Jalatarangam: The music of water waves

Content Research by Saif Ansari and Written by Seemab Alam

The sound of moving water, be it the waves of a sea hitting the shore or the gentle flow of a river, has always enthralled the best of us. To commemorate the essence of life, Nazariya brings you Jalatarangam, a percussion instrument that is tuned not with strings but with water!

Jalatarangam, The Instrument

Jalatarangam, The Instrument

Jalatarangam is an Indian melodic percussion instrument that involves numerous ceramic or metal bowls filled with different levels of water aligned in unique patterns. When the edges of the bowl are stroked, they produce water waves that produce a sound so melodious that one would never really want it to come to a halt.

The emergence of Jalatarangam is found in Vātsyāyana’s Kamasutra as playing on musical glasses filled with water. However today this instrument has tumbled into anonymity despite its historical prominence. Being the most traditional Indian classical music, some scholars think that in the ancient period these were in routine practice around the eastern border of India.

The medieval musical treatise of Sangeet Parijaat have accomplished this instrument under Ghan-Vadya i.e. an Idiophpnic instrument in which sound is produced by striking a surface, also called concussion idiophones. The Sangeet Saar (manuscript on classical Indian music & dance) considered one with 22 cups to be complete Jalatarangam and one with 15 cups to be of mediocre status. The cups are of varying sizes were made of either bronze or porcelain.

Jaltarang, The Instrument

                       The bowls used in Jalatarangam

Today only china bowls are preferred by artists, numbering around 16 in normal use. The number of cups depends on the melody being played, in order to play this instrument the cups are arranged in a half circle in front of the player who can reach them all easily. Water is poured into the cups and pitch is changed by adjusting the volume of water in the cup. The player then softly hits the cups with a wooden stick on the border to get the sound. However playing this instrument is not at all easy, it requires a lot of skill to produce music leading to trance. Sangeet Saar also mentions that if the player can rotate the water through a quick touch of the stick, nuances and finer variations of the note can be achieved.

Poets of the Krishna cult have mentioned the wonders of Jalatarangam in their literature work. Many contemporary players of Carnatic music do attempt to produce Gamak (can be defined as a fast meend or spanning 2-3 notes normally delivered with deliberate force and vigour and repeated in an oscillatory manner) often in the face off sounds going skewed lacking required control. George Harrison played the Jalatarangam on the title track of his 1982 album Gone Troppo. In India, Seethalakshmi Doraiswamy, Shashikala Dani and Nemani Somayajulu are accomplished Jaltarang players. Also one of the major Jalatarangam pro is artist Kottayam TS Ajith Kumar hailing from Kerala. His appealing passion towards this instrument led to his creativity of incorporating both melody and laya (the tempo or speed of a piece), thus opening to a new style of playing the instrument. Today he performs in concerts worldwide and promoting the music Jalatarangam which has fallen into concealment today with the emergence of the extensive variety of music.

TS Ajith Kumar

                      Kottayam TS Ajith Kumar performing in a show

As being one of a unique type of music and the most soothing one as well, Jalatarangam should be highlighted and promoted so that it can take a comeback from its obscurity and can once again leave its audience with ecstasy. As of how appealing is the idea of water waves with proper techniques when laid together releases sound that is so alluring!

 

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