Accepting music as an inseparable part of our lives is a step towards living a life of impact. Hindustani (Indian) Classical Music has the deepest impact on our lives. Life is sensible and healthy if full of music. Music has its effect on plants, birds and animals, and listening, playing, and singing have their benefits on our health and wellbeing. To help navigate Music for deep impact on our wellbeing, as a guest lecturer, speaker, and musician with upwards of 20 years of expertise in Hindustani Classical Music, I invite you to my lecture.
Join me on this talk of Hindustani classical music and find out what it is, what it does, and how you could gain the benefits of this treasure.
When it comes to buying your first sitar, or a third one, a few questions come to mind. This article answers to most such questions that may arise when you go to buy a Sitar. Before you read further, there are a few things I would like you to do:
If you are a first time Sitar buyer, I’d like you to read my article about the parts of a Sitar to get some knowledge about what the instrument is made of, and to better understand what’s written in this blog.
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Unlike most other mass produced instruments, in Sitars quality can plummet just to increase short term profits, therefore you need to be sure of what you’re buying and know the specifics of whether you’re getting what you’re paying for. Buying a Sitar in person supersedes every online purchase however, if you do end up buying one online, take note of the following things to look for in a Sitar to take your purchase from normal to excellent.
I will first begin this article with guesswork on how you may have been inspired, and the types of Sitars prevalent in Indian Classical Music today. Following which will be a 14 point list of things to consider and look for in a good Sitar. Followed by a conclusion and help topics. Feel free to reach out if you need any help buying a Sitar. I charge a USD 25 per guidance fee.
Examine, play and connect with the instrument before you take one out of the store. If it’s tone does not sit well with the artist inside you, you might end up never playing it.
Types of Sitar
The instrument Sitar comes in three types. A Kharaj Pancham and a Gandhar Pancham, and Flat Toomba Sitar sometimes called the Travel Sitar or an Electric Sitar. The Ravi Shankar style of playing involves the Kharaj Pancham Sitar while the Vilayat Khan style of playing involves the Gandhar Pancham
Key differences include:
A second resonation toomba in the Kharaj Pancham Sitar
An extra main string in the Kharaj Pancham Sitar making a total of 7 against 6 in the Gandhar Pancham Sitar
The two styles differ from the flat toomba sitar in resonator (toomba) material. In a flat toomba sitar, the resonator is made of wood while the other two sitars have a gourd resonator.
What to look for in a good Sitar
The first thing you should be doing is visually inspecting a Sitar. There should be no cracks in the sitar body at all. It’s made of wood and any cracks could mean that the wood used is weak or unseasoned.
When inspecting the Sitar visually check to ensure that the Fretboard is built of a single piece of wood. Poor or cheap built sitars will use multiple pieces of wood joint together to make a fretboard.
The Toomba should be aligned with the fretboard. There should be no forward, backward, right or left tilt in the fretboard with respect to the Toomba. If there is a tilt, leave that Sitar behind.
Look for white or other (ivory colored plastic, or wood) marquetry around the sitar. If there’s too much, It will not be a very long lasting sitar since the marquetry digs into the already thin wood around the bridge of the Sitar compromising it’s strength.
Look for a hand polished wood Sitar. Only the Toomba of the sitar is painted with Enamel since it’s made of gourd. Any sort of enamel paintwork anywhere on the sitar except the Toomba should be considered a no-brainer. In case of electric sitars also called travel sitars, the toomba should also be hand polished since it’s made of wood.
A grommet encircles the sympathetic strings at the entrance into the fretboard, the grommet is called ‘Tarab ka Mogra‘. Cheap sitars usually miss these small things and eventually, the Sympathetic string eats into the wood.
Toomba does not necessarily need to be very round, it’s made of gourd and can be a little disproportionate here and there.
In case of an electric travel sitar look for quality string tuning pegs on the Sitar. Most cheap travel Sitars will come with low quality plastic tuning pegs that will not last very long.
Sitar tuning is done with wooden pegs (Khoonti) which are not geared therefore not very accurate to achieve perfect tune. To do this, there are beads at the Langot of the Sitar. Any sitar missing beads will barely ever stay in tune.
Check for string action. A very high string action is not very comfortable to play. It is however different for both sexes. Females need a lower string action than males. Also keep in mind that smaller sitars do not have a very high string action, if they do, avoid them.
Stay away from very huge Sitar if you’re a beginner.
