Vidur Mahajan, an accomplished sitarist, trained under the expertise of Ustad Usman Khan. He is also fortunate to have received guidance from Ustad Shahid Parvez and Ganasaraswati Padmavibhushan Kishori Amonkar. Vidur Mahajan has extensively toured India and abroad claiming more than a few hundred concerts to his credit. An artist, author, thinker, he is also a board member of Studies for Performing Arts, Savitribai Phule Pune University. Following the philosophy of One raga=One hour=One sculpture,he has also designed unique programmes like ‘Music and team building’,’ Taking Raga music to rural India’, ‘Meditation with Sitar’ which have received appreciation from all fields of professions. He takes us on this beautiful journey of enfolding ‘Sitar’, the instrument which has become an inseparable part of his life.
In conversation with this great and yet humble personality…
When you go for a musical concert, the visual that you see on stage is that of the person who is playing an instrument, tabla player, harmonium player and a tambora player. Now imagine if the effect of all these instruments comes from one instrument?
That is Sitar!
In the strict sense of term, Sitar is not completely Indian instrument. It is a modified instrument by the combination of Been, also known as Rudra Veena or Saraswati Veena and a Persian instrument called Sehtar (Seh means 3). In the 13th century, Amir Khusro invented the sitar but sadly after that there is no documentation of any sitarist only for a small mention about someone from the Tansen family. After 13th century till 1780 there is no documented existence of any sitar player. In 1780, Maseet Khan and Raza Khan were two players who brought sitar back into existence. There were a number of instruments in between the’ Been ‘and modern day sitar. e.g: Surbahar which is longer, having thick strings, more of a masculine version of sitar. Legendary players like Vilayat Khan and Annapurna Devi initially used to play Surbahar.
Strokes of sitar are called DA (inward) and RA (outward). The combination of these strokes results in the melodious tunes. As the origin of sitar is Sehtar which is a Persian instrument, DARA means God in Persian. Sitar can have 18 or 20 strings. Six or seven of these are played strings which run over curved, raised frets, and the remaining are sympathetic strings which run underneath the frets and resonate in sympathy with the played strings. The frets are movable, allowing fine tuning. The played strings run to tuning pegs on or near the head of the instrument, while the sympathetic strings, which are a variety of different lengths, pass through small holes in the fretboard to engage with the smaller tuning pegs that run down the instrument's neck.
The Gandhaar-pancham sitar (Pt.Vilayat Khan style aka Etawa gharana) has six playable strings, whereas the Kharaj-pancham sitar (Pt.Ravi Shankar style aka Maihar gharana) and other gharanas such as Bishnupur, has seven. Three of these or four on a Ghandar-pancham sitar are called the chikaari, simply provide a drone; the rest are used to play the melody, though the first string (baajtaar) is most used.
The instrument has two bridges: the main bridge on top for playing drone strings and the small bridge beneath for the sympathetic strings. Its timbre results from the way the strings interact with the wide, sloping bridge. As a string reverberates its length changes slightly as its edge touches the bridge, promoting the creation of overtones and giving the sound its distinctive tone. The maintenance of this specific tone by shaping the bridge is called jawari.
The bridges are fixed to the main resonating chamber, or kaddu, at the base of the instrument. Some sitars have a secondary resonator, the tumbaa, near the top of the hollow neck.
Materials used in construction include teak wood or tun wood (Cedrela toona), which is a variation of mahogany, for the neck and faceplate, and gourds for the resonating chambers. The instrument's bridges are made of deer horn, ebony, or very occasionally from camel bone. Synthetic material is now common as well.
There are different techniques for right and left hand while playing. The right hand is used to produce sound (naad-DARA) while the left hand gives shape to this sound. Khadaswar, Jamjama, Ghasit, Chapka, Meend are the different techniques of the left hand which in combination with right hand produce the desired sound.
