17 fretted Sitar
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Indian Music and Sitar
Music like all cultural manifestations – is the expression and mirror image of certain attitude of consciousness. Music can be said to be the sweet and soothing sounds that vibrate and create an aesthetic feeling and beauty that overcome the feelings and beauties of nature. The word "Music", is derived from the French word "Muse".

Music that evolved in Indian soil and imbibed the spirit and atmosphere of spiritual India is known as Indian music. Indian music is a living art. It is the dynamic power of symbolizing the divine intution of man in sweet and sound. Indian music has it’s own cultural heritage and is considered to be the oldest form of music existing in the world today. The meaning of the word music in India is defined in the text as "Sangita" or "Samgita". The word "Sangita" has been defined as a combination of three components, viz, vocal music ("Gita"), instrumental music ("Vadya") and dance ("Nritya"). The reference to the word "Sangita" is also found in the old texts including "Ramayana" (300 B.C.), "Mahabharata" (200 B.C.), "Puranas", and the "Natyashastra" of Bharata.

One of the main and important aspects of music is instrumental music. The basic requirement of instrumental music or dance are "Swara" (melody) and "Laya"(rhythm), but in vocal music, another component is required in addition to "Swara" and "Laya", i.e. "Pada"(text).

"Veda" means knowledge. It is the oldest text of the world. It is not known who wrote it but is proved beyond doubt that Veda has given the greatest knowledge to the mankind and it is in "Veda", that we come across the mention of "Sama –Veda", one of the branches of "Veda", which is related to music.

Sitar is considered as one of the most popular stringed instruments of India today. Earlier, it was the Veena, which was popular amongst the musicians and lovers of music, but today Sitar has overshadowed all other string instruments of India because of its mystic sound and popularity. As we all believe, Veena is the mother of all string instruments, it is also said that Sitar is basically derived from the Veena. Any stringed instrument in our ancient text is referred to as Veena. As Sitar had 3 strings earlier, it was known as "Tri-Tantri Veena" (means three stringed instrument) and there is also a mention of another kind of stringed instrument popularly known as "Kachhapi Veena". This Veena had also many similarities with the "Tri-Tantri Veena". We also come across the name of "Yantra", which was at one time (according to one of the opinions) known as the "Tri-Tantri Veena". It is interesting to note that many great players of Sitar in the early 20th century played "Kacchua Sitar", which is a developed version of "Kachhapi Veena".

There have been many theories regarding the origin of Sitar, out of which the most popular belief dominating so far in popular accounts gives credit to the Central Asian Indian poet and musician Amir Khusrao (who lived in the court of Delhi Sultan, Allaudddin Khilji) for the invention of Sitar in the 13th century, The name of Amir Khusrao is associated with our history of music and there is no doubt that he was a great composer, poet, musician and creator of many styles of music. When he came to India, he was fascinated with many Indian instruments. According to one opinion, Sitar has been derived from the persian word "Seh-tar". "Seh" means three in Persian and "Tar" means strings i.e. an instrument having 3 strings. According to the scholars having this opinion, Amir Khusrao modified the earlier Veena having 4 strings by taking out one string and inventing the "Seh-tar", which later came to be known as the Sitar. Another opinion was that Amir Khusrao, modified the facts on the old "Parivadini" or "Tri-Tantri" (mentioned before), which means a 3 stringed Veena in Sanskrit. He renamed it "Jantar", which literally means the same thing in Persian. Today of cource, this is known as Sitar. but also according to many other beliefs, one thing is certain that this instrument did exist in India long before Amir Khusrao came.

The main parts of a Sitar are as follows :-

Tumba : It is the round base of the Sitar and is made of pumpkin gourd It is also called

the resonator.


Tabli : The top half of the Tumba is cut open and covered by a thick wooden base known

as Tabli.


Gullu : It is that piece of wood which helps in joining the Tumba and the Tabli to the

Daand (explained below).


Daand : It is also known as the fingerboard and is the longest part of the Sitar.


Langot : It is set on the surface of the Tumba at one end of the Sitar, where all the

strings, after passing over the Bridge/Jawari (explained later) are tied.


Tunning pegs or Khunti : They are the pegs to which the strings of the Sitar are tied to.


