The Ektara

A One-Stringed Wonder

Hmm, well, it has a rather curious name, to be sure. Most instruments have names whose etymologies are extremely hard to trace, leading to a delightful (well, only for those who are interested in such things) research spree as one races from one obscure source to the other. The ektara, on the other hand, has a rather suspiscously straightforward name (ek in Urdu means one, while tara means string, so it literally means one string). But surely no-one could play an instrument with only one string, one might believe. Well, this instrument can actually be found in a wide variety of incarnations all across the Subcontinent, from the Bengali zither used widely by the Bauls of Bengal to the bowed variant shown above. It has long had been used typically in rather rural or isolated areas, as more sophisticated instruments, like the hundred-stringed surmandal, are found in the city.

The ektara is played through varying the pressure on its only string so as to create a melody, while the musician also uses a bow, much like a violinist or sarangi player. However, unlike the violin or the sarangi, the notes produced all depend upon one string, requiring, at least in our opinion, a great deal more of skill (in this matter at least) on the part of the musician. Most violinists are also forced to vary the pressure on the strings like this, but to a much lesser degree due to their greater choice of strings. This folk instrument really has to be seen to be believed, so how about you check it out here!

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