All frets should be made of Brass. That’s how purists like it.
Check for Tuning Peg slippage when bending strings, if that happens, the pegs are small in size. Get bigger, better fitting ones.
Look for a Sitar with optimal fretboard width according to your hand. Do not buy a sitar that has a wide fretboard for you. Sitars come in different fret widths. You could find such options with good luthiers.
Buy a Sitar in teakwood if possible. it lasts longer. If not teakwood, go for toonwood.
What not to Buy when buying a sitar
I would recommend staying off Amazon, Ebay, Gumtree, Olx, and such classifieds websites for Sitar Deals.
When buying in India, stay away from cheap sitars anywhere below GBP 150, USD 220, or INR 18000
When buying anywhere outside India, do not buy a Sitar just because it’s cheaper than the average Music store price in your area. For instance, USD 350 could be the minimum buying price you begin looking at.
A Sitar’s tone may vary based on the type of wood used, tuning of the strings, type of strings used, type of bridge materials, tuning of the bridge and so on. If made well, all these things come together to make a marvelous instrument. In the end, it comes down to what suits your playing style. Sit with your sitar seller and experiment playing with the instrument for about half an hour or maybe an hour if schedule allows.
We are pretty familiar with the seven basic modes or scales in western music theory, considered useful in composing music. These seven modes are: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. This post indicates the resemblance of these modes with Indian Ragas. But Before that, I would like to exhibit a chromatic an octave table in both (Indian & Western) disciplines.
In the Indian Classical discipline, flat notes are represented in lower case, the sharp note is with apostrophe and natural notes are in upper case. Therefore, there are four flattened notes i.e. komal swaras r,g,dh,ni and one sharp (also termed “teevra“) swara M
‘W’ means whole step and ‘H’ means moving on to half step. All my explanations are in the key of C as it is more approachable and understandable.
1. Ionian Mode (W-W-H-W-W-W-H)
W W H W W W H (All natural notes are found in Ionian mode)
C- D- E- F- G- A- B
Similar to Bilawal Thaat(scale)
This mode is exactly similar to Bilawal which also consist of all the natural or pure notes : S-R-G-M-P-Dh-Ni
2. Dorian (W-H-W-W-W-H-W)
Western – Similar to KAFI Thaat
C- D- D#- F- G- A- A#
S- R- g- M- P- Dh- ni
Thaat Kafi consist of all natural seven notes except g and ni. Notes ‘ni’ and ‘g” are flat in this Thaat.
3. Phrygian (H-W-W-W-H-W-W)
Western – Similar to BHAIRAVI Thaat
C- C#- D#- F- G- G#- A#
Bhairavi In Bhairavi, notes re, ga, dha ni, are komal or flat.
S- r- g- M- P- dh- ni
4. Lydian (W-W-W-H-W-W)
Western – Similar to Kalyan
C- D- E- F#- G- A- B
S R G M’ P DHA NI
5. Mixo-lydian (W-W-H-W-W-H-W)
Western : Similar to Thaat KHAMAJ
C- D- E- F- G- A- A#
S- R- G- M- P- Dh- ni
6. Aeolian (W-H-W-W-H-W-W)
Western – ASAWARI Thaat
C- D- D#- F- G- G#- A#
Asawari (as ga,dha, ni swaras are komal (flat))
S- R- g- M- P- dh- ni- SA
7. Locrian (H-W-W-H-W-W-W)
Western – TODI Thaat
C- C#- D#- F- F#- G#- A#
S- r- g- M- m- P- dh- ni
Almost all the notes are used in Locrian and Thaat Todi too.
In this way, these various modes resemble the 10 basic scales or Thaats. These thaats are also considered as parent scales of Ragas and play a vital role in the classification of all the numerous ragas according to day, time, nature, persona in Raag Dhyaan.
There are a total of twelve main pitches (Shruti) in an octave, and to create a musical theme, specific frequencies from those twelve are chosen. These chosen pitches determine whether a song is sad/happy, slow/fast, and so on.
Since melody is prime and central to Indian music, we always look for pitch combinations that offer significant melodic potential. These are called ragas, and we know of about 500 ragas in the Indian Classical tradition.
