The Telegraph
Thursday , December 13 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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From 42 inches flowed music that kept the world in thrall

How familiar are you with the sitar?

A stringed instrument used mainly in Indian classical music. Said to be a modification of the veena, its evolution can be traced to the Mughal courts. By the 18th century, the instrument had secured its place in the canon of Indian classical instruments.

A typical sitar is made of teakwood and has a long, hollow neck connected to a gourd/pumpkin tumbaa (resonating chamber) and a combination of melody, rhythm and sympathetic strings. When the melody strings are played, the sympathetic strings resonate to produce a rich, harmonic sound. Some sitars have two tumbaas, one lower and one upper, which has the effect of a speaker or of making the sound a little round.

What kind of sitar did Ravi Shankar play?

The first

Was made by his guru Ustad Allauddin Khan’s younger brother Ustad Ayet Ali Khan

The next

A large one with a flat tumbaa almost like a surbahar was made by Ustad Yusuf Ali Khan from Lucknow.

Till the mid-40s

He had a simple sitar with a round tumbaa and taraf. He used to get his instrument from Kanailal’s shop on Lalbazar Street.

Mid-50s and 60s

Nodu Mullick, an amateur instrument maker who toured with Ravi Shankar as a tanpura player till the early-80s, made sitars for him.

Mid-60s to the 90s

His sitar had a large base tumbaa, a long neck and another tumbaa at the top. It had six melody strings and 25 sympathetic strings.

The last

Was made in 2006 by Sanjay Sharma, whose family had been supplying sitars to Ravi Shankar since the mid-80s. It has a rounded body and a long neck with a tumbaa at the top. The 42-inch instrument, much smaller than a regular sitar, has a flat-bottomed gourd as the lower tumbaa.

What was special about Ravi Shankar’s last sitar?

He could sit on a sofa or a stool and place the sitar to his right and play it. “We had provided a detachable support stand that holds the instrument for the player, so that the entire weight doesn’t rest on his right hand,” said Sharma.

What was Ravi Shankar’s usual style?

The maestro played the sympathetic strings at the beginning of his performance to provide an idea about the raga. It is the hallmark of the Maihar gharana to which he belonged. He also used to thump the sympathetic strings in the middle to produce his signature sound.