Sitar (Tri Tantri Veena) Origin and HistoryAuthor: Ashwin Batish (Do not copy this content. It is for personal reading only)
Copyright © 1989 Ashwin Batish / All Rights Reserved
It is eronously believed that Amir Khusro is the inventor of the modern day sitar. There are also conflicting stories of which Amir Khusro we are talking about as there are historically several that have graced the academic scene since the muslim invasion of Hindustan. It is also erronous to see the development of Indian veenas, imagine the history of their evolution and then not accurately jump to the conclusion that they are infact the predecessors of the modern day sitar. Seh in arabic means three and Tar is derived from the Sanskrit root word Tantri.
In ancient times, we also did not have the lkuxury of the modern day string quality advancements therefore, the modern day bring sound we are so excited about can only be produced by instruments that had access to this technology. Before the high tensile steel, before the bronze, before the brass and the copper we only had catgut and blades of grass. The birth of the archer's bow used springy material and again animal guts to launch arrow projectiles at targets. This was the first instance of the stringed veena. The birth of the musicaly destined instrument we call veena. The root word veena is derived from the sanskrit word Baan. Baan veena is thus the most ancient of stringed instruments. Interesting to note that a beautiful instrument took form out of a deadly warring weapon.
When an arrow is shot, there is a distict tone made by the gut thread that comes to rest adter the snap. It was this tone, heard by the archers that must have facinated them especially when several archers would shoot simultaneously. Differet size bows with different tensions would sound their own note. I can just see some musically oriented archer's ears having an "aha" moment. Sound chambers were added to the bow to increase the volume of the tone and hence we see the birth of the Ek Tantri Veena (one string lute). Can you just imagine how this might have thrilled the ancient people to enjoy a musical tone and perhaps sing to it. Such is the case with the travelling minstrals. They often have the Ek Tara slung around their shoulders and while rhythmically plucking the string, they will sing their folk airs.
More strings got added to a fatter stem instead of a thin bow. This way one could tune two strings seperately and then three ans so on. As more strings were added, the name of that veena refclected the change. Do Tantri Veena for two string lute. Tri Tantri Veena for three stringed lute. It is this Tri Tantri Veena that was observed by the muslim invaders and taken back by the musical of the invadors. Upon presenting it to their musically interested public, they called the ancient Indian veena Seh Tar. This later got the tile Sitar.
Interestingly, the modern day sitar has gone through some serious changes in technology and evolution but in many cases the main playing strings are only three. The rest are wither drone for chikari or sympathetic. The possibility of the sympathetic string was little tonone only a few hundred years back as we just did not have the technology to produc strings that are pure steel and super thin. I would date this to our recent history. The thin gauges of very fine and roundness came recently. So what you're hearing in any modern instrument is really not as ancient as you might think.
So, go back to what our ancestors had to contend with only a few hundred years ago: Cat Gut, Strong jute or home made ropes strung from coconut or blades of grass, very thick copper or brass strings pulled from an anvil. THese must have not been very unifrom either.
The sound of ancient veena must be very low allowing for deep and somber musical notes. Pulling of gut strings had limitations althogh bowing them and sliding must have been the preferred peroformance method. I also think that flute and singing would have been the most prevalent instrument of choice.
A new sitar coming out of India is not always in the best of shape. It is often necessary to clean, polish, put a new set of strings and adjust the bridge and the frets for proper tone and intonation. Ashwin personally checks out each sitar and does the necessary improvements to the jawari tone. He the polishes the wood and the frets. The frets are then adjusted to the proper intonation. He then puts a new set of strings compatible his own sitar. These instruments sound great after he's through with them! He doen't do this often, so stake your claim :) S&H in US is around $75 - $125. If interested please call for the total price.
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