The Sitar is a popular solo stringed instrument in North Indian Classical Music.
Parts of Sitar: The Dandi (stick) is made of wood, the Tumba (hollow base) from gourd, the bridges (Gudach) are made from stag-horn and the frets (Parda) are made of brass. The Sitar has 7 main strings and 11 to 13 sympathetic strings (Tarab strings).
How is it played: The strings are plucked by a plectrum (Mizrab) which is worn on the index finger of the right hand, while the index and middle fingers of the left hand press the strings on the fret board.
Invention: There are two opinions about the invention of the Sitar. Some scholars believe that Hazrat Amir Khusro of Allauddin Khilji’s Durbar (1296 – 1315 A.D.) evolved the Sitar from the Persian instrument Seh-Tar, which had 3 strings and 8 frets. Another view is that an 18th century musician Amir Khan also known as Khusrau Khan (1676 – 1768) invented the Sitar.
Origin of Sitar: Sitar may have originated from ancient stringed instruments like the Tri-Tantri Veena, Kurmi Veena and Kacchapi Veena.
Development over the years: Masit Khan, the grandson of Khusrau Khan and his disciple Ghulam Raza Khan developed the Sitar into a solo instrument by introducing the Masitkhani and Razakhani Baaj (style) which is played till today. They also changed the physical structure of the Sitar by removing the second gourd and fixing 23 immovable frets to it.
Later Rahim Sen, his son Amrit Sen and grandson Nihal Sen popularized the Sitar with their solo performances and made further changes in the physical structure of the Sitar. Around the same time Sahabdad Khan and his son Imdad Khan also contributed greatly to the Sitar. Amritsen introduced 5 strings instead of 3 and added a third gourd just above the main gourd. Nihalsen reduced the frets to 17 while Imdad Khan reduced the frets to 19.The `Tarab’ strings were introduced during this period.
The present day refined shape and sound of the Sitar is due to the improvements made by Ustad Inayat Khan and his son Vilayat Khan. Pt. Ravi Shankar has also improvised the Sitar and made it popular in Western countries.