Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rabab - A (musical) highlight of Kashmiri culture and identity

The rabab is a musical instrument which is mainly found in Mediterranean and Asian regions of the world including Tunisia, Turkey, Persia (Iran), Afghanistan and Kashmir. The rabab takes different names and shapes according to regions as the making of rababs differ from one rabab maker to another.

Considered as one of the oldest stringed music instruments [1], it is believed that the rabab has given birth to many other instruments, in particular the European violin and the sarod (most prominent instrument of Indian classical music). Since their apparition in the 18th century, these instruments have become so predominant that they threatened the rabab of extinction [2]. However, the (kabuli) rabab remains the national instrument of Afghanistan. It is argued that the rabab has been introduced in Kashmir through the migration of a tribe (the rohillas) originating from Afghanistan [3].

The main characteristics of Afghani and Kashmiri rababs are a bulging body, an indented waist, four to six strings and side pegs called tarab khunti [4]. They are usually made of almond or mulberry wood, but commonly made of walnut wood in Kashmir. Both are plucked. This differs from other rababs which are played with a bow.

In Kashmir, the rabab is fully part of folk music, in particular in Chakri music (music played during wedding ceremonies). More specifically, the rabab is played by sufis to accompagny poetry. It is considered as an instrument of spiritual elevation [5]. As sufism has particularly deep roots in Kashmir, the rabab is the essence of the Kashmiri Sufiana Kalam (Sufi music).