The Sārangī is a bowed, short-necked lute of the Indian subcontinent. It is an important bowed string instrument of India’s Hindustani classical music tradition. Of all Indian instruments, it is said to most resemble the sound of the human voice – able to imitate vocal ornaments such as gamakas (shakes) and meend (sliding movements).
The word sarangi is derived from two Hindi words: sau (meaning “hundred”) and rang (meaning “colour”). This is because the sound of the sarangi is said to be as expressive and evocative as a hundred colours.
Carved from a single block of wood, the sarangi has a box-like shape, usually around two feet long and around half a foot wide. The lower resonance chamber is made from a hollowed-out block of tun (red cedar) wood and covered with parchment and a decorated strip of leather at the waist which supports the elephant-shaped bridge. The bridge in turn supports the huge pressure of approximately 40 strings.
Three of the strings – the comparatively thick, tight and short ones – are bowed with a heavy horsehair bow and “stopped” not with the finger-tips but with the nails, cuticles and surrounding flesh (talcum powder is applied to the fingers as a lubricant). The remaining strings are resonance strings or tarabs (see: sympathetic strings), numbering up to around 35, divided into 4 different “choirs”. On the lowest level are a diatonic row of 9 tarabs and a chromatic row of 15 tarabs, each encompassing a full octave plus 1-3 extra notes above or below. Between these lower tarabs and the main playing strings lie two more sets of longer tarabs, which pass over a small flat ivory bridge at the top of the instrument. These are tuned to the important tones (swaras) of the raga. A properly tuned sarangi will hum and buzz like a bee-hive, with tones played on any of the main strings eliciting echo-like resonances