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The Jal Tarang Songs – Musical Ripples

Posted on 04/07/2021 by Trivia – The Spice of Life

Image Courtesy : and YouTube

In nature and its elements we find music in abundance. Water (Jal) – the elixir of life – is one of the five elements ( or the Pancha Maha Bhoot). It is no surprise therefore that water can produce musical notes. I am reminded of the immortal lines of a poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson (from his poem “The Brook“) :-

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.

When the free flowing chattering water is filled in bowls – of porcelain or metal – and gently struck with wooden sticks creating vibrations, what you have is the Jal Tarang (also called the Jal Tarangam)- jal meaning water and tarang/ tarangam meaning waves.

History of the Jal Tarang

The earliest mention of the Jal Tarang is found in Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, as playing on musical glasses filled with water. Jal Tarang is also mentioned in the medieval text Sangeet Parijaat, which categorized this instrument under Ghan-Vadya (idiophonic instruments in which sound is produced by striking a surface, also called concussion idiophones.) The Sangeet Saar considers 22 cups to be a complete Jal Tarang and 15 cups to be one of mediocre status. The cups, of varying sizes, are made of either bronze or porcelain. Jal Tarang was also called Jal Yantra in medieval times, and poets of the Krishna cult (also called Ashtachhap poets) have mentioned this instrument. Another piece of trivia is that Alexander was so mesmerized by the melody of the sound produced by this instrument that on his return to Macedonia from India, he took some Jal Tarang players along.

The enchanting tinkle produced by this instrument is perhaps one of the the most melodious and soothing sounds. By varying the volume of water in the bowls, sounds of varying frequencies are produced by tapping the brim of the bowl using wooden sticks. The bowls are placed in a semi-circle around the artist. The instrument needs quite a bit of surface area to be arranged properly, especially if 22 bowls are being used. What adds to the visual narrative of a Jal Tarang concert is the performer’s frequent preoccupation with changing the water levels of the bowls. He or she will have to alter the quantity of the liquid — definitely after the end of a piece of rendition, given that the next is going to be in another raaga. It isn’t rare to see the musician changing water levels even amidst a khayaal (in Hindustani) or a kriti (in Carnatic) when he or she senses a bit of technical imperfection in the presentation.

In the picture below, notice the bucket of water kept behind as the artist – Vikash Achutaramaiah – plays the Jal Tarang.

Guru Anayampatti Ganesan proud of his disciple Vikash Achutaramaiah’s performance

Sadly, this ancient musical instrument has been relegated to oblivion in modern times. There aren’t too many Jal Tarang exponents left. These include Milind TulankarRanjana Pradhan and Anayampatti S Ganesan and  Dr. Ragini Trivedi. Below is a video of a performance of Milind Tulankar.

Jal Tarang in Film Music

Though the Jal Tarang has been used in film songs of the golden era, identifying and compiling a list of the songs, where this instrument has been used is a daunting task. This is largely because the Jal Tarang is usually not the principal instrument being played. The stringed and wind instruments tend to dominate. The sound of the Jal Tarang is akin to the wind chime or the temple bell. It is not very easy to single it out when several instruments are played together. In the songs where it is predominantly used, It is usually played in the preludes and interludes and seldom with the mukhda or the antaras. Almost all music directors of the golden era have dabbled with the Jal Tarang.

I now present my playlist of ten songs where the instrument has been used in a manner in which its tinkling is distinct.

1) Chhuk Chhuk Chhaiyyaan (Shehnai, 1947) Lyricist: P L Santoshi ; Music Director: C Ramchandra; Playback Singers: Binapani Mukherji, Meena Kapoor, Mohantara Talpade and Chorus. Beautifully picturized against the backdrop of the Poisar river of Kandivali, this song has a lovely chorus. The chorus in fact makes you want to tap your foot and do a little jig. In this song, women go to the pond to complete their daily chores. Then, they start hyperbolically singing praises of the pond’s magical waters. The prelude of the song begins with the Jal Tarang that tinkles enchantingly. The Jal Tarang can be heard distinctly only in the beginning . C.Ramchandra has aptly begun the prelude of the song which praises the pond’s water with the Jal Tarang. This is a real ode to the pond’s water and to the instrument, which draws heavily from water. The video of the song is of poor quality. I am posting the audio link as well, which is a little better.

2) Ja Re Badra Bairi Ja (Bahana, 1960) Lyricist: Rajinder Krishan ; Music Director: Madan Mohan; Playback Singer: Lata Mangeshkar. This movie starred Meena Kumari, Mehmood and Sajjan. This song set to Raag Kalyan (Yaman) is all about turning the cloud into a messenger, to rush to the lady’s lover and get tidings about him. It is a pity that the video of the song is not available. The Jal Tarang has been used wonderfully in the interludes. Its tinkle can be heard perceptibly. The usage of the instrument in a song that speaks of clouds and rain is felicitous.