Ragas | Raga classification
Ragas are classified in various ways. One system is to classify them under Ten Parent Scales, known as “Thaat”. These are similar to modes in ancient Greek music. Unlike ragas, which are more flexible in the number of notes they can include, Parent Scales are always heptatonic and must include one each of the seven notes (swara) – sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha and ni. Variations arise due to the different variants (natural, flat, or sharp) used. In Bhatkhande’s system, the basic mode of reference is that which is equivalent to the Western Ionian mode or major scale (called Bilawal thaat in Hindustani classical music). The flattening or sharpening of pitches always occurs with reference to the interval pattern in Bilawal thaat. This is how ten parent scales or Thaats are created. Each thaat contains a different combination of altered (vikrit) and natural (shuddha) notes. In any seven-tone scale (starting with Shadaj, Re, Ga, Dha and Ni can be natural (shuddha, lit. “pure”) or flat (komal, lit. “soft”) but never sharp, whereas the Ma can be natural or sharp (tivra, lit. “fast”) but never flat, making twelve notes as in the Western chromatic scale. The sharp tones are called Tivra Vikrit and flat tones are called Komal Vikrit swara (vikrit, lit. “altered”). Selecting seven tones in ascending order, where Sa and Pa are always natural whereas five other tones (Re, Ga, Ma, Dha and Ni can be present only one of their two possible forms, results in 32 modes which are known as thaats. Out of these thirty-two possibilities, Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande ji chose to highlight only ten Thaats or scales. In effect only heptatonic scales are called thaats. Pandit Bhatkhande ji applied the term thaats only to scales that fulfil the following rules:
A thaat must have seven tones out of the twelve tones [seven natural, four flat (Re, Ga, Dha,Ni), one sharp (Ma)]
The tones must be in ascending sequence: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni.
A thaat cannot contain both the natural and altered versions of a note
A thaat, unlike a raga, does not have separate ascending and descending lines
A thaat has no emotional quality (which ragas, by definition, do have)
Thaats are not sung but the ragas produced from the thaats are sung One can arbitrarily designate any pitch as Sa (the tonic) and build the series from there. While all thaats contain seven notes, many ragas (of the audav and shadav type) contain fewer than seven and some use more. A raga need not to use every tone in a given thaat; the assignment is made according to whatever notes the raga does contain Note that Thaats only give a rough structure of the raga that gives the ‘Chalan’ or way of singing of the raga.
The Ten Thaats (Scales)
Bilawal: All pure notes S R G M P D N
Kalyan: Madyam tivra or the higher variant of Madhyam. Rest are pure notes. S R G M’ P D N
Khamaj: Komal Nishad or Lower variant of Nishad. All other six are pure notes. S R G M P D n
Bhairav: Rishabh and Dhaivat are Komal. Rest are pure. S r G M P d N
Kafi: Komal Gandhar and Nishad or the lower variants of Gandhar and Nishad. Rest are pure. S R g M P D n
Asavari: Gandhar Dhaivat and Nishad are Komal. Rest are pure notes. S R g M P d n
Bhairavi: Rishabh, Gandhar, Dhaivat and Nishad are Komal. Rest are pure. S r g M P d n
Marwa: Rishabh Komal and Madhyam Teevra. S r G M’ P D N
Poorvi: Rishabh, Dhaivat Komal and Madhyam Teevra. S r G M’ P d N
Todi: Rishabh, Gandhar, Dhaivat are Komal and Madhyam Teevra. S r g M’ P d N PS: Lower case alphabet denotes the lower variants of a specific note eg R – Shudh R r- Komal R Teevra M is denoted as M’ .
Sapta is a Sanskrit word which means seven. So a saptak in Hindustani music means comprising of seven notes. It is a Sanskrit word for an Octave. In saptak or Octave there are 7 natural or pure notes along with their 5 low and high variants. The sevan pure notes and their 5 variants make 12 in all. If we see roughly, they are only the seven notes with their variants hence the word Saptak.
‘Do’ ‘Re’ ‘Mi’ ‘Fa’ ‘So’ ‘La’ ‘Ti’ – English
‘Sa’ ‘Re’ ‘Ga’ ‘Ma’ ‘Pa’ ‘Dha’ ‘Ni’ – Hindi
Octaves In Indian Classical Music
There are mainly three octaves used in Hindustani classical music.
