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fossesitar

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Posts: 983
Reply with quote  #1 
In line with how each of us came to the instrument I find it fascinating - and frustrating - to delve into the origins of the instrument itself. The story I heard, was about a poet/philosopher in Persia by the name of Amir Khusro (probably mispelled) who was sent by the Sultan to spread the muslim faith into the subcontinent. Upon arriving in India, being the wise and experienced and capable minister that he was, before doing anything he studied the local population along with their Hindu faith - all the time thinking and wondering "how can I capture the mind and soul of the Indian people?" and finally decided the best approach was through music and so he - just like that, snap the fingers, presto chango - invented the sitar !! If there is even a shred of truth in this the guy was a genius.

I believe recent research has discredited much of this tale but I also know that much of the history of this insane and utterly fascinating instrument is shrouded in myth, misinformation, and confusion with many versions of the "truth" and many gharanas attempting to take credit. Same with Surbahar.

All tall tales, myths, research, knowledge, educated guesses and intuitions are solicited. FOSSE
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cabaray

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Reply with quote  #2 
Fascinating subject but why do I get the feeling that we'll never get to the bottom of this. My best guess is that the Persian setar is a major influence on the evolution of the sitar. Whether it was incorporated into an existing indian instrument or is the foundation for a new instrument is anyones guess. Interesting how when the setar traveled to southeast asia it turned into a sitar and when it spread from the Iberian to europe it morphed into a guitar. Or at least thats the story I've heard

Anyway great fundamental subject I hope a lot of folks chime in.
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David Russell Watson

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Reply with quote  #3 
In fact there's really no great mystery to the matter. The best article I've seen is in, if I'm not mistaken, The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, and goes into great detail about the history of the sitar.

Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries by Allyn Miner, and Sitar Music in Calcutta by James Sadler Hamilton, are also good sources.

The long-necked lute, under the name tanbūr (pronounced "tambūr"), has a history in Persia going back centuries before any such instrument was ever seen in India. There were several versions, and the convention was to name the type of tanbur by the number of strings it normally employed.

There was, and still is in fact, a tanbūr-e do tār or "two-string tanbur", a tanbūr-e se tār or "three-string tanbur", a tanbūr-e čār tār or "four-string tanbur", a tanbūr-e panǰ tār, with five strings, etc. When context made it clear a musical instrument was intended, they were referred to simply as dotār, setār, čārtār, pančtār, respectively.

The tanbur gave rise to numerous variations across Eurasia and North Africa that still bear etymologically related names, including the Arabic tunbur, the Turkish tanbur, the Turkish tambura, the Afghan tanbur, the Afghan and C.-Asian dambura, the Greek tabouras, the Uyghur tembor, the various Eastern-European types of tambura, tamburica, domra, dombyra, etc. For a few examples see
http://www.atlasofpluckedinstruments.com/europe2.htm
http://www.atlasofpluckedinstruments.com/europe3.htm
http://www.atlasofpluckedinstruments.com/middle_east.htm
http://www.atlasofpluckedinstruments.com/central_asia.htm

Invading Muslim Turks and Iranians brought with them into India a variety of long-necked lutes, including the setār, for which there is both written and pictorial documentation. The tanbūr or tanbūrah is mentioned by name, was popular at the Muslim courts, and was often played alongside native instruments such as the bīṇ. There is even specific mention of the "unfretted tanbūr(ah)" used solely for drone accompaniment, and of the "fretted tanbūr(ah)", the latter even being specifically mentioned as a synonym of "sitar". There are depictions from a few stages of the Indian sitar's evolution, as the juvārī bridge was added, as one after another string was added, as the neck grew wider, etc.

The earliest sitars depicted in Indian art differed only very slightly from the Persian setār still in use today, and even the modern Indian sitar differs little from the Kashmiri sitar, which itself differs little from similar Afghan lutes. The whole route from Persia, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to India is littered with a variety of long-necked lutes, most of them still in use today, from which it's very easy to assemble an evolutionary chain between the Persian setār and the Indian sitar. On this one page alone, in fact, you can find several of them http://www.atlasofpluckedinstruments.com/central_asia.htm .

One Amir Khosrau is indeed supposed to have been involved in some way with the early Indian sitar, however he didn't likely invent it. There's the problem too that there was a second Amir Khosrau in Indian history, who's been confused in popular lore with the first. I forget the details of that story now, but I might be able to locate a source for it eventually.

David
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David Russell Watson

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Reply with quote  #4 
Quote:
Originally Posted by "cabaray"
Interesting how when the setar traveled to southeast asia it turned into a sitar and when it spread from the Iberian to europe it morphed into a guitar. Or at least thats the story I've heard
The guitar doesn't actually come from the setar, but rather from an instrument that the Arabs brought to Europe called the qitāra. The qitāra was named after, but not actually derived from, an ancient Greek instrument called the kithara, which was a type of lyre.

Many do-it-yourself linguists assume a connection between guitar, qitāra, kithara, and sitār solely on the basis of the common tar component, but that's purely concidental, and that's why you come across so many stories of that sort, especially online

David
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fossesitar

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Posts: 983
Reply with quote  #5 
Great stuff David. The process by which a 3 stringed lute, with a 1" wide neck, evolved into the 18 stringed sitar with a 3-1/2" neck width is astonishing and intriguing to contemplate. My guess is the court musicians to the Moghul Kings had more than a little to do with it. That would tend to give some claim to the Etawah Gharana as being involved to some extent in the creation of the instrument, but this is all guesswork on my part.

For those who are confused or new to all this gharana stuff, Etawah was (is?) a smaller town on the outskirts of Agra (think Taj Mahal) where the court musicians lived. The name has attached itself to the "Imdadkhani Gharana" (linage of Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Shahid Parvez among many others) as the place from which they came.

The actual process by which all this took place may be viewed to some extent (as David suggests) in the instruments from the past, along the regions he mentions - but the actual names of the virtuoso musicians and their instrument makers are for the most part shrouded in the mists of time. What is obvious is that as a purely drone-based instrument the sitar was able to take a very specialized path in its development. I am particularly impressed with the tunable, tied-on frets which I feel is the best system in the world for a fretted instrument at least any such similar to the sitar. The placement of the baj in the middle of the neck to allow extreme meend, and the clever and beautiful installation of the tarafs and their tuners, the use of a gourd ( !! ) for the resonant body chamber - it is more than the sum of its parts and we owe a great debt to those who had a hand in creating such a sublime and other-worldly musical instrument.
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