Resembling the conventional two-headed percussion instrument- Damru, Bhapang is an unconventional folk string instrument from Rajasthan. As strange the look of the instrument is, it doesn’t beat the unique sound it produces. In any case, the outré harmonies of Bhapang invariably add a greater charm to the folk music of Rajasthan.
Traditionally, Bhapangs are made of hollow gourd shells, with the top and bottom part of the shell slashed away. The bottom part is then replaced by a flexible piece of leather, generally goat-hide. The leather is firmly attached to the bottom, giving the lower part of the shell the appearance of a typical percussion instrument. The centre is then punctured and a string is passed through the leather piece to the other end, where a small bamboo piece is tied to it.
The instrument is played by being held between the upper left arm and torso and its string is controlled by the left hand of the player, who then plucks on it using a plectrum with his right hand. To bring variations in the sounds produced by the Bhapang, the player would develop different pitches by stretching or relaxing the string, against the taut leather.
The musical instrument is often used by the Bhat community of Rajasthan while singing Marwari folk songs. The nomadic saints of Mev-Muslim community, too, play this instrument as an accompaniment of vocal performances in Mevati singing style. Its popularity among Jogis, or Saints, has earned Bhapang another name – Jogia Sarangi, literal for a little stringed musical instrument of Saints.
The origin of the instrument too is associated with nomadic Saints, a fact that gets support from the use of the easily available materials that goes into the making of Bhapang. There is even a folk song in Rajasthan that sheds light on the instrument’s origin,
षंकर जी को डमरू है, बाजे याकी ताल
बीच मे सु तार निकाडो, पीछे लगादी खाल
इस्माईल नाथ जोगी ने मंदिर मे पहली बार बजायो
या दुनिया मे देखो भाया भपंग कहा सु आयो
As per the song, a mev-muslim saint named Ismail Nath Jogi, had invented this instrument, using a gourd shell that distinctly looked like Hindu deity Lord Shiva’s Damroo. Jogi then took a wire trough the shell, fixed a piece of hide on one end, and played it for the first time ever in a religious sanctum.