Significance of Manjira
The Manjira produce high-pitched percussion sounds and hold an integral place in Indian music and culture. They are used in various traditional customs, including Bihu music and Harinaam, and are classified as a type of Ghana vadya.
In Hindu religious contexts, Manjira is known as karatalas or karatala, derived from the words "kara," meaning hand or arm, and "tala," referring to rhythm or beat. These cymbals are commonly used to accompany devotional music such as bhajan and kirtan. Hare Krishna devotees often utilize them during harinam performances, while they remain ubiquitous in all forms of Hindu devotional music. In certain contexts, they are also called karatala or kartal.
Construction and Sound of Manjira
Typically crafted from brass, bronze, copper, zinc, or bell metal, the Manjira is connected with a copper cord passing through holes in the center. When struck together, it produces rhythmic tinkling sounds. The pitch of the sound varies based on the weight, size, and material used in its construction. Moreover, the timbre of the instrument can be adjusted by varying the point of contact during play.
The Manjira consists of a wooden frame with two straight, long handles connecting to each other through two short wooden handles. A wooden separator within the open space between the long handles separates two rows of three brass cymbals. Additionally, small cymbals fixed into wood blocks form another type of instrument known as khartal.
Types of Manjira
Manjira can be categorized into different types based on its size, weight, and appearance. Following are some of the types of Manjiras commonly used in Indian folk and devotional music.
Bortaal: This clash cymbal is the largest in size, weighing approximately 1.5-2 kg. In Assam, the player who performs with the Bortaal is called Gayan. Bortaal holds immense symbolic significance in Assamese traditional culture. It is used in both dance-music performances, such as Gayan-Bayan and Bortaal Nritya, as well as purely musical performances like Harinaam and Dihanaam. The rhythmic high-pitched sound of the Bortaal creates an ambiance of purity and sanctity.
Majutaal: This clash cymbal falls into the medium size category. It is mostly used as an accompaniment in Indian folk music.
Khutitaal or Xarutaal: Also known as Manjira or Karatala, this small clash cymbal finds its place in traditional, folk, and classical music across India. It is also commonly used in various dance forms such as Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam, Andhra Natyam, and Kathakali. The instrument goes by different names in different regions, such as thaaleaj in Kashmir, taalam in some contexts, and jalra.
Ramtaal or Khoritaal: These are wooden-handled musical instruments that contain multiple pairs of small cymbals. They are commonly known as Khartal in India.
Uses of Manjira
Manjiras hold a prominent place in folk and devotional music. They are frequently played during religious events and ceremonies in India, particularly in bhajans and also in Indian classical music. These ancient musical instruments can be observed in depictions within many historical temple pictures.
Marathi Folk Music: In the realms of Marathi folk music, Manjiras carry significant importance. In Maharashtra, they are referred to as Taal and were initially played during aarti (devotional rituals). Gujarati Folk Music: Manjira plays a crucial role in Gujarati folk music traditions. Originally used during aarti rituals, Manjira has made a notable impact on the state's music landscape. It is often played during Santvani, Bhajan, and Dayro performances. Despite its small size, the Manjira produces a surprisingly sweet sound. It blends harmoniously in Jugalbandhi (duets) with other musical instruments, creating enchanting melodies. However, mastering this instrument is not an easy feat and requires dedicated practice and a clear understanding of Taal (rhythm) and Sur (musical notes). Unlike other well-recognized musical instruments such as Tabla, Mridanga, and Shehnai, the Manjira has not received the same level of appraisal and recognition. Consequently, there are only a few skilled Manjira players in Gujarat who possess expertise in playing this instrument. Manjira reflects the rich cultural heritage of Indian music and its extensive variety in percussion. Its presence in religious ceremonies, folk music, and classical performances showcases its versatility and timeless appeal. With its rhythmic tinkling sounds and intricate craftsmanship, the Manjira continues to captivate audiences and remains an integral part of the Indian musical landscape. As we embrace the traditions and instruments of our past, the Manjira continues to weave its melodious magic, connecting us to the ancient roots of Indian music.