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Sitar is a handmade instrument which belongs to lute family and has its origin from South Asia. It is larger than its European partner (guitar) by having more strings and featuring its unique sound. This unique sound is due to its two layered strings with a deep and curved chamber. It is mostly known for its role in Hindustani music as it is considered as the main instrument of the Hindustani culture. Stringed instruments has its existence since hundreds of years. They are the oldest types of instruments made by people. Sitar is a fusion of two instruments. One was veena which is 3,000years old instrument. Second was ‘seetar’ i.e three stringed instrument, newly introduced to north India that was carried by first Persian Muslim soldier who arrived during 800AD. During the reign of Mughal rule in northern India and Pakistan, as the cultural and political turmoil begun the instruments and music evolved with it. Thus sitar flourished during 16th - 17th century by native Indian court musicians, who made the modifications and bought in the changes to veena with the taste of Persian nobility and the Persians would give an adaption of their instrument name seetar to this as ‘Sitar’. And the present form of sitar flourished during 18th century. After India and Pakistan gained independence in 1940s sitar was left as the court instrument for both the nations. In later days in 1960s sitar was the only one most prominent musical instrument which was exported from Indian music.
As making of this instrument has its tie knotted its root to village craft it is considered as one of the folk instrument. The making of this Indian sitar needs at least five craftsmen to build a single instrument. During olden days sitar was made of teak wood but now a days due to lack of teak wood rose wood or tun wood (Cedrela Toona) is being used for making sitar. Its general length is about 1.2 meters (4 feet) with a pear shaped gourd body, hollow wooden neck, tuning pegs in both front and side ways and 20 arched movable frets. The strings attached to this instrument is of metal in which five are melody strings, one or two are drone strings and nearly 13 sympathetic strings underneath the frets that are tuned to the tones of raga. Usually sitar is held in 45degree angle on their lap while seated. The sitarists play the instrument by plucking the strings with a wire plectrum worn on forefinger of the right hand while the left hand is used for manipulating the strings with subtle pressure on the frets.
Today sitar is used as a solo instrument with tambura (drone-lute) and table (drums) at concerts. The two modern schools for sitar playing in India are Ravi Shankar School and Vilayat Khan School. Each school has its own playing style, tuning system and type of sitar. Ravi Shankar School follows the 12-14 sympathetic stringed sitar with secondary gourd attached to it. This type of sitar typically produces deep, bass-filled sound and has an elaborate penwork and carvings on the instrument. Whereas Vilayat Khan’s sitar is a single gourd instrument that is slightly smaller than Ravi Shankar’s sitar. This instrument has fewer sympathetic strings with no bass strings but produces more chordal and maximum sound.
The interesting fact about the instrument is, it is still continuing to evolve even today. Vilayat Khan introduced the instrument to western world during early 1950s whereas Pandit Ravi Shankar who was born and brought up in Varanasi took over and started touring the western world and played in enormous concerts starting from 1956. He toured extensively and composed music. Thus through him (Pandit Ravi Shankar) sitar was noted as a popular instrument in West. Even today many Western musicians uses this sublime instrument in their creations and some composers imitated the sitar sounds on guitar. Some used an electric sitar – a modified version to ease the performance and preserved its primary tonal gleam. And in 21st century Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka Shankar joined musicians around the world and performed on Hindustani principles, later for which she was noted for her expertise in playing sitar.