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Volume 1, No. 2 - July 2001

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senirabab.jpg (8852 bytes) Rabab

Rabab is a very ancient instrument found primarily in Afghanistan but in India is common in Kashmir.  It is a hollowed-out body of wood with a membrane stretched over the opening.   Combinations of gut (or nylon) and metal strings pass over a bridge which rests on a taught membrane. The Rabab is mentioned quite frequently in old texts. However this is usually the Seni Rabab which is different from what we think of today. It is common to refer to the modern Rabab as the Kabuli rabab to distinguish it from the Seni Rabab.

Although the Kabuli Rabab is the style that is normally thought of today, over the centuries the term has been applied to a variety of instruments.  Therefore as a generic term it has been applied to a variety of instruments that even impinge upon the Sarod and the Sarangi.

There is evidence that this instrument may be the progenitor of a number of Indian instruments.  The Saringda, Sarod, and the Sarangi are the ones most commonly attributed to this instrument.  At first it may seem hard to make the connection between a plucked instrument and a bowed instrument, however notice the "waist" in the middle of the Rabab.  This is an indication that the instrument at some time was played with a bow.  All bowed instruments must be narrow at the place where the bow must pass.

Seni Rabab
The seni rabab was an instrument that was very popular during the moghal period.  The main characteristic that distingished this from other rababs was the large hook on the back of the head of the instrument.  This hook was used to sling it over the shoulder, thus allowing it to played while marching in processions.  The seni rabab is virtually extinct today.  This instrument is not to be confused with the kabuli rabab which is common today.

This instrument was held in great esteem in the past.   The first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak is said to have had tremendous love for the instrument.   It is said that he was accompanied by has friend and musical accompanist Mirdana while he sang the Gurbani.

Sarod is an instrument which is derived from the Rabab.   It is not an ancient instrument, probably no more than 150 to 200 years.   It is essentially a bass Rabab.   It has a metal fingerboard with no frets.   The bridge rests on a taut membrane which covers the resonator.   The sarod has numerous strings, some of which are drone, some are played, and some are sympathetic.   It is played with a pick made of coconut shell

Sarangi is a common representative of vitat.   It has three to four main playing strings and about a dozen sympathetic strings.   The instrument has no frets or fingerboard; the strings float in the air.   Pitch is determined by sliding the fingernail against the string rather than pressing it against a fingerboard (like violin).   This instrument is extremely difficult to play, as a consequence its popularity is on the decline.   This instrument has traditionally been associated with the kathak dance and the vocal styles of thumri, dadra and kheyal.

Saringda is a folk version of the sarangi.   It is found in Rajasthan and northwest India.

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