Rajasthan is as popular for its food and textiles as it is for its music. There are several instruments such as Ravanhatha, Nagphani, Kamaicha, Morchang, Jantar and Khartal unique to the region.
During our recent trip to Rajasthan to participate in a music festival, we took the time to visit Jaisalmer Fort and the Folklore Museum, besides feeling the thrill of the desert at Sam Sand Dunes. At the festival, we heard from the Manganiyars. What caught our attention was the Khartal they were playing during their performance.
Traditional percussion instrument, it is an important part of the music of Rajasthan. There are different types of khartals; those from Rajasthan are simple wooden blocks with no bell embedded in them. The manjeera or cymbals, called karatalas; the chipla or chaplankatta with attached bells (used in Harikatha) and the Odisha kathia are similar to the khartal. The word “karataḷa dhvani” in Telugu means the sound produced by the clapping of the hands.
We wanted to know more about the khartal of Rajasthan. This instrument is played by the Manganiyars and Langa communities in Jaisalmer and Barmer. Used in religious and social celebrations, the instrument takes its name from the Hindi words “kara” means hand and “tala” means rhythm – rhythm of the hand.
Khartal, also called kartal, kartah, khar taal, khartaal and khurtal, belongs to the category of idiophones of the self-probing variety, where the properties of vibrator and resonator are combined by the instrument. This wooden clapper is a Ghana Vadya, which has discs or plates that make a tinkle when bought together. It is traditionally made from sheesham or teak wood as this produces the required nadam or sound. We learn that the best sheeshams come from the villages of Rajasthan. It is also difficult to find the right wood and is quite expensive. Most often, performers make their own khartals according to their needs.
Khartals can also be made of metal. The instrument is generally simple but sometimes patterns are drawn on it. This instrument is held in the hand and played. Sometimes the performer (usually played by men) plays pairs of khartals with both hands. The flat surfaces are struck together by alternately closing and opening the fingers. . As the instrument resembles an animal bone, it is also called rhythmic bone.
The instrument is available in different sizes. The small varieties measure approximately 1.5 inches by 8 inches while the standard size is 1.75 inches by 9 inches. The largest are approximately 2 inches by 9 inches.
Khartals can be played both as a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble. A common feature of performances in Rajasthan is the rhythmic exchange between the khartal and dholak performers. Complex and fast rhythms are performed by khartal players, standing, seated or kneeling.
The sound of the khartal carries with it the warmth of desert sand and the emotions of the wandering minstrels of Rajasthan.
The writers are well-known carnatic musicians