3) Jhanak Jhanak Tori Baaje Payaliya (Mere Huzoor, 1968) Lyricist: Hasrat Jaipuri ; Music Directors: Shankar Jaikishan; Playback Singer: Manna Dey. This is yet another Raaga based song. The Raag is Darbari Kanada. Raj Kumar is not easy on the eye. In this song, he becomes intolerable. I am sure some of this has to do with his role in the movie. Facing rejection in love, like all heroes – he faithfully visits the courtesan and takes to alcohol. I felt this kind of a sublime composition should have been picturized more tastefully, even if it were at a brothel. The saving grace is the manner in which Raj Kumar plays the Sitar towards the end of the song, which instills some semblance of sobriety. The Jal Tarang in this song is used in the interludes along with the sound of the paayal – which is what the song is all about. The sound of the paayal and the Jal Tarang can be heard distinctly.

4) Pankh Hoti To Ud Aati Re (Sehra, 1963) Lyricist: Hasrat Jaipuri ; Music Director: Ramlal ; Playback Singer: Lata Mangeshkar. This immortal melody from Sehra speaks volumes of the talent of the unsung genius Ramlal, the music director. Set to Raag Bhupali, this song has a liberal use of both string and percussion instruments, to go with the spirited dancing of Sandhya. It is shot in the lap of nature with birds all around and a small pond. The Jal Tarang can be heard in the prelude as well as the interludes. This is perhaps one of the best songs as far as the use of Jal Tarang goes.

5) Mujhse Bhala Yeh Kaajal Tera (The Train, 1970) Lyricist: Anand Bakshi ; Music Director: R.D.Burman ; Playback Singers: Lata Mangeshkar and Md. Rafi. This peppy romantic duet lifts your mood. The outfits of the lead pair, however, are too garish and the choreography is also rather amateurish. The movie is a murder mystery with some wonderful songs. It has Nanda and Rajesh Khanna in the lead roles. The same movie has been made in several regional languages. R.D.Burman – the music director – has used the Jal Tarang in the interludes.

6) Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si (Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1959) Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri; Music Director: S.D.Burman ; Singer : Kishore Kumar. This light hearted song is sung by Kishore Kumar on screen. He is a car mechanic in the movie. As he works on the car, he playfully produces music with different car parts like the horn and the screws. He gently taps the screws and the Jal Tarang tinkle is used to represent the sound produced by the tapping. The Jal Tarang is also used liberally in the interludes.

7) Qismat Ki Hawaa Kabhi Garam (Albela, 1951) Lyricist: Rajinder Krishan; Music Director: C. Ramchandra; Playback Singer : C. Ramchandra. Albela was a musical hit with each song having a flavour of its own. This song is delightfully picturized in a kitchen; there are very few songs that are shot in the food factory of our homes. Bhagwan Dada, an aspiring actor is reduced to doing the dishes and this is when he sings to laugh away what has befallen him. Here, music is produced using utensils. When the spoons and forks are struck on other utensils, the sound produced is beautifully represented by the tinkles of the Jal Tarang. C. Ramchandra has lent his voice apart from innovatively producing the music.

8) Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhaata Chala Gaya (Hum Dono, 1961) Lyricist: Sahir Ludhiyanvi; Music Director: Jaidev; Playback Singer : Md. Rafi. This song stands out for its rather innovative use of the Jal Tarang. However, I would have been happier if the musical instrument were associated with an object more respectable than a cigarette lighter. This tune (of the lighter) has in fact become very popular. It is even used as a mobile ringtone by many. But I guess, not many have wondered about the instrument which was used to produce the lovely tune. The song begins with the Jal Tarang, which continues to be used through out the song. It would not be incorrect to say that this song belongs to the Jal Tarang!!

[ Readers may please note that this song would need to be discounted, as one of my fellow bloggers, Anupji, has rightly brought it to my notice that the instrument used in the song is not the Jal Tarang. The instrument is called ‘Glockenspiel’ . This is akin to a xylophone. The artist who played the instrument in the song is Kersi Lord. ]

9) Nanhi Kali Sone Chali (Sujata, 1959) Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri; Music Director: S.D.Burman; Playback Singer : Geeta Dutt. This is perhaps one of the best lullabies that one can think of. The song is soft, mellow, slow and sans too much instrumental support, which is how a lullaby should be. The Jal Tarang is used mesmerizingly right at the beginning of the song. The soft tinkling sound it produces adds to the melody. The Jal Tarang is also used generously in the interludes. I should also mention here that this song was added by my twelve year old daughter who loves this lullaby.

