The large tongs instrument played in devotional music in India and Punjabi music is known as Chimta (also spelled Chimpta). It’s sometimes referred to as a ‘tambourine sword’ or musical ‘fire tongs.’ The anatomy of the instrument is: two large (either brass or steel) tongs with a small metal ring at the bottom, used to join the two flat pieces of the tongs. That is the basic version. But, that isn’t the one often heard in Punjabi music, or religious music known as kirtan or bhajan. That one has a set of 5-10 small cymbals added to each tong. It’s mostly heard in folk music of North India and Central Pakistan.
The chimta is not a solo instrument. Often it is played by the main singer or a secondary percussionist in an ensemble. With the joint of the instrument in one hand, the musician strikes the two sides of the chimta together. The sound made is similar to brass jingles. While the related audio of the jingles may not be a stand-alone act, they are a powerful addition to the feel of a song. Many popular singers (i.e. Arif Lohar, Sartinder Sartaj) and popular songs (Jugni) use chimtas to elevate the crispness of the track.
In Old Bhangra Music
In old bhangra music, the related sound was a classic. Arif Lohar, in his Coke Studio hit, is seen playing this instrument and strikes the two sides of chimpta together with just one hand. While new age bhangra has all but lost this classic sound, artists like Sartinder Sartaj or Gurdas Mann are trying to keep this instrument alive.
Chimta In Folk music, Shabad Kirtan and Haryana/ Rajasthan
With a dholak, harmonium and manjiras, the chimta is heard in (dharna) shabad kirtan. The playing style is grandiose and attention-grabbing. When heard with a dhol, ektara, the steel chimta is being used for the punjabi folk dance of Giddha. Here, it is in the background to the main dancers. And the combination of a dhudh, chimpta and vocals is what sets the soundscape for most punjabi folk music. But Punjab is not the only region where this voice is enjoyed. It’s also popular with musicians of Haryana and folk music of Rajasthan.
Use of Chimpta in Bhajans and Sai Baba
Satsangs and bhajan sessions today continue to use the chimpta. Many times it’s performed by someone attending the devotional session. The musical contraption was also used by Shirdi Sai Baba and his disciple Abdul. The Sai Sansthan in Mumbai has preserved that chimpta in their museum.
Qawwali and Sufiana Kalaam
While most related to devotional music, Sufi musicians are also known to use this chimta in their work. Riyaaz Qwali added the chimta in the Allah Ja Baja song. As expected, the resulting product or song has a more devotional vibe to it because of the brass jingles.
Buying and Learning the Folk Instrument
Because the chimpta is only used in traditional settings, it is not produced by any major instrument brands. An easy search can show you that each region has variations on the instrument. But, because no brands have entered the market, there have been no efforts with differentiation. An interested customer could search for this at major instrument stores or Amazon.