The Jal Tarang developed on the pattern of Gong and Gamelan played in Java, Bali, and Burma (now Myanmar). Gong or Gamelan are made up of copper and other metal alloys and are molded in different shapes to create various musical notes. Holding bamboo sticks in both hands with cotton on the striking end of sticks, the gongs are gently struck to create the desired sound. Some scholars opine that in the ancient period these were in routine use around the eastern border of India.
Jal-tarang finds its first mention in Sangeet Parijaat. This medieval musical treatise categorizes this instrument under Ghan-Vadya (Idiophonic instruments in which sound is produced by striking a surface, also called concussion idiophones.) SangeetSaar considered one with 22 cups to be complete Jal Tarang and one with 15 cups to be of mediocre status. Cups, of varying sizes were made of either bronze or porcelain. Today only china bowls are preferred by artistes, numbering around sixteen in normal use. Cups for Mandra Swar (notes of lower octave)are large while those for Taar Swar (notes of higher octaves) are smaller in size. Water is poured into the cups and the pitch is changed by adjusting the volume of water in the cup. The number of cups depends on the melody being played. The bowls mostly are arranged in a half-circle in front of the player who can reach them all easily. The player softly hits the cups with a wooden stick on the border to get the sound. Its not easy to tune the instrument and needs some skill. During playing fine nuances can be reached if the performer is accomplished. SangeetSaar mentions that if the player can rotate the water through a quick lithe touch of the stick, nuances and finer variations of the note can be achieved.
Jal-tarang was also called jal-yantra in the medieval times. Poets of Krishna cult (also called Asht-chhap poets)have mentioned this instrument, but there is no mention in literature prior to this. Dr.Lalmani Misra mentions in his Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya that some contemporary Jal-tarang players of Carnatic music do attempt to produce Gamak often in the face of sounds going awry lacking required control.
Among the contemporary Jal-Tarang players upcoming Milind Tulankar has earned a place for himself. Dr. Ragini Trivedi is one of the first women Jaltarang players, who has trained several students in this rare instrument.