Madhya Saptak (Middle or the 4th Octave)
This octave starts with C4, the ‘Scientific Pitch‘, termed as the ‘Shadaj‘ or ‘Sa‘ which has frequency of 256Hz. The notes on the scale after that are placed accordingly. Middle Ocatve Pure notes are denoted as Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni
Mandra Saptak (lower Octave or the 3rd octave)
In the lower Octave the frequency of notes is 2x lower (1 octave lower) than in the Madhya Saptak (middle octave). While writing these notes in notation, they are denoted bearing a dot below them:
Mandra Saptak Notation
Taar Saptak( Upper or the 5th octave)
Taar Saptak or Upper Octave: In the upper Octave the frequency of the notes is 2x higher (1 octave higher) than in the Madhya Saptak (middle octave). In notation these notes are denoted bearing a dot above them:
Taar Saptak Notation
In addition to these Octaves, Indian classical vocalists and instrumentalist use Ati Mandra saptak or the 2nd octave while singing or playing instruments.
The sitar is comprised of various parts handmade and embedded/fixed onto a log of wood and a piece of sometimes a pumpkin/gourd attached to that wood to create the resonation that creates the sitar’s marvellous sound. For a detailed explanation of the sitar strings and their location, see How many strings does a Sitar have.
It comprises the main body of sitar. Made from the shell of dried ash-gourd or kaddu. It is fragile and subject to be taken full care of, as it is hollow inside.
Dand/ Dandi (Fret/fingerboard)
Made from teak or tun wood it is hollow from inside. Frets are tied on the dand. Made from single piece of wood, it can twist over a period of time. So, whether extremities or neglect of resting position of sitar may lead to its damage.
A neck shaped piece which serves as a joint between toomba and dand. Gullu is usually decorated with engraved floral designs which adds an extra beauty to sitar.
Tabli/The Face Plate
Traditionally made from teak or toonwood, this is a thick piece made to cover toomba. This combined with toomba serves as a resonator. The quality of sound of sitar to a major extent depends on the Tabli and the quality of wood used in its making. It is a very crucial part of the body of the sitar as ghoraj is placed on it.
Bridge is made from dead animal bone, ebony, or polyoxymethylene plastic (Delrin). This is a table like structure which has feet of wood on two sides and rests on the Tabli.
THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF SITAR BRIDGES
Bada Ghoraj (Big Bridge) – it serves as stool to let the strings pass over it. All the six or seven main strings pass over it to reach the pegs (Khoonti).
Chota Ghoraj (Small Bridge) – has the same purpose as of the big bridge. It lets the sympathetic strings to pass over it to be tied to Khoonti or Pegs.
A comb like structure on the posterior part of the bridge from where all the strings get a passage towards both the ends of sitar. The level part and the jawari part of the bridge calls for work of skilled craftsmanship.
The tuning pegs, made of wood to wind and hold the strings. They are crucial to sitar as all tuning is done by turning (rotating) the khuntis. These are made of wood. These days some sitar makers use steel pegs in sitar (as used in guitar), which help in tuning sitar comfortably and accurately and without hazard of snapping.
Convex shaped metallic rods tied on the dand or Fingerboard. They are 17 to 23 in number, but should not be less than 17 in number. They are movable so as to provide certain flat notes. Certain ragas demand pure or flat notes have to be on their one higher or lower shrutis. Movability of frets in sitar supports that.
A tying string made of Polyvinyl used to tie frets to the dand or the wooden Fingerboard.
A strip made of animal bone each has small holes and is affixed to the end part of the Dand or fretboard. The holes in ‘Taar Gahan’ help strings to pass through them, rendering vibrations to happen.
Meru or Atti
A strip of animal bone or Ebony which has cuts on it. It is placed parallel to ‘Taar Gahan’. Strings from Taar Gahan holes pass through the cuts towards the upper pegs or khuntis. They are specially made of animal bone because if the strip is made of wood the strings may make a deep mark which may have a bad effect on the vibrations rendering the sound to dampen.
These allow minor adjustments, which need to be made without having to go to the large tuning pegs. They are threaded in the strings of the sitar especially in the Baaj and Jod strings.
This is the tail piece attached to the posterior end of the sitar on Toomba. There are mainly 3 nails or keel affixed on langot or the tail piece, made of animal bone on which the strings are tied.
Before the chikari string reaches khunti it has to pass through a tiny pillar shaped structure made of animal bone.
Before the chikari string reaches khunti it has to pass through a tiny pillar shaped structure made of animal bone called mogra.
Tarab ka mogrA
They are the dandis protective grommets for the sympathetic strings.
There are mainly two schools or styles of sitar playing. Keeping that in view Sitars are crafted accordingly. Both schools differ in their main strings.
