Yesterday Google’s Doodle had a Sitar ( in memory of Pandit Ravi shankar’s birth Anniversary. He was one of the most famous Sitar players in the world).

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 8.31.16 AM.png

This made me wonder if I knew anything about the Sitar? What are the origins of the Sitar? (even though I was an Indian classical music student, I did not find this out before ). And how many of us mistake the Sitar to be the same as a Veena or a Tanpura? ( we all do that as all of them almost look the same.) Here are the answers to these questions in a brief manner.


A sitar belongs to the musical instrument family call LUTE. Lute family has all the plucked string instruments (Plucking is a way of pulling and releasing  the string in a particular way to make it vibrate or to stop at a particular pitch. This can be done with either a plectrum or a finger.) The instruments in this family are sitar,bass guitar, banjo,mandolin etc).This instrument is mostly used in Hindustani classical music ( There are two forms of classical Music : Hindustani and Carnatic).


There are basically two stories about the origin. The first one is that the Sitar originated in the Middle East as the word Sitar is derived from Persion word ‘Seh+ tar’ meaning three strings. Sitar is still prevalent in the middle east. Another etymology is that Sitar was derived from an Indian musical instrument Veena and was called Sattar initially. In Hindi language, ‘Sat + tar’ means seven strings.


This instrument is used in Indian classical music. It has two basic versions. 1. Rudra Veena which belongs to the zither family and played mostly in Hindustani Classical music. 2. Saraswati Veena which belongs to the lute family and is mainly played in Carnatic Music.


The origin of Veena is supposed to be from Hindu Mythology where the Indian Goddess of learning , Saraswati plays the Veena. Hence its cited to be an acient instrument. It is also speculated that the Middle eastern instrument called ‘Vina’ is inspired from Veena.



Tanpura is another string instrument that does not play melody on its own, but supports the melody of another instrument or singer. It plays a continuous harmonic music that provides a base pitch ( like the modern  Shrutibox , an electronic instrument to provide a base pitch too).


The name Tanpura is derived from the word Tana meaning a musical phrase and pure meaning full or complete. It is also referred to as ‘Tambura’.






ANATOMY OF THE INSTRUMENT images-2 Picture1 Figure-2-e-tanpura-drone-instrument-with-labeled-parts
NUMBER OF STRINGS 17 to 20 4 4
PLAYING STYLE Pozice_při_hře_na_sitar MS tansen
SIZES Various sizes Various sizes Various sizes
VERSIONS Gayaki (Vilayat Khan style); Instrumental (Ravi Shankar style) Saraswati Veena; Rudra Veena;Chitra Veena Tanpuri ; Tanjore style; Miraj Style


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMk2eTqPLWk&nohtml5=False https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohACeQcYHK4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lVku_IzMNE
LENGTH 4 feet 4 feet 3 to 5 feet
WEIGHT 30 KG 6.8 KG 2.2 KG
BRIDGES 2 ( 1 small and 1 big) 2 ( 1 small and 1 big) 1
MATERIAL Wood Wood Wood
FRETS Has Frets Different versions may or may not have frets No Frets

Stay tuned for the next series differentiating other stringed instruments such as Guitar, Violin etc. More on other instruments, indian classical music and modern musical techniques coming soon!! Please feel free to give in your suggestions.

(Picture sources from Wikipedia mainly)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s