. It is rarely seen or heard, even though the gentle tinkle of its unique sound is quite pleasing. Literally Jaltarang means “waves in water” but indicates motion of sound created or modified with the aid of water. In the wave-instruments, it is the most prominent and ancient instrument.
The Jal Tarang developed on the pattern of Gong and Gamelan played in Java, Bali, and Burma (now Myanmar). Gong or Gamelan are made up of copper and other metal alloys and are molded in different shapes to create various musical notes. Holding bamboo sticks in both hands with cotton on the striking end of sticks, the gongs are gently struck to create the desired sound. Some scholars opine that in the ancient period these were in routine use around the eastern border of India.
Jal-tarang finds its first mention in Sangeet Parijaat. This medieval musical treatise categorizes this instrument under Ghan-Vadya (Idiophonic instruments in which sound is produced by striking a surface, also called concussion idiophones.) SangeetSaar considered one with 22 cups to be complete Jal Tarang and one with 15 cups to be of mediocre status. Cups, of varying sizes were made of either bronze or porcelain. Today only china bowls are preferred by artistes, numbering around sixteen in normal use. Cups for Mandra Swar (notes of lower octave)are large while those for Taar Swar (notes of higher octaves) are smaller in size. Water is poured into the cups and the pitch is changed by adjusting the volume of water in the cup. The number of cups depends on the melody being played. The bowls mostly are arranged in a half-circle in front of the player who can reach them all easily. The player softly hits the cups with a wooden stick on the border to get the sound. Its not easy to tune the instrument and needs some skill. During playing fine nuances can be reached if the performer is accomplished. SangeetSaar mentions that if the player can rotate the water through a quick lithe touch of the stick, nuances and finer variations of the note can be achieved.
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