It is always problematic to discuss the names of the parts of the instruments. India is a land with many different dialects and languages. It is the norm for the parts of sitar to be called very different things in different places. Remember, the terms that we use here are fairly representative, but by all means not the only ones to be found.
The kuntis are the tuning pegs. These are simple friction pegs. The sitar has two types: there are the larger kuntis that are for the main strings. There are also the smaller kuntis which are used for the sympathetic strings. The larger kuntis come in three styles: simple, fluted, and lotus. A quick look at the kuntis is usually an indication of the care that went into the instrument.
One of the most important kunti is the baj tar ki kunti. This is the one used for the main playing string. This one will be used more than any other.
There are a number of strings on the sitar which are strummed but not fretted, these are referred to as drone strings. Two of the kuntis (pegs) control special drone strings; these are referred to as the chikaris. These two strings are raised above the neck on two camel bone pegs; these pegs are known as mogara. There are other drone strings which continue all the way down the neck.
These drone strings are important to the musical performance. During a normal performance, these strings will periodically be struck to provide a tonic base for the piece. The chikari are especially important in a style of playing known as jhala.
Many sitars have a gourd which is attached to the neck. This is known as tumba. Not all sitars have a tumba.
A tar is a string. There a number of strings on the sitar. Numbers may vary, but 18 is a common number. These strings fall into one of three classes; there are the drone strings (previously described), the sympathetic strings, and the playing stings. The playing strings are the strings which are actually fretted to produce melodies. It comes as a surprise to many newcomers to Indian music that only one to four strings are actually played to produce a melody. In most cases there are really only two playing strings. These are the two strings located furthest from the sympathetic strings.
The absolute furthest string is referred to as the baj tar which literally means "the playing string". Virtually all of the playing is done on this one string.
The tarafdar are the sympathetic strings. They are almost never strummed, yet they vibrate whenever the corresponding note is played on the playing string. They are located underneath the frets, so fretting them to produce a melody is impossible.
This is the neck of the sitar.
These are the frets. These are metal rods which are bent and tied to the neck with fishing line. Although they are held firmly in place, they may be adjusted to correct the pitch. There are two pardas, the Re and the Dha, which require constant adjustment as one moves from rag to rag (see scale structure, that, and rag for more information)
The gulu is a wooden cowl that connects the neck to the resonator. Although it does not command much attention for the casual observer, it is actually one of the most important parts of the instrument. It is a common problem on sitars for this part to be weak, especially where it meets the neck. If this is too weak then the whole instrument goes out of pitch anytime one meends (bend the note by pulling the string laterally across the fret). This is very annoying and is definitely a mark of inferior workmanship.
The chota ghoraj, also known as the taraf ka ghoraj orjawari, is a small flat bridge for the sympathetic strings. The highest quality ones are made of antelope horn. However, the high cost of this material makes them very rare. The most common material for fabricating them is camel bone. Camel bone is a very usual material that is used as a common substitute for ivory.
The bada ghoraj also known as jawara, or jawari, is similar in construction to the chota ghoraj. This is used for the playing strings and the drone strings. It is raised to allow the sympathetic strings to pass beneath.
There are several tuning beads on the sitar. These allow minor adjustments in pitch to be made without having to go the large tuning pegs (kunti).
The tabkandi, also known as the tabali is the face plate. It is extremely important in determining the tone of the instrument. If this is too thin, it will produce a loud sound but a very poor sustain. Conversely if it is too thick, it will improve the sustain, but at the cost of a weaker sound. It is very important that this wood be clear and consistent. Any knot-holes are a definite weakness in the instrument.
The kaddu is the resonator. This nothing but a gourd. These are extremely delicate and must be protected against shock at all times.
If you would like a more detailed description of the parts of the sitar, check out the Exploded View of Sitar.
This page last updated
© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 David and Chandrakantha Courtney
For comments, corrections, and suggestions, kindly contact David Courtney at email@example.com