Sitar is widely manufactured in Miraj and Kolkata. The manufacturers were Rajput warriors before they became manufacturers. They were used to the term hatyar (weapons) and hence in course of time, even if they changed professions the terminology remained the same and even instruments were called hatyar! As the use/aim of weapon is to destroy your enemy or removal of evil, the philosophy matched with that of instruments too…art destroys the evil from one’s mind and hence the term hatyar does sound appropriate!
Sitar has given Indian classical instrumental music a pattern which is followed by most of the string instruments. To express any particular raga on any instrument, to unfold its structure, a certain pattern is required/followed, which is given by sitar. Any instrument which follows the instrumental pattern of playing instead of vocal pattern uses the sitar pattern. The established pattern being Alap-Jod-Badhat-Upaj-Jhala-continuing into vilambit laay (slow speed) of the particular rendition. Alap resembles the vocal element of music and is mainly elaboration of raga with no definite rhythm (chupi laay). Jod is the phase of development and there is a feel of rhythm and introduction of the laay element but no definite Taal. Badhat is increase in the tempo which leads to upaj where during the process of playing, new creations are formed and finally jhala where there is a collaboration of laay and Taal. The first traditional rendition to be played is called as Maseet Khani gat named after its creator, Maseet Khan and anyone who follows the traditional pattern will follow this where the mukhada starts from 12th beat in trital. Gradually drut laay is attained in which another traditional rendition is played which is called as Raza Khani Gat and finally jhala with the accompaniment of tabla, takes the performance to the next level.
Sitar is a ‘complete instrument’ as the 3 branches of music, vocal-instrumental-dance, can be displayed in its rendition with equal justice to each branch. Alap resembles vocal, vilambit to drut resembles instrumental (in the technical aspect) and jhala, where the mind is free and hence resembles dance. One of the reasons for the popularity of sitar is that it caters to all emotions due to its versatility. The range of ragas from darbari to khamaj can be played effectively on sitar with the same effectiveness. Due to this, it is used widely in bollywood and even in hollywood music. Famous English rock band, The Beatles also used sitar in their compositions ‘Within you Without You’,’Norwegian Wood’, and ‘Love you too’.
In music, swar is related to sound and Taal is related to time and cannot be imagined one without the other. Sitar is a powerful instrument which even played without the external accompaniment is capable of giving a wholesome experience. Creating that experience inevitably depends on the person who is playing and the level of mastery he/she has achieved. In course of time, after achieving proper training and pursuing the efforts, a time comes when the instrument itself becomes your Guru and gives you something new every time you perform!
Sitar forms a special place in Vidur Mahajans life and the versatility of the instrument must have inspired him to be a versatile human being himself. He has taken his passion to the next level through this unique project of creating awareness at the ground level. Read on…
This project enables in creating awareness regarding sitar at the root level. The project includes touring villages and giving concerts in local schools where children and local villagers are exposed to the beauty of raga music. A firm belief in the philosophy that classical music can be appreciated by everyone and need not be restricted to the elite crowd in the society led to this project. Hence he prefers to call it Raga music and not classical music as he feels that the term ‘classical’ portrays an image of ‘classic audience’ and restricts the music from reaching to the common people. The idea of the project took root from a small experience that he had when his daughter was playing in a temple in a village. The appreciation and reactions of the villagers led to the thought that music can be appreciated by anyone even if they are not trained in it. He took the next opportunity he got to start off the project. He performed in a local festival soon after and was amazed at seeing the level of curiosity among the villagers regarding sitar. Firmly deciding on the idea of taking raga music to rural India steps were taken to create a proper structure for effective execution. Sponsorships were collected and a team of musicians were finalized to give rural India the taste of raga music through sitar. The team carries their own world class music system for effective sound quality and tours through village schools propagating raga music for free. Villagers and school children from Dhule, Solapur, Nandurbar, Jalgaon, Satara and districts of Pune have benefitted from this project. The target set by Vidur Mahajan is to complete 100 programmes through this project in 3 years and with more than 65 concerts already done, this project truly is inspiring to all related to performing arts.
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