The sitar is perhaps the commonest of all the stringed instruments of northern India. In superficial appearance the sitar is very much like a tanpura. The body is usually made of a gourd cut in half near the core. Originally the gourd was almost flat, like the back of a tortoise and therefore such a sitar was called kachchawa.
The name kachchapi was, also given to a type of veena for the same reason. The finger-board of the sitar is about three feet long and three inches wide, hollow and deeply concave, covered with a thin piece of wood. There are sixteen to twenty—two slightly curved frets of brass or silver. These arcs secured to the finger-board by pieces of gut which pass underneath. Tins arrangement makes it possible for the frets to move so that intervals of any scale can be produced. The sitar originally had only three strings, but the modern instrument has a total number of seven strings which are fastened to pegs on the neck and the sides. These include the side strings (chikari) used both for the drone and the rhythmic accompaniment.
There are eleven or twelve sympathetic strings (tarab) which run almost parallel to the main strings under the frets. These are secured to small pegs fixed at the side of the finger-board. The sympathetic strings are tuned to produce the scale of the melody which is being played. The sitar is played by means of a wire plectrum (mizrab) worn on the forefinger of the right hand. The thumb is pressed firmly Upon the edge of the gourd so that the position of the right hand should change as little as possible.
Mi the styles peculiar to instrumental music namely,alap jod, jhala. Meend etc., can be played on this instrument with telling effect. Long unbroken musical j passages such as the tanas of vocal music are rendered by stretching the string laterally against each fret. In this way it is possible to produce as many as six notes on a single fret. ‘As in percussion instruments, the sitar too has a phraseolog or bals of its own, for instance the characteristic da da and dir dir. After alap, jod and jhala begins the regular Playing or the gat with the tabla accompaniment. There are two popular styles of playing the gats which are named after two illustrious players called Maseet Khan and Raza Khan who first introduced them. The Maseetkhani style of gat playing has a show tempo as its special characteristic while the Razakhani is known for its fast tempo and display with tabla accompaniment.
The credit of its invention goes to Khusro Khan. The name of the sitar is derived from the Persian expres¬sion seh-tar meaning ‘three strings’ which is the number of the strings the instru¬ment originally had. In ancient treatises we come across various names of veenas having only three strings, for Instance tritantri, trinari, tripaj trishavi, trichari and so on. Ghulam Mohammed Khan, Babu Iswari or Babu Jan, Barkat Ali and Ustad Yusuf Ali Khan have been some of the greatest exponents of the sitar.