The Sitar

Our Musical Namesake

Once, there was an instrument which though beloved in its native home, the subcontinent, was completely unknown elsewhere. Gifted players would rise to the court scene and be showered with wealth and gifts by the king … if he were musically minded that is. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb completely banned all types of music, forcing the royal musicians whose ancestors had played in the court for several generations to leave and seek employment elsewhere, or give up music altogether and start another trade.

Anyway, coming back to the story, this instrument remained relatively steady even with the downfall of the Mughal Empire, the rise of the British, and other political changes. However, it still never became famous out of the confines of its home. But then, it all changed. One player took this instrument to the West, where it trumped even the guitar in popularity, becoming the king of pop music, with many famous bands playing it. It took the world by storm, becoming the ‘cool’ instrument to play. It eventually died down, as all fads do, yet still remained in the hearts of many. Today, we pay our respects to our namesake, the sitar.

Legend has it that the sitar was invented by the renowned court poet Amir Khusro, during the Delhi Sultanate. It is thought to be a blend between the veena and the sehtar, a Persian instrument, by some. The sitar is considered to be extremely difficult to play, with professional sitarists often having calluses on their hands. Before, gifted sitarists would often attract royal patronage and play in court. Its construction is extremely complicated, with the art of creating it passed down from generation to generation, which is one of the reasons there are very few sitar makers left. A sitar is a unique feat of craftsmanship, with an elaborately carved body and detailed designs often decorating it.

A close-up view of the intricate designs decorating a sitar
Courtesey Wikipedia Commons

The sitar, though it has adjusted to such great changes as the rise and fall of civilisations, rebellions and other examples of political upheaval, now faces a grim fate. Many sitar players and makers wish to ensure that their children live a more prosperous life than they do, and encourage them to learn more profitable trades that promise a brighter future. Furthermore, nowadays the youth of the subcontinent is more interested in instruments like the guitar or the piano, instead of those native to the subcontinent. This is a problem happening on both sides of the border, and which should be seen to by both governments.

For Further Reading:

DAWN: The death of classical music

The News: Sitar playing-The art is dying

The Tribune: The dying art of making a sitar

The Business Standard: The story of the sitar Beatles used in ‘Norwegian Wood’

The Friday Times: Silence of the Sitar

The Hindu Business Line: Haunting notes from the Sitargalli of Miraj

Save the Sitar is a website dedicated to promoting and preserving Pakistan’s classical music. Join our growing community to help further our cause!

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