The main strings are those which run above the curved threats to stop these things are placed on the big bridge or Bada Ghoraj, and the Tarab/Sympathetic strings can be 12-13 in number. Run under the frets and are placed on the small Bridge or Chhota Ghoraj. Their purpose is only to serve as resonators to the note which is played on on the main string. So they are tuned to the notes according to a particular melody or Raga.
On the eve of Guru Purnima, the 24th of July, 2021. We hosted a test event, The Rising, a Semi-Classical music concert with aims to promote the said form of music. The event goals were:
Promoting women in music
Giving way to the day-to-day practice of Indian classical music and it’s benefits on mental health
Providing an audience to the local semi-classical artists in and around town
Highlight the shortcomings that artists face on their way to the stage and how they could be worked around
Establishing grounds for a recurring event on cultural appraisal
The event was presided by the District Public Relations Officers, District Muktsar and District Barnala, Sardar Gurdeep Singh Mann and Sardarni Megha Mann as the chief guests, and Keynote speaker Mr. Rishi Hirdepal, MRS college, Malout. The event was attended by 40 residents of Malout.
The event was streamed online on my facebook page and was viewed by upwards of 700 people online through the Malout News facebook channel.
2020 pandemic taught us that the human mind is the most at risk when its movement and space are delimited. But the positive thing COVID-19 taught us is to look inward rather than finding happiness outside. You must have got ample time for your creativity. But all creativity that is visual or related to taste buds has a limited time. Bad psychological patterns can be seen in abundance due to work from home and lockdowns. Is psychological medication an answer? Or sitting next to television sets after you get up from your laptop! Asking for solace from overloaded emotional blackmail or violence at TV channels or box music? Embrace Hindustani Classical Hindustani Classical music has relevance and holistic value when it comes to affecting human life. From childhood lullabies to old age cronies, women have songs for all occasions and customs in India. Because they know its relevance as to how it affects the deepest recesses of the human brain. Precisely, Indian Classical Music is the soul of human life and provides peace to it. It gives vibration, vitality, and fullness to life. It needs no elaboration on how it is present in the heart in form of beats, the flow of a river, the chirping of birds, movement of stars and constellation, and the whole Universe in form of Nature. Hindustani or Indian Classical Music finds its way in the revelations of life. when we look back to our ancient Granthas and Vedas we come to know that music was used scientifically for the goodness of the human body and brain. Written and Chanted in the form of mantras very musically and rhythmically, which synchronized the human body with Mother Nature. In the exegesis of Vedas, we find that SamVeda had the compilation of different Vedic Mantras in proper rhythmic metre and usually chanted in three accents or notes namely Uddat, Anuddat and Swarit. These three became the basis of the whole octave that we see now in Classical music. These mantras were chanted including all the five elements which constitute the Universe and the human body itself that is Fire, Earth, Air, Sky and water. These five elements of the universe are the core sustainers of our life. And these mantras were chanted to invoke specific powers which could be activated to support different areas of our life such as; healing, protection, abundance, self-empowerment, health, to win any external or internal dilemma or risk etc. The mantras were chanted and in a proper rhyme which means Rhythm added. Hence, we cannot deny the importance of music for healthy life and its necessity to make life conscious of its existence. Hindustani or commonly termed Indian classical music is sober and warm, sweet and tingling, soothing and Diagnostic. It has its therapeutic value. Undoubtedly music has a deep impact on the human brain which is so sensitive. Thanks to the Pandemic, which brought the whole world to the platform of Online Classes. Any type of music including classical vocal or Sitar. To train ourselves to adopt classical music as a part of the daily routine, it is a must to teach our children how to begin the process at the very start of their education. Adults can better understand its therapeutic aspect, so it is never too late. Adhere to the music teachers who know how to deal with individuals with their particular musical needs.
“By making it compulsory to learn music (understand “good” music), he is encouraging people’s soul to be good and just. It follows that musicians have a role to play in educating people and must be constantly watchful in their role as “guide”. Learning music is not a goal in itself, however, but a means of attaining goodness, and it should be combined with gymnastics” (Francemusique.fr, 2017)
पाद्मे च कार्त्तिकमाहात्म्ये श्रीभगवदुक्तौ (प.पु. ६.९२.२१,२३) —
In the Kārtika-māhātmya of the Padma, Purāṇa Bhagavān said: