Indian music and mythology have been intrinsically entwined, since
time immemorial. Of Indian music, it is said that it “achieves unity
through similarity rather than through change”. Ragas, which
literally mean colors or moods and talas, (the rhythmic) together
provide the divine fusion that is called Indian music.
Some of the more popular instruments that form an integral part of
the fabric of Indian music are violin, tanpura, tabla, mridangam,
dholak, ghatam, sitar, santoor, flute and the veena.
The Indian lute
The sitar is a northern Indian stringed musical instrument belonging
to the lute family. The dictionary describes the lute as “a stringed
instrument with a pear shaped body, a neck with a fretted
fingerboard and a head with pegs for tuning.” (The tanpura may be
called the drone-lute.)
There are two styles of Indian classical
music – Hindustani (or the North Indian style) and Carnatic (or the
South Indian style) systems. The sitar is a dominant instrument in
the Hindustani style of music. It is usually played as a main solo
instrument. The accompanists in a sitar concert included the tabla
player who keeps the rhythm and the tanpura artist who helps
maintain pitch or sruti.
The sitar is believed to have developed
under medieval Muslim influence from the tanbur, a Middle Eastern
long-necked lute, and from the veena or the bin, a narrow, elaborate
Indian zither. Like the tanbur, it has a deep, pear-shaped body.
There are metal strings strung in such a pattern that the treble
strings are away from the player. The neck of the sitar is wider
than that of the tanbur and its frets (ridges fixed across the
fingerboard) are movable.
What it comprises
The sitar normally has five melody strings and five or six drone
strings, which are also used to accentuate the rhythm or pulse.
Besides, there are nine to thirteen sympathetic strings beneath the
convex frets in the hollow neck. The sitar is plucked with a wire
plectrum worn on the right forefinger. Under the pegbox end of the
neck, there is a gourd, much like the veena. In fact, a type known
as the three-stringed sitar, is called tritantri veena.
Pandit Ravi Shankar
One of the most noted exponents of the sitar is Bharat Ratna awardee
Pandit Ravi Shankar. Born in Varanasi in the year 1921, the Panditji
is considered one of the foremost musicians of India. As a child, he
participated in a Parisian troupe of his brother, the dancer and
choreographer Uday Shankar. Pandit Ravi
Shankar was trained by the great master Ustad Allaudin Khan. Khan’s
style and manner made indelible marks on the master student and
their influence could be seen in Ravi Shankar’s inventive style and
unusual, asymmetric rhythms.
Pt. Ravi Shankar
Pandit Ravi Shankar has composed many radio
scores and film scores (including Pather Panchali, 1955), and
ballets on texts of the Indian writer and philosopher Rabindranath
Tagore. In the 1960s, he made waves teaching the British group
Beatles, Indian music. He also performed with the British violinist Yehudi Menuhin. He has written concertos for orchestras. He
introduced the sitar to the world of pop music, playing at the
Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.