Type: Lute > Chordophone.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh & Nepal.
Region: South Asia.
Description: The sitar [in Hindi: सितार sitar; Punjabi: ਸਿਤਾਰ sitar; Urdu; سیٹر sitar]. It is a plucked stringed instrument, originating from the Indian subcontinent. The sitar is one of the prominent instruments played in Hindustani Classical Music. In the sub-continent the sitar is played through out India, Pakistan, Bangladesh & Nepal.
History: The sitar flourished under the Mughal Empire [1526-1858], and it is named after a Persian instrument called the setar [meaning three strings]. The sitar flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although it reached its peak in the 18th century.
Acoustic properties: The unique timbre of the sitar is achieved by the use of a flat bridge called a jawara. When a string is plucked the sound transmits from the string while conducting through the jawara [bridge] through the tabli [the top that competes the body]. When tuned to a particular thaat or parent scale.
Gandhar-Pancham Sitar: The Gandhar-Pancham sitar whose string-configuration is used by Vilayat Khan and his disciples has six playable strings, whereas the Kharaj-pancham sitar having seven strings, invented by legendary Sitar Ratna Ustad Rahimat Khan, founder of Dharwad Gharana of Sitar. Later the sitar was used in the Maihar gharana, to which Ravi Shankar belonged and other gharanas such as Bishnupur. Three of these or four on a Ghandar-pancham sitar or “Vilayat Khan” style or Etawa gharana] called the chikari, simply provide a drone; the rest are used to play the melody, though the first string [baajtaar] is most used.
Outside of India: Although the sitar is used widely through out the sub-continent. The sitar became popularly known in the wider world through the works of Ravi Shankar, beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the 1960s, a short-lived trend arose for the use of the sitar in Western popular music, with the instrument appearing on tracks by bands such as The Beatles, The Doors, The Rolling Stones and others.
Construction: A sitar can have 18, 19, 20 or 21 strings. Six or seven of these are played strings which run over curved, raised frets and the remainder are sympathetic strings. The sympathetic strings are called tarb or they are also called taarif or tarafdaar] which run underneath the frets. The sympathetic strings have their own bridge. This bridge is entirely separate to the bridge the playing strings pass over. The sympathetic strings “ring” with in the resonance of each note when being plucked. Moveable frets or pardā are tied around the patri [finger board] and neck.
The playing strings run from the tail end, over the bridge to the Meru or Ard Patri. The first nut being the Meru or Ard Patri and the second nut is called the “Tar Gahan”. The flattened bridge or jawara is what is responsible for providing the buzz in the resonance of the sitar. The strings are usually of steel, copper or bronze or brass for the lower sounding bass strings.
For best results the jawara has to be solidly fixed onto the top surface which is usually carved out of jackfruit tree [Artocarpus heterophyllus]. This allows for the greater transmission of sound and sustain felt through most of the instrument. The neck and tuning pegs are assembled during the process of building a sitar usually after the gourd is cut. The gourd is traditionally attached onto the jackwood neck by bamboo skewers and glued into place.
Citations: Bibliography: Abu’l Fazl: A’ in-i-akbari [c. 1950] translation H. Blochmann in the Imperial Musicians [Calcutta, 1875, 2/1927] ; 680ff trans. H. Jarrett: rev. J. Sarkar in Sangit, Bibliotheca Indica, cclxx [Calcutta 1948] 260ff ; Pratap Singh. compiler. Sangit-sar [Jaipur, c. 1800] Poona Gayan Samaj [Poona, 1910-12 in Hindi] Web Sites: