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Indian Classical Music And Sikh Kirtan
by Gobind Singh Mansukhani (M.A., LL.B, Ph.D.) 1982


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Some of the stringed instruments are described below, along with instructions regarding how to tune them.

1. Tanpura/Tamboora
This is one of the oldest and popular instruments used for accompaniment of vocal music. Being a stringed instrument, it is remarkable both for giving support to the notes of vocal music and as a drone.
There are four strings in the tanpura. The first to the left is of steel. Sometimes in a tanpura is used for accompanying a male voice, the first string is of brass or bronze. This string is called oancham because it gives out the note of P. This is tuned to the P of the madhya saptak when accompanied by a harmonium. In the raga in which P is forbidden (as for instance in Malkaus raga), this string is tuned to M shudh. In the first place, the two middle strings of steel should be tuned to S of the male singer. The fourth string is of brass or bronze. It is tuned to S of the mandar saptak. (In the case of a female voice the S is set to fourth of fifth black reed of the harmonium). Some tanpurashave five to six strings. The normal tuning is P S S S. If there is no P in a raga, then tune M S S S. In case of the fifth string, the tuning will be as such: If there is N in the raga, then P N S S S : if there is no N in the raga, then P S S S S: if there is no P in raga then M S S S S. In case of a 6th string, the tuning will be as follows: If there is NI in a raga, then P N S S S S: if there is no N in a raga, then P S S S S S; if there is P in a raga, then M S S S S S.

2. Sitar
Sitar literally is a form of the Persian word-sihtar-which means three strings. In the beginning, there were only three strings, but now seven strings are used.
The components of a sitar are similar to those of the tanpura. It has a toomba, tabli, keel, dhurch, dand, gulu, atti gahan and sirra like the tanpura. It has however seven khootiyan (pegs) and one manka (bead).
The sitarhas seven strings. The first string on the left is made of steel. It is called Baj-ki-tar. It is tuned to M of mandar saptak. This is the string which is more frequently used in playing the sitar.
The second string is made of bronze and is called jori-ka-tar. The string is tuned to S of mandar saptak. The third string is made of bronze. This is also jori-ka-tar. The string is also tuned to S of mandar saptak like the second string. These two strings are tuned in the very beginning like the tanpura. The fourth string is made of steel. This is tuned to P of mandar saptak. The sixth string is made of thin steel and it s called chikari. It is tuned to S of mandar saptak. The seventh string is also made of thin steel and is also called chikare. It is tuned to S of Tar saptak. Some people tune the seventh string to the pancham (P) of madhya saptak.

3. Mikrab
This is the plectrum made of steel or brass which is worn on the right hand index finger. When the plectrum plays on the strings, it produces vibrations which causes different notes. When the plectrum touches the first string, the sound produced is of D and on the second is that of R. Some sitars have ab extra toomba (gourd) at the end of the neck or midway. The sitar is played with the following gat (sequences):

(a) Alaap: It corresponds to the vocal style of the raga.
(b) Jor: This is the playing of the raga on the sitar in medium tempo after the alaap and without tal.
(c) Jhala: Playing on the chikari strings in quick tempo which like D R R R - is called jhala. The first string gives the note of D, and the final chikari give the tone of R.
(d) Asthai and Antra: Asthai is fixed composition of the raga. The antra is the compliment to the asthai. In the improvisation of the raga, after asthai and antra, meend (gliding) and jamjam/murki (trill) are played frequently. Tans are also played.
Nowadays sitarists generally play in khayal style. Sometimes thumri style is also used. Like khayal singers, instrumentalists will play in drut laya (fast tempo). They will play a new asthai and antra, generally in teental and then improvise at a very fast tempo until the performance reaches an exciting climax. This section is called drut gat (fast composition) and is climaxed by a fast jhala piece.
The sitar is very delicate instrument and as such it is to be kept and maintained with care and caution. The following points need to be noted:
(a) The sitar should be kept covered, preferably in a cloth cover or a plastic bag.
(b) The sitar should be kept lying on the floor, the frets facing upwards. It can also be kept standing in a corner.
(c) The sitar should be cleaned frequently with a piece of soft cloth.
(d) The strings should be periodically loosened so as to reduce the tension on them.

4. Venna
Perhaps the oldest stringed instrument belonging to the seventh century is the veena. There are various kinds of veena, but mainly they belong to two categories: north Indian and south Indian. The north Indian veena is called vachitra veena and has no frets. The south Indian veena is more complicated and is called saraswati veena. As the name implies, this instrument is supposed to be the favourite of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Some of the veenas have the painting of the goddess on the body. There are also other types of veenas with motifs of peacocks or crocodiles or some animal. The veena has seven strings of brass. Four strings are tuned to S, P, S, P and the remaining three are drone strings tuned to S P S. The south Indian veena has twenty-four frets fixed by wax. It may have one or two resonating gourds. It can be played with fingers or with a plectrum. There is also a superior kind of veena carved out of one piece of wood. The veena is played in a horizontal position as it rests on the lap of the player.

5. Sarangi
The sarangi is a popular stringed instrument of North India. It has been in use from the thirteenth century. It can be played either solo or as an accompaniment of khayal or thumri or folk-song. The body is of teak wood and the lower part is covered with skin. The upper part containing the pegs is jointed to the lower part. Generally, there are three strings made of cat-gut and re tuned to S, P, S in mandar saptak. In some cases, first string may be of metal. Some sarangis also have few sympathetic strings under the main three strings. It is held in a vertical position and played with a bow which is different from that used for a violin.

6. Rabab
This stringed instrument was used in Punjab, but Guru Nanak used it s an accompaniment for Gurumat Sangeet (Sikh sacred music). It was played by his disciple named Bhai Mardana (1459-1519) who originally was a mirasi (Muslim musician). It is similar to the rebec of Persia. The rabab has a piece of hollow wood at the top and a hollow circular wooden belly covered with a sheep skin at the bottom. There are two bridges, one in the middle and the other at the tip. The two bridges support six gut strings which are manipulated by six pegs at the top. Some rababs have a wooden toomba (gourd) at the top. It is played with a traingular wooden plectrum. Its sound resembles the human voice and it can play some gamaks. The effect of the drum-sound produced by it is very pleasing; it is eminently suitable for devotional music.

7. Sarinda/Surinda
This instrument closely resembles the sarangi. It is about two feet long, and its bottom is oval. The upper part is left open and a small part of body is covered with a parchment. It has three cat-gut strings which produce notes of S, M, P. The upper ends of the strings are tied up to the pegs and lower ends to the hook below. It was used by the Sikh Gurus and their bards. It is played with a bow. Sometimes small bells (gungroos) are attached to the bow to produce rhythmic jingle along the notes.

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