The History of the Sitar

Everything About the Sitar and Sitar Music!


Anoushka Shankar

Contemporary Sitarist Extraordinaire


Ravi Shankar

World renowned Sitar musician


Sanjay Deshpande

Classical Indian music


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Sitars are plucked stringed musical instruments, originating from the lute family. The sitar originated in the Middle East originally. In fact, the word “sitar” is Iranian in origin and means ‘three strings’ (seh means ‘three’ and tar means ‘string’) although it is a multi stringed instrument. The History of the Sitar traces its origins to an instrument first built under Medieval Muslim influence from the tanbur, a Middle Eastern lute with a distinctive long neck as well as from the vina, a narrow, intricately crafted Indian Zither.

Although images similar to the sitar date back to 1800. Delhi, the more well-known form of the sitar had become prominent by the mid nineteenth century. The long hollow neck and gourd body produce a rich resonance and harmony, and is the dominant instrument used in Hindustani classical music and is played as an accompaniment to dance throughout India and Pakistan. Sitar Music is ubiquitous in these and other Middle Eastern countries.

Additional design innovations made during the mid-twentieth century have given form to the standard sitar made popular by musicians such as Ravi Shankar, one of the most Famous Sitar Players, and rock acts such as The Beatles looking to infuse their music with the exotic sound that eminates from the intricately crafted instrument. Beatles guitarist George Harrison learned to play the sitar with help from Ravi Shankar, and it is featured in Beatles songs such as ‘Norwegian Wood’, ‘Love You Too’, and ‘Within You Without You’. The sitar also made its way into 1960’s pop culture when Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones famously played it as an accompaniment to Keith Richard’s guitar in their hit ‘Paint It, Black’.

Although there are different Types of Sitars, the construction of a quality sitar is a complex process. These instruments are often crafted by sitar ‘makers’ or ‘fitters’. The neck, faceplate, and gourd (the main resonating chamber) of the finely-crafted sitar are typically constructed of a combination of mahogany and teak wood, which is known as toon wood, and its bridges are made from various materials such as deer horn, ebony, or even camel bone, although synthetic materials are also used, often to lesser effect. Expert sitar builders string the instrument with a bridge through jawari (the process of optimizing the sitar’s tonal quality), and then let the instrument sit for a week or so to allow the neck to bend slightly. This is done so it settles in before the sympathetic peg holes are drilled, which ensures that the fret setting is correct.


Proper selection of wood and other materials, as well as many years of knowledge, patience, and craftsmanship that have been passed on from generation to generation of sitar builders, is said to be necessary to build a quality sitar. However, even this instrument, the sound and appearance of which often brings to mind far-off lands, is not without contemporary touches, perhaps best demonstrated with the advent of the Electric Sitar. Simply put, the sitar is as unique and fascinating an instrument as the music it creates.