The Use of Karinding

Palm Karinding with its tube case from West Java, Indonesia (photo by Ilham Nurwansah)

By Ilham Nurwansah

Karinding has many uses and function depends on where the karinding music tradition born and live in Sundanese society. From romantic to mystic, that are what I found in several places in West Java and Banten.  

To Attract Woman

In Banten, Karinding is used by the teenager as a communication tool when they look for their pair. This tool played on the home yard at the afternoon while relaxing after they finished their work. The girl who heard it, usually approach the player, because of the instrument sound tells them that there are many boys in that place. In the other place, Tasikmalaya, there is a folktale that told about story of first time karinding was made and karinding use to attract girl. It is about Kalamanda’s story.

Folktale of The Kalamanda:

Once upon a time, far away in the Citamiang village of Pasir Mukti was in the Galuh kingdom’s rule. In this village was told a dashing man. His name was Kalamanda who was still a Galuh royal patrician. Some day he met a pretty girl who made him fallen in love. This girl was Sekarwati. Kalamanda looked for the way to approach Sekarwati who has broken the hearts of hundreds of men who attended to her. So many ways of materials and handsome actions but nothing and no one can melt Sekarwati’s heart.

At the end Kalamanda isolated oneself and prayed to the god to be given a way. After he prayed, finally he got a clue to make an instrument that its sound could express his deep love feeling to the idol of the heart. He tried to make several instruments but finally he found an instrument that could express his ‘vibration feelings’ to Sekarwati. That instrument was very simply made of dry palm midrib. When the evening came Kalamanda approached Sekarwati’s windows silently and played the instrument wholeheartedly.

Sound of the deepest heart expressed by the instrument’s sound made Sekarwati’s heart touched when she almost slept. Sekarwati bewitched and accepted Kalamanda’s suit and live happily ever after. Kalamanda gave the instrument’s name as Karinding because its shape that similar with kakarindingan, a tiny insect that usually exist in the rice paddies.  


Some of karinding artists and Sundanese traditional musicians believe that karinding as an entertainment is one of very first and basic function when it was made. This function is becoming hundreds of years tradition until nowadays. In the past (also nowadays) karinding was usually played by the Sundanese tribe as a simple entertainment when they waiting the field and farm. In Banten -where the Baduy tribes live- karinding is usually used by the sheep or buffalo herdsman when they relaxing while taking a rest.

In Cianjur karinding is used for generation just only for the entertainment show media if there is a big event at the village. This tradition is related to a folktale in Cirama Girang village, Cianjur. The folktale told about two sides that fought their fighter rooster. At the end one side won the fight. The winner thought to hold a karinding ensemble show as victory celebration. Nowadays most of the karinding show functions are more as entertainment.  

Pest (insect) Repellent

There is assumption among the karinding old player, communities and makers that sound of karinding can repels much kind of pests (insects) and makes the better farm harvest. Several karinding observer hypotheses said that perhaps the insects are dislike and going away the karinding sound because it makes a low frequency (low decibel) sound. Unfortunately, there is no scientific research to proof and support this statement yet. I thought that this just coincidental thing but if it proven that karinding sound can repels pests, it will be a great and incredible thing that a small instrument can do.              

Ritual Ceremony Tool

Karinding is also used as a sacred ceremony ritual tool. Most of them related to the harvest ceremony and to honor the goddess of paddies, Dewi Sri, from the ancient Sundanese myth. Varieties of sacrificed things are prepared in this ceremony including the karinding. In this ceremony karinding is prepared to be “clean” in the ‘cleaning sacral thing’ ceremony before the main ceremony held with a hope when the cleaned karinding is played, it can make the heart and the mind clean and clear for the player and the listener when they hear the sound. These all series of ceremony are the Sundanese people’s “thank god” expression of the natural gift that they got from the harvest result.                

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