Have You Ever Seen a Sitar?
If you have ever set your foot in an Indian restaurant or watched a Bollywood movie, you must have either seen or heard music featuring an incredibly unique instrument. The tune might sound a little like the guitar but with an added reverberating buzz which most people link to Middle Eastern music. This instrument is, you guessed it right, the sitar! If you have ever set your eyes on the instrument, its appearance might also remind you of a banjo or guitar.
What Exactly is a Sitar?
A sitar is a string instrument with as many as 21 or as few as 18 metal strings. Usually, there are 5 or 6 played strings, close to 12 sympathetic strings, and 1 or 2 drone strings. The sympathetic and drone strings resonate with the played strings. It gives the instrument its signature sound. Most sitars are around four feet long, and their body is made out of a pear-shaped gourd.
They also have a lean wooden neck along with several movable frets and tuning pegs. The sitar has curved and raised frets. 6 or 7 strings play on the frets while the remaining strings are known as ‘sympathetic’ strings. They resonate to produce a sound whenever the strings on the frets get played.
How is a Sitar Made?
Sitar is one such instrument that needs to be carefully hand-crafted using different materials. Usually, the faceplate and neck are made from tun wood which is a type of mahogany. Some also use teakwood instead of mahogany. The resonating chambers are made from gourds, while camel bone, deer horn, or ebony is used for the bridges. Prevalent in Indian and Hindustani classical music in nations like India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, the sitar was most probably developed from the veena, a famous Persian lute.
As per the historians, sitar got its name from sehtar, another Persian instrument that means three (‘seh’) and strings (‘tar’). The sitar player usually sits and holds the sitar at an angle of 45 degrees to play the instrument. The played strings are plucked by the mizraab held in the right hand. Mizraab is the metallic pick that you see in the hands of sitar players. Specific notes are created by the left hand, which puts pressure between or on the frets. The small bridge of a sitar is for your sympathetic strings, while the large one is for your main strings. Synthetic materials are also used for manufacturing the sitars faster and at cheaper rates.
Famous Sitar Players
The sitar is regarded as an old instrument and holds a long history. It became famous worldwide from the 1950s to the 60s, all thanks to Pandit Ravi Shankar’s contribution, a musical maestro. You will be surprised to know that George Harrison from The Beatles has even learned to play Ravi Shankar’s sitar. Harrison played the instrument on numerous songs of their band. ‘Within You Without You’, ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘Love You Too’ are a few more songs of The Beatles where you can listen to Harrison’s soothing tunes of the sitar. The superhit “Paint It Black” from The Rolling Stones also features the sitar played by Brian Jones. Other well-known sitar players include Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Annapurna Devi, Prem Joshua, Ustad Rais Khan, and Ravi Shankar’s daughter, Anushka Shankar.
Some Interesting Facts
There are various sitar groups, known as gharanas, and these include the Gandhaar-pancham with six strings, Kharaj-pancham with seven strings, Bishnupur with seven strings, and numerous others. Pandit Ravi Shankar followed the Maihar Gharana that used seven strings to play the instrument. The fully decorated instrumental style sitar and the gayaki style sitar are the most popular in the lot. The style of sitar playing can differ from player to player.
Obviously, the student, master, semi-professional, professional and beginner; will have their individual style. It is not just the appearance or materials used for making the sitar that determines its cost when it comes to collectables. At times, the price is also determined by who produced the instrument. Today, a few of the most precious sitars are collectables and made by Hiren Roy of Kolkata and Rikhi Ram of Delhi. Both of them are regarded as the masters of sitars. (See 10 Most Difficult Guitar Songs)
How Do You Play The Sitar?
Is Sitar difficult to learn? The sitar player usually sits and holds the sitar at an angle of 45 degrees to play the instrument.