Sitar – The Soul of Indian Ragas

The Sitar is one of the most important Indian instruments, it has however gained notoriety in the western world first through the Beatles and then with the master Ravi Shankar who has played with many famous western musicians, and his daughter Anoushka Shankar (shown in photo) seems to be following in her father footsteps. The importance of the instrument is shown also in the Hindu religion as Saraswati, Hindu Goddess of learning and the arts is often shown playing the Veena, a Sitar-like musical instrument, also the god Shiva and the Hindu sage Narudu are associated with the instrument.

Different types of Sitar

There are many types and variants of the sitar, some of the obvious ones are the left handed sitar which is a mirror image of the normal sitar which has the pegs built on the opposite side to allow for the player positioning.

Then there are several smaller size sitars, the miniature sitars namely the ½ and the ¼ size sitars for younger players and beginners, as they are simpler and easier to handle because of their smaller size.

With the evolution of the electric guitar there are many versions of electric sitars to play in pop or other modern music bands. The design of the electric sitars also allows the instrument to be much more compact and therefore easily portable for gigs.

The sitar has also been simplified in its fusion sitar version, where the body of the sitar is shaped like a guitar , while retaining its most significant string structure. This allows again the sitar to be more compact and easier tuning via the use of smaller geared pegs.

Also because of the flat back guitar shape body as compared to the classic sitar gourd, it makes this fusion sitar easier to transport. In addition some of the fusion sitar have been designed with a standard size jack for playing as an electric sitar, ideal for band work.

One important aspect of the sitar is the toomba or tumba which is the gourd or the main resonting body of the instrument. This amplifies the sound and gives the instrument its characteristic sitar sound, together with the vey long strings.

If you have ever held a sitar you must have realized it is a large instrument (around 50” or 122cm in length) and it is also heavy to move around. So a few modifications have been made to make it portable, one of these is to make the main body flat. The main body made out of a gourd is also called a toomba or tumba so there are some flat toomba sitars which are lighter and more portable.

The professional sitars all tend to have the double toomba, which is a second gourd attached to the top of the sitar neck to give added volume to the sound, giving a nice amplification to another vibrating part of the instrument.