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Sitar is a musical instrument. It has been around for atleast four
hundred years, some people say 800 years. It is played in different regions of the world.
Sitar is a musical instrument played all around the Indian subcontinent.
It is played very commonly now in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal.
There is interest in playing sitar in Turkey, Iran and the rest of Middle East including Israil.
There is an interest in sitar all over the world now. There is a strong interest in learning sitar
in North America and Europe now. There are sitarplayers now in Australia too.
The music played on Sitar is not easy to learn. The culture associated with
learning has also to be grasped to a certain extent.
Unlike other instruments even after years of practice and performance, the fingers still hurt.
The notes are far apart so one has to physically move the hands a lot. The action is quite high so
the string has to be pressed down considerably. Hitting the exact fret accurately is very difficult.
Bending to the exact note is not easy.
Sitar is played up and down and also left to right. The left hand moves down
the neck of the sitar to go up the scale and up the neck to go down the scale. But one can go up
the scale by as much as six notes by pulling the main string. Pulling or bending the string is called
Meend. The string is pulled from right to left, ie opposite to a blues guitar bend.
There are five ways of rendering a note in Indian Classical Music, uttang, zamzama, soot, meend and gammak.
Sitar has a distinct sound and feel for each of these renderings. In violin for instance soot and meend
sound the same.
Sitar has two levels of strings. The sound of the sitar is unique both because of the strings on the top
which are plucked along with the main string, and the bottom ones which resonate. Resonate means that when
one string is plucked, another finely tuned string starts to sound even though the second string is not
plucked at all. Resonance gives Sitar a unique sound aura. It is also like playing to oneself with a
short time delay.
The bridge of a sitar called the Jawari is very delicately shaped to give sitar it's special sound and tone.
Music played on the sitar is improvised and comes from the heart. So it is a
physical menifestation of a psychological phenomenon of a feeling or a mood in sound. Spontaneity
is a key element in appreciation of music just like humor. Music done well on the spot has the effect of
touching the heart. Sitar music is not memorized and regurgitated like someone playing a spoilt and
scaled down versions of their famous father's music.
Alap, the first movement is particularly very emotional. The emotional attribute comes in essence from
meend or bends played and the sequence in which the notes are played by following each other.
Dand = Keyboard
Khoonty = Peg
Taar Dan = String holder
Jawari = Bridge
Tabli = Sound board
Manka = Bead
Tar = String
Tarab = Tarab (sympethic string)
The main string is Steel string, so is the corresponding resonating string. Sitar is
plucked with a metallic plectrum worn around the index finger. The actual plucking is done by striking
metal on metal and adds a metallic texture to the sound of the sitar.
Most people are surprised when they first pick up the sitar physically. It seems much
lighter than they anitcipate the weight to be. Often people lift it with a jerk, only to realize that they
applied an unnecessarily large force. Even though the sitar is quite large it is very light. The neck is
hollow and so is the gourd. The gourd itself is of a very light material.
The gourd of a sitar is a pumpkin, called toomba hollowed and dried.
What wood is the sitar made of?
The wood that makes the and the sound board ie tabli is called Tun in India and is a form of Cedar.
Sitar is also made of Teek wood.
The name of the wood is Tun, or the Red Cedar (Cederla toona). The tree is quite big.
The Botanical family of Tun is Meliaceae. The wood is red in colour, smell nice, light and strong.
A mizrab is the plectrum used to play the sitar. A mizrab is made of a thick steel wire that is specially shaped. Another traditional name for Mizrab , rarely heard any more, is Zakhma.
A picture to be added soon.
Zakhma is yet another name for the pick or the plectrum worn around the index finger.
It is now commonly known as a Mizrab.
That all seventeen strings on a sitar are played.
Jawari of the sitar and the decorations on the sitar are ivory.
Meend is vibrato.
Close your eyes and listen.
What is a gharana? Gharana literally means a household, thus also a family.
In Indian classical music Gharanas refers both to a school of music, a region and also to a way of
thinking about how the music should be performed.
