8 Amazing Facts about Sitar – The Indian Classical Music Instrument

Sitar is the most commonly used stringed instrument in South Asian countries like  India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

In this lesson, let’s learn all 8 amazing facts and commonly asked questions about Sitar.

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  1. What instrument is Sitar?
  2. History of Sitar
  3. Importance of Sitar in Indian Classical Music
  4. What is Sitar made up of?
  5. How many strings are there in Sitar Instrument?
  6. 3 types of Sitar
  7. How is Sitar played?
  8. What is the cost of a Sitar?

What is the Sitar Instrument?

The Sitar is a plucked stringed musical instrument with movable frets and a gourd resonator. “Sitar” word is derived from the Persian word “Sehtar”(seh+tar) which means “three-stringed”. Sitar got that name because the first used Sitars has only three main playable strings to produce a melody. it is believed that Sitar has been originated in India 700 years ago.

Indian musical instrument sitar lying on the wooden floor
Indian musical instrument sitar lying on the wooden floor

History of Sitar

Chitra Veena is said to be the precursor of a sitar. As per early records, the sitars were flourished within the 16th and 17th centuries and arrived at their present state in the 18th century by the efforts of “Amir khusro”( Tansen’s grandson). He is the most famous Hindustani performer and made the principal endeavours at adjusting Veena to plan the present-day Sitar. Traditional Sitars contain 5 melody strings that can be tuned to Ma-Sa-Ma-Sa-Pa. Renuka punwani from India created a world record by playing the sitar continuously for 25 hours at the age of 72.

Importance of Sitar in Indian Classical Music

It is especially utilized in Hindustani classical music and it is known for generating a wonderful, vibratory tone. It is also used as a solo instrument with tambura, and tabla, as well as for northern Indian traditional Kathak dance. Mezrab (zakhmeh)  is a plectrum used to play the sitar instrument. Mezrab is commonly made up of a thick steel or brass wire. most quality-made Sitars are constructed from the combination of teak and mahogany wood or toon wood. Teak is a rear wood and has greater economic importance in the making of a sitar instrument.  A storage case is necessary to hold the sitar sturdily and safely.

What is Sitar made up of?

Sitar is approximately 4 feet long. It is primarily made up of four parts:-  Dand(fingerboard), Tumba, Tabli, and Gulu.  Dand is made up of a standard wood known as “Shisham” and the standard width is 3.27 m to 3.5 m. Tumba is made up of well-dried gourd and it contains the reverberating part of the sitar. It is the lower cross-sectional part of the sitar.

Tabli is the fundamental source of the great sound of a sitar. Gulu is a block of wood that joins the Tumba and Tabli. sitar looks quite similar in appearance to another long-necked stringed instrument called Tambura. The other parts of Sitar are bridges, heads (pegs), steel or brass strings, Khunti, adjuster, and tail-piece.

How many strings are there in Sitar Instrument?

Typically a sitar has 18 to 21 strings and 20 frets. out of 21 strings, 5 are melody strings, one or two drone strings, and the remaining 12 or 13 are sympathetic strings. sympathetic strings are also known as Taarif and Tarafdaar. Sympathetic strings run below the frets and modify the melody produced by the main strings. sympathetic strings are generally not played by sitarists, so sympathetic strings are also known as auxiliary strings.

Melody strings and drone strings are combinedly known as main strings or playable strings.  every time the sitar is under a great deal of tension from the strings, it will eventually start to bend and become harder to play. Indeed the best-made Sitars are also facing the same problem, and will eventually require the neck to be replaced.

3 types of Sitar Instruments

Mainly there are 3 types of sitar-

1. Kharak Pancham( Ravi Shankar style Sitar)

:- It is named after the prestigious sitarist and melodic legend Dr Ravi Shankar. It is the most popular type of sitar usually well decorated with a decent arrangement of additional carving and Penwork. Ravishankar-style sitar has 7 playable strings with two extra bass strings, which produce extra bass-filled sound It contains 13 sympathetic strings, 3 drone strings(known as Chikari) and four or five melody strings, and two sound boxes. These types of Sitars are otherwise called instrumental style sitar. . it contains an additional upper dried gourd which is attached to the back of the headstock.

2. Gandhar Pancham(Vilayat Khan style sitar or Gayaki style Sitars)

Gandhar Pancham style Sitars have only one sound-box and they contain 4 drone strings, 11 sympathetic strings, and two melody strings. when we compare Ravi Shankar-style sitar and Vilayat Khan-style sitar, Vilayat Khan-style sitar contains just one gourd, while the rear one is removed. It has less sympathetic strings than Ravi Shankar sitar and this type of Sitar did not contain bass strings, but contains an additional rhythmic string, known as a “Chikari.”. Vilayat Khan-style sitars usually did not have any carved decorations.

3. Bass Sitar (Surbahar)

Bass sitar contains 3-4 drone strings, 4 playing strings, and 10 to 11 sympathetic or Taarif strings. Some researchers believed that “Ghulam Muhammed Khan” of Lucknow is the inventor of Surbahar. These types of Sitars contain thicker strings and more extensive neck than the other two types of sitar. Bass type of sitars are harder to play and larger in size but produces good tonal music for music lovers.

How is Sitar played?

Get into comfortable folded legs position on the floor to utilize your entire body to support the sitar instrument. Use your right knee to support the neck of the sitar. place a Mizrab on your right index finger to play the strings of a sitar. Be familiarise yourself with all the playable strings of the sitar.  Work on utilizing the Sitars frets to play a wide assortment of notes at various octaves. Carefully press the strings against the frets with your left index and middle finger. After complete knowledge of all types of strings of a sitar Learn the different types of notes, so you can start playing the full song. Practice slowly to play fast.

What is the cost of a Sitar Instrument?

The Sitar costs varies a lot. The lowest end Sitars can be purchased at around USD 30 to USD 60 while the higher end Sitars can cost anywhere between USD 1000 to USD 1500.

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