The Surbahar

A Deeper Sitar

“What?” you might be asking, “this is a surbahar? It looks like a regular sitar! Cheaters! I was promised a new instrument not an old one! Quacks! I want my money back!” But fear not, gentle reader. This is, in fact, a surbahar, despite all evidence to the contrary. This instrument, which is also sometimes known as the bass sitar to gross slanderers, is widely believed to have been invented in around 1825, as an attempt to make a sitar which could play deeper notes like the veena

Many claim to have invented this extremely distinguished instrument, with the Wikipedia article alone listing at least three claimants. Leaving aside the issue of whoever invented it, let’s discuss the instrument itself. Made out of high quality toon wood, the surbahar has a significantly wider neck than the sitar, despite its being closely related to it. It also has a much larger resonator (or tumba), which helps make its voice deeper. You can see some of these features below too.

The surbahar experienced a brief burst of popularity soon after its creation, as its resemblance to both the veena and the sitar allowed people to play veena compositions on it as well as those of the sitar. Many began to play it alongside with the sitar, with musicians presenting complex dhrupad compositions on the surbahar and then present the rest of the performance on the sitar. The sitar, however, was not one to allow itself to be supplanted. The surbahar fell out of fashion in the mid-twentieth century due to the modern sitar acquiring its present shape, which allowed it to play most of the compositions which used to be specific to the surbahar. As a result, musicians stopped learning it and currently, only a few play it.

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