Bridge or Jawari : The Bridge(Jawari) serves the purpose of raising the strings to a

distance above the fingerboard and transmiting the vibrations of the

strings to the sound board. It rests on the board of the resonator

(Tabli), situated a bit towards the Langot.


Purdah or Frets : They are made of metal, having a convex shape with cuts on both sides

to facilitate the tying of threads. The frets are tied to the Daand with

the help of these threads and their placement on the Daand determine

the notes on the Sitar.


Taar Gahen : It is the thin flat bridge on the top half of the Sitar, through which the

strings are made to pass, before being tied to the tuning pegs.


Manka or beads : They are the small beads which are used for fine tuning of the



Mizrab or plectrum : They are conical shaped and made of wires. They are used for plucking

the strings of this instrument.

The physical structure of Sitar has gone through a drastic change during all these years and to day one can have more "Meend" (deflation of the string) on a Sitar compared to earlier Sitars. "Meend" is the life of Indian Music and without it one cannot justify the expression of a Raga and that is why Violin is very popular in India but not Piano. Our music cannot be expressed on a chromatic pitch and until and unless you stretch or deflate the string to get the real frequency you cannot bring out the essence of a Raga of the hour.

This popular instrument has gone though a great transformation over the years and the manufacturers, in association with the great masters, made a lot of scientific improvements on this instrument. The number of frets used on Sitar have steadily increased by the players from the traditional 16 to 17 and then to 19, 20, 21 or even 22 ("achal that") depending on the "gharana" ( style ) to which the artist belongs.

The strings and tuning arrangements of this instrument have also gone through a revolutionary change during the 20th century. In fact Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan Sahab, my "Dada Guru" i.e my father’s "guru", never compromised with the traditional tuning arrangement, which was based on having the first string tuned to "Ma" (F - "Baaj ka taar"), second and the third strings to Sa"(C - "Jor ka taar"), fourth string to "Pa"(G – "Kharaj"). The fifth string was tuned to "Pa" (G – Steel) again, then the sixth and the seventh strings on "Sa"(C), one on the middle octave and the last one is on the higher octave "Sa"(C). The fifth, sixth and seventh strings together were popularly known as the "chikari". This traditional tuning was followed only by the traditional players till the late 20th century. The same pattern of tuning was followed on the instrument Surbahar also but with the addition of an extra string known as "Laraj ka taar" (tuned in the lowest octave of "Sa"(C). My father, Padma Bhushan Pandit Debu Chaudhuri has innovated a little with regard to the tuning of the instrument and his tuning arrangement is as follows :- the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh strings on the top of the Sitar are tuned to "Ma"(F – "Baaj ka taar"), "Sa"(C – "Jor ka Taar"), "Pa/Ma"(G/F – "Kharaj", tuned according to Raga), "Pa"(G – steel), "Sa"(C - middle octave), "Sa"(C - middle octave), "Sa"(C - higher octave). This tuning arrangement adopted by Panditji is a unique innovation, which is being followed by all his students including myself.

We must not forget that we have a proper history of Sitar playing from the time of Maseet Sen(Khan), the sixth descendant of Mian Tansen, also known as the originator of "Maseetkhani Baaj" (style). Maseet Sen added some more strings and gave a new dimension to this instrument. It was from the time of Maseet Sen, that we find the style of "Maseetkhani Baaj", which has been followed by most of the great masters of India. In the 19th century, we come across the addition of lower set of sympathetic strings knows as "Tarab" and as a result, the Sitars having the "Tarabs" came to be known as "Tarabdar" Sitars. In the present generation, with new developments taking place on the instrument and in order to add more creativity, we see that most of the players have changed the pattern of string arrangements on their Sitar.

In the earlier days, the instrument Surbahar was mainly used to play Alap, Jor and Tarparan, which is very close to the art of Veena playing and thereafter Sitar was played for the purpose of presenting the "Bol" (stroke patterns), "Bandish" (composition) and "Gat-todas", in slow and fast movements. Many players used to play Surbahar before playing Sitar but now a days, due to the various developments which have taken place on this instrument, the art of Sitar playing combines all these techniques and as a result Surbahar is becoming a rare instrument. My Dada Guru, Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan Sahab, was one of the greatest Surbahar players of India and the only player of this century who played the Surbahar with three "Mizrabs" (plectrums). Khan Sahab never played Surbahar to the accompaniment of Tabla; as the normal practice is to play Surbahar with with Pakhawaj only.

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