Lost notes of sarangi
Sarangiko tarale mero manako geeta gauchha Lek dekhi beshi samma gaine meeta lauchh Rajai, manako meet lauchha (The string of sarangi sings my heart’s song Confined not to the plains but traverses the hill tops as well)
Sarangi could have never been described better,” opines veteran sarangi player Hari Saran Nepali.
Barely a handful of the country’s music enthusiasts remember this song, but those who do, take immense delight in recalling Kumar Subba’s sonorous voice and great lyrics that eulogises Nepali folk musical instrument sarangi, a four stringe musical instrument played with a bow.
The song faded into oblivion over the last three and the sarangi got a place in the archives of the Museum of Folk Musical Instruments. Being archived in a museum is not something to be proud of for an instrument like sarangi, which ruled the entire musical scenario of the country for centuries.
Of course, articles in museum acquire antique value and remain protected forever, but the items altogether lose other pragmatic values.
It is not that stringed instruments do not have any takers. Guitar — first introduced in the late twenties, went electric in forties, and was started being produced commercially in the sixties — rules the roost among stringed instruments across the globe currently. “The West was successful in commercialising their music, while our music could never cross national frontiers and was confined to certain occasions and festivities,” opines Nepali.
Social, cultural aspects have also impeded the advancement of sarangi.
In those days, the ones who played the sarangi were called Gaines and regarded as untouchables. However, Gaines also played the role of informers as they went about singing about contemporary events then in the country.
The sole rendition of sarangi on ‘Babale sodhlan ni khoi chora bhanlan’ (What if the father asks where his son is?) by Jhalakman Gandharba still resonates with the same unmatched intensity. The song is about a warrior, who recalling his family at the battlefield, laments over his plight.
Sarangi notes have been slotted as insertions in a few songs even these days. However, it has become a difficult task for the listeners to identify the sound of a when they have never seen or heard one. The listeners are now accustomed to making distinction between lead and bass guitar as well as keyboard and grand piano.
Since the time it was introduced in the country, Ghandharbas or Gaines have been shouldering the responsibility of passing on the tradition of the instrument from all generation to another through centuries. However, “Sarangi is no more limited to the Gandharba clan,” says Ranu Tamang from Chitawan. Even his parents were against of his idea of playing sarangi initially. Tamang has decided to conduct a research on sarangi for his Master’s degree. “People do not look down upon sarangi players these days,” he claims.
Little has been done to promote and preserve this instrument, but not without effort.
Hari Saran Nepali invented 12-stringed sarangi, the only one of its kind. “It took me almost a decade,” he says. Eight extra strings of the instrument augments the effect on the tune. “I wanted to prove to the world that classical notes can be played on the sarangi with equal ease,” he says giving reason behind the invention. Only Shyam Saran and Bharat Saran play the 12-stringed sarangi till date.
Among few sarangi enthusiasts, Birbal Shrestha’s contribution to introduce it to the world has to be mentioned. He is the first person to start the commercial production of sarangi in the country. However, the business did not flourish. “Sarangis are mostly sold to foreigners who buy the instrument as souvenir,” Shrestha says.
Sarangi traders can earn well enough by trading with foreigners, but it is a musical instrument meant to be played, not to be kept as a souvenir.