Suman Bhattacharya

Sitarist from Imdadkhani Gharana


The sitar is a plucked stringed instrument predominantly used in Hindustani classical music, where it has been ubiquitous since the Middle Ages. It derives its resonance from sympathetic strings, a long hollow neck and a gourd resonating chamber.

The Sitar is also said to have been developed in the thirteenth century AD by "Amir Khusro" (Ab'ul Hasan Yam?n al-D?n Khusrow Dehlavi) from a member of the veena family of Indian musical instruments called the tritantri veena and to have been named by him after the Persian setar. The sitar is, like the setar, a member of the lute family while the north Indian veena is zither, but it shares the veena's resonating gourds and sympathetic strings. Amir Khusru was a great personality and is an icon for the early development of Hindustani Sangeet.  He lived during the reign of Allaudin Khilji around 1300 AD.

The Sitar that Khusro created was necessarily the most ancient form of Sitar which had three main strings and 14 frets. First one was tuned to ?Madhyam?, other two were tuned to ?Sadaj? and ?Pancham? respectively. Khusro introduced the metal frets which he tied with thread. This made more pin pointed and penetrating sound effect. Sitar was played by the ?Mizrab? (plectrum) on the fore finger of right hand. But there was no ideal posture for sitting with the instrument.

The "Sangeet Sudarshana" states that the sitar was invented in the 18th century by a fakir named Amir Khusru.  This of course was a different Amir Khusru from the one who lived in 1300.  This latter Amir Khusru was the 15th descendent of Naubat Khan, the son-in-law of Tansen.  It is said that he developed this instrument from the Persian "sehtar". Thus, the sitar , as we see today, started developing during the collapse of the Moghul empire (circa 1700).  It reflected the culture of the times in that it showed both Indian and Persian characteristics. Samrat Mohammad Shah Sadarangile (eighteenth century) was very famous for his knowledge and patronage for Indian Classical Music. The famous Sadarang (Niyamat Khan) and Adarang (Firoz Khan) were his court musicians. They were peerless masters of traditional Khayal Gayaki. Another jewel of Mohammad Shah?s court was Shah Sadarang Ji, who made significant structural changes of Sitar. He added 6 strings on sitar as used in Been at that time.

The job of continuing the sitar tradition fell to Amir Khusru's grandson, Masit Khan.  He was one of the most influential musicians in the development of this instrument.  He composed numerous slow gats in the dhrupad style of the day.  This style, even today, is referred to as Masitkhani Gat.  The Masitkhani gats were further popularized by his son, Bahadur Khan.  Masit Khan was a resident of Delhi, therefore masitkhani Gats are sometimes referred to as Dilli Ka Baaj.Another important person in the development of sitar music was Raza Khan.  Raza Khan was also a descendent of Tansen and lived in Lucknow around 1800-1850.  Raza Khan was also known as Ghulam Raza.  He developed the fast gat known as Razakani gat.

In twentieth Century, the structure of Sitar was redefined by Ustad Enayet Khan of Etawah Gharana. His modification made the instrument as the perfect medium of beautiful Alap, crystal clear execution of highly complicated bol with great elegance and resonating Jhala.

Enayet Khan Sahab?s son Ustad Vilayat Khan and world renowned Sitarist Pt. Ravi Shankar had further modified sitar according to their own style of playing. Ustad Vilayat Khan style Sitar is called ?Gandhar Pancham Sitar? and Pt. Ravi Shankar?s one is called ?Kharaj-Pancham Sitar?. These two are most accepted forms of Sitar today.


Some of the reference sources from where different sections of the above information were extracted are as follows:

- Wikipedia


- Ramprapanna Bhattacharya's Blog

Kindly visit the above reference sites for more information.

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