10) Baharaon Phool Barsaon (Suraj, 1966) Lyricist: Hasrat Jaipuri; Music Director: Shankar Jaikishan; Playback Singer : Md.Rafi. This song from the movie Suraj is rated as one of the best songs sung by Rafi. Set to Raag Shivaranjani, the tune is slow and soothing. I love the burst of colour in the song. The advent of the beloved adds to the aura of spring. Shot in a picturesque garden, there is beauty everywhere. I love the hammock of flowers and the manner in which the elephants and the heroine exchange pleasantries. The song begins with the Jal Tarang tinkling, which can be heard softly in the background through out the song.

This brings me to the end of my playlist. Almost all music directors of the golden era – C.Ramchandra, Shankar Jaikishan, S.D.Burman, Jaidev, R.D.Burman, Madan Mohan and Ramlal – have used the Jal Tarang to produce magical notes. I would like to mention here that there are a few songs of the early1980s too where the instrument has been used e.g. in Charu Chandra Ki Chanchal Chitwan (Manpasand, 1980) and Tumse Badhkar Duniya Mein (Kaamchor, 1982) by music director Rajesh Roshan. In more recent times, A.R.Rahman, who believes in using a variety of sounds and instruments has used it in the movie Roja.

We must save this instrument from reaching its (watery!!) grave. There is a need to create awareness about the instrument. Thankfully, institutions such as the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) are trying to save this instrument and reviving its past glory. An attempt is also being made to make it a part of classical music concerts. As music lovers, we can also enlist and play songs that feature the Jal Tarang and relive the old times. I am sure, there must be many more songs of the golden era where the Jal Tarang has been used copiously. Please go ahead and add them!!

P.S. I request all readers to ALSO read THE post – The Jal Tarang Songs: Revisited that was published later, after consulting Pandit Tulankar. THE SHORTCOMINGS OF THIS POST HAVE BEEN DISCUSSED AND DONE AWAY WITH IN THE LATTER ONE.


  5. Reviving the Sweet Sound of Jal Tarang, The Hindu, April 19, 2012.

Disclaimer, claims no credit for any image, screenshots or songs posted on this site. The images and screenshots are the copyright of their original owners. The song links are shared from YouTube/ other platforms only to make the post audiovisual. The copyright of these songs rests with the respective owners, producers and music companies.

16 thoughts on “The Jal Tarang Songs – Musical Ripples

  1. What a nice list of jal tarang songs.
    The first sing that I thought of was from,
    Darshan pyasi aayi Daasi by Geeta Dutt
    Music by Sajjad Hussain.

    But, I’m not sure the opening tune of, main zindagi ka saath, is played in Jal tarang. I doubt!
    It’s something else for sure! I’ve read it, though not recollecting it at the moment.



    1. Thanks a lot for reading, Anupji! The song you added from Sangdil is really lovely as the Jal Tarang is played throughout the song.
      As regards your observation about the song from Hum Dono,
      But, I’m not sure the opening tune of, main zindagi ka saath, is played in Jal tarang. I doubt!
      It’s something else for sure! I’ve read it, though not recollecting it at the moment.
      , I checked again after reading your comment. You are right and I stand corrected. The instrument is ‘Glockenspiel’ . Here is the link about the person who played the tune on this instrument.
      Thanks a lot for this correction!
      But do you feel it is only the lighter tune played on this instrument or the sounds that you hear throughout the song are also played on it and not on the Jal Tarang?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh!
        great! But I can’t answer your query about the song. I’ve no knowledge of it. Sorry for that!
        I think it would the entire song on Glockenspiel.
        Jal Tarang notes sound a bit different, isn’t it?


  2. Very interesting (and illuminating) post. Before I started going through your list, the only song I could think of that fitted was Ek ladki bheegi-bhaagi si, but as I read on, I kept on realizing that yes, all these songs do have a definite presence of the jal tarang in them. I hadn’t been paying attention. 🙂


  3. A very interesting topic on a largely overlooked musical instrument. I was about to type about Main zindagi ka saath, and, scrolling up, saw that Anup ji has already pointed it out.

    Nice collection of songs.

    I am trying hard to recollect a song with prominent pieces of Jal Tarang ..a dance number. Will get back when I remember.

    Nicely written. Kudos.


      1. Oh
        Is it Jaltarang?
        Isn’t the sound a bit more sparkling than Jaltarang?
        इस में खनक थोड़ी ज्यादा हैं, as compared to Jaltarang.
        I Don’t know!


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