Name: Sursingar.
Type: Chordophones > Composites > Lutes > Rubab.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.6
Attribute: Jaffar Khan 1775-1825
Era: 19th Century.
Country: India.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The [In Hindi: sursingar, sursringar, surshringar or suṛśrṅgār] is a rare long-necked fretless lute. It is mainly played in Hindustani or North Indian Classical Music during the 19th century. The sursingar introduced in the 19th century had only six strings. Although it was a further development of the dhrupad Rubab used during the Mughal era; it had only five strings.

After the sursingar practically disappeared in the middle of the 20th century, it is now played again by some musicians, especially in Calcutta. With this further descendant of the rabāb, the musicians did not play the strict Dhrupad. But the lighter classical styles of Khyal and Thumri.

Etymology: The Hindi and Urdu name sursingar as given to this instrument is composed of sur [from the Sanskrit word स्वर meaning “Note” and sringara meaning “ornament and romance”.  The Hindi / Urdu pronunciation of the word “sursingar” first appeared around 1860, including the Madan al-Musiqi work by Karam Imam. Later, the Bengali musicologist Sourindra Mohun Tagore [1840-1914]. Who is a relative of Rabindranath Tagore, used the Sanskritized word sura sringara.

Sursingar Player
The photograph is sursingar player from the republished book Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries by Allyn Miner

History: The sursingar was probably invented by Jaffa’s Khan [1775-1825] at the beginning of the 19th century by changing the dhupad Rubab. Jaffar Khan was a Rubab and rudra veena player who belonged to the Seni or Seny Gharana. The members of the Senia Gharana, the “male” line of the musical tradition traced back to Tansen. Such musicians were called rabābiyā [rabab players] in contrast to the “female” line of bīnkār [Rudra Veena players].

Legend: According to a legend that is associated with the invention, a music competition was held at the court of Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh in Varanasi, in which Jaffar Khan was to compete against the famous Rudra vina player [bīnkār] Nirmal Shah on dhrupad rabāb. Regardless of whether the story happened in every detail, they took up musicians as successors to Jaffar Khan and experimented with the Kabuli rubāb, which also received a metal fingerboard in the 1860s as a major innovation and became a sarod.

The Maharaja is said to have required both competitors to play the monsoon raga Mian ki Malhar. Since it was monsoon season, Jaffar Khan considered his instrument unplayable due to the high humidity and asked for a month’s delay. During this time, he removed all components of the rabāb that were susceptible to moisture. He replaced the animal skin membrane body with a wooden surface, changed the gut strings to metal strings. He also added the three more strings to be able to perform the fast part [Jhala] at the end finishing end of the raga.

Development: The improved musical possibilities made them particularly suitable for the Dhrupad style. The rebab originally having five gut strings and a body with a membrane. Improvements were made in addition to the original instrument by adding a metal surface to where a wooden surface was in the original rebab design. This in turn made the sursingar a precursor model for the sarod. The sarod was developed from the Kabuli rubāb in the 1860s.

Construction: The main resonator is made with a gourd. The neck is attached to the gourd and a metal plate is affixed onto the top of the neck from the head stock down to the body. This allows for the facilitation of glissando or “meend” sliding notes. The sursingar has a total of six playing strings. Four chikari [plucked drone} strings were added. Some sursingar are known to exist having nine or ten. One specimen of sursingar is known to have tarabdar or additional sympathetic strings in addition to the above strings. Originally cat gut strings were used although they were replaced with metal strings namely brass and steel increasing the resonance.

Citations: Bibliography: Madan al-Musiqi work by Karam Imam ; Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries by Allyn Miner P.  69 Sursingar – Published by Farley P. Richmond, Performing Arts Series ISBN 978-81-208-1299-4 ; Ram Avtar Vir. Musical Instruments of India. ISBN 81-87155-65-5 ; Websites:

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