Jalatarangam: Aquatic Melodies

Originally published on Nazariya, this article was researched by Saif Ansari and Written by Seemab Alam, .

It is intriguing to look at how the elements find their application in the realm of fine art. Jalatarangam, which uses water to create melodies and harmonies, is an example of  such a use of elemental forces.

What is the Jalatarangam?

The Jalatarangam employs ceramic or metal bowls that are filled with different volumes of water. The vessels are arranged in different permutations and combinations to create musical arrangements. The laws of resonance and frequency are applied to look at how the water can manipulate sound. Different volumes essentially produce different tonal textures.

The Textual History of the Jalatarangam:

Vatsayana’s Kamasutra contains some degree of detail about the Jalatarangam, but today, this instrument is hardly used. Scholars propose that this form of music was regularly employed for entertainment along the Eastern border of the Indian subcontinent in the medieval period. The treatise of the Sangeet Parijat have classified this instrument as an Idiophonic device, which is essentially one that involves striking a surface. The poets of the Krishna cult too have written praises of the hypnotising melodies of the Jalatarangam.

The Sangeet Saar , a manuscript covering Indian classical music, deems that a set up consisting of 22 cups is complete, where as anything less than this amount produces sound of a mediocre quality. The cups used are made of bronze or porcelain. Today, China is also used, with the number of cups varying with the melody. The performer strikes the cups with a wooden stick, and the ability to produce manipulations on the surface of the water produces a more detailed, textured sound. The music is trance-like, and deeply vibrational.


                       The bowls used in Jalatarangam are often made of China. Image Courtesy: YouTube, Rishab Singhi.

In Popular Culture and the Contemporary Context:

In the modern and contemporary context, few examples do exist that involve the use of the Jalatarangam. George Harrison has used the Jalatarangam in the title track of his 1982 release, GOne Troppo. The Indian musicians,Seethalakshmi Doraiswamy, Shashikala Dani and NEmani Somayajulu are all accomplished Jalatarangam players.

A major Jalatarangam master is the musical artist Kottayam TS Ajith, who hails from Kerala. His appealing passion towards this instrument led the incorporation of  both melody and laya (the tempo or speed of a piece), giving rise to a new style of playing the instrument. Today, he performs in concerts worldwide to raise awareness about this art form.

                      Kottayam TS Ajith Kumar participates in a live performance. Image Courtesy: Jalatarangam Online

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!




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.