Two main gharanas of Sitar in the present times are the Ettawah Gharana or the Imdad Khani gharana and
the Maihar gharana. Imdad Khani Gharana claims to be in it's eighth generation. There are atleast five
generations of actual recordings of this gharana. A sitar player from the 20th century, Ustad Imdad
Khan's recordings have been re-released in India. His two sons, Ustad Inayat Khan and Ustad Vahid Khan
have also been recorded. In the present times, the sitar player late Ustad Villayat Khan has been recorded.
This is a great heritage and is an evidence of how traditional Indian music is.
Maihar gharana has produced sitar players like Pundit Ravi Shankar and Pundit Nikhil Banerjee.
Sainya gharana is well known for a Sitar player from the 20th century Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan.
Sargam is the short form of sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa ( the nick names of the notes).
Paltas are basically scales as in Western music. Palta means turned around. Palta is
something that comes around in the same pattern. For instance sa re ga ma: re ga ma pa; ga ma pa dha; ...
and so on.
Some times a palta refers to an exercise that is simply repeated over and over even though it does not
follow a simple pattern within itself.
Yes girls do learn sitar and some of them go on to become performing artists.
A few women musicians that I can think of at the top or my head are Sharmista Sen, Joya Biswas, Anoushka
When played with other instruments, the term used is Jugalbandi. Sitar is played often
with other instruments now as well as with vocals. There are various collaborations amongst different
cultures and different instruments with sitar.
Sitar is considered to be the most popular instrument from India. Sitar is considered to
be one of the most difficult instruments to master. The traditional music played on Sitar is called Indian
Classical Music. Playing Sitar is synonymous with playing Indian Classical music. Professional Sitar
Players contend that by just getting some sounds out from the instrument or playing a few licks in a pop
song, does not earn a person the title of a sitar player or a Sitarist. According to them, a sitar player
is a person who has learnt Indian Classical Music with an authentic Indian Classical music teacher or
guru; has learnt what to practice ie do riyaz. Having said that not all Sitar players become
professionals. They play sitar for their own satisfaction, peace, love of music and an outlet for their
own creativity. Sitar is an expression of their feelings. They just enjoy the sound. They experiment
with the instrument and try new things. These are sitar players too.
Sitar playing is an experience in culture, self improvement and etiquette. Being a sitar player is a
life long quest. It Sitar is not just an instrument, it is a life style.
A good sitar sounds good, has a nice tone, holds tuning, has properly tuned frets, the
main string can be pulled properly without changing the tone or touching the frets, ages well and looks
Nowadays the two main kinds of sitars are based on two different styles of playing; the
gayaki style of playing and the tantrakari style of playing. Gayaki style sitar is also called gandhar
pancham style or also Vilayat Khan style sitar. The Tantrakari style sitar is also called kharaj pancham
style sitar and is known as Ravi Shankar/ Nikhil Banerjee style sitar. The Gayaki sitar has room for
bending the notes and more sustain and the tone is softer. The Ravishankar sitar has a buzzy sound, and
lends itself well to the older tantrakari style of playing.
A better quality sitars has a jawari made of stag horn(Sambar sing). Presently a fiber jawari is also
available. Enhance time jawari use to be of Ivori,which use to be maintenance free .
The invention of Sitar is attributed to Hazrat Amir Khusrau. Amir Khusrau was a poet,
musician and a sufi from the 12th Century. He modified a Persian instrument She in perzian is three Tar
and added "parda" and more "tar" ie frets and strings. Besides this he introduced the way of playing by
using a plectrum called "Zakhma". This is however controvercial. The alternative theory is that sitar
was invented by a different Amir Khusrau in the 16th century. Yet another conjecture is that Sitar was
invented by modified by a Veena called Tritantri Veena.
A Mizrab is made be a thick wire by bending it and twisting the ends around the wire
itself. The structure is then pulled by a string and opened up for use. It sounds confusing but it would
be apparent once a picture demonstrating it is added.
The jawari of Sitar is a bridge that rests on the tabli ie the sound board of a sitar
near the bottom. It is made out of a piece of wood shaped like a rectangle with one side missing.
On it rests a piece of camel bone that is carefully surfaced. The surfacing is done by sanding or filing
the top and is called 'jawari karna' or doing the jawari.