09 June 2010

The Sitar....a soulful musical instrument that needs no introduction!!!!

An instrument that was predominantly Indian, but gained huge popularity in the West due to the Beatles & Pandit Ravi Shankar, is the Sitar....George Harrison infact used it for the first time in pop music in the song, "Norwegian Wood (This Bird has flown) " on the LP Rubber Soul in 1965.

Used mostly in Indian classical music, its versatility has been known to encompass any & every musical genre. The origins of the sitar are very vague with some saying that it was developed in the 13th Century by Amir Khusro from the Tritantri Veena, a member of the Veena family. Others say that it might even have been developed during the time of the Moghuls & based on the persian lutes.

It is basically a stringed instrument which derives its sound from sympathetic strings, a long hollow neck & a resonating chamber resembling a gourd. The sitar's curved frets are movable, allowing fine tuning & raised so that the strings (tarb) can run underneath them. A sitar can have 17 to 22 strings, among which 6/7 played strings run over the frets. The Gandhaar-pancham sitar (used by Ustad vilayat Khan) has 6 playable strings & the Kharaj-pancham sitar (used by Pandit R Shankar) has 7 playable strings. 3 of these playable strings (called the chikaari) just provide the drone & the rest are used to play the melody.

The gourd part of the instrument has 2 bridges & the timbre of the music results from the way the strings interact with the wide sloping bridge creating a distinct tone. The maintenance of this specific tone by shaping the bridge is called jawari. A metallic plectrum, called mizraab is used to produce music & the instrument is played by balancing it between the player's left foot & right knee & never carried around, unlike other musical instruments. Materials like teakwood are used to make the neck & the tabli whereas the instrument's bridges are made from deer horn, ebony or camel bone.

The sitar has been used for a variety of songs & music & became very popular in the '70's even finding its way into films & albums. This was because of the newness of the sound & its ability to merge into any style, as a lead in a song or a part of the background score. Its soulfulness gave it a versatility that was widely accepted & although the craze for the instrument has mostly died down,  it continues to enrich the the legacy & traditions of classical music in India!!!!

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