According to popular history it was Amir Khusrau who “invented” the sitar. It has been suggested that he may have modified the existing tritantri vina. Origin of the Sitar. Tanburs in Northern India.
According to popular history it was Amir Khusrau who “invented” the sitar. It has been suggested that he may have modified the existing tritantri vina (note that the word sitar is thought to be derived from the Persian word sehtar meaning “three strings” while the Sanskrit word tritantri vina means “three stringed chordophone”).
Due to the absence of any mention of the sitar in the writings of Amir Khusrau (1285-1351), or in those of his contemporaries, it is unlikely that any musical instrument with this name existed at that time.
The I ‘Jaz-i-Khusrawi (Rasailul-I-‘Jaz) of Amir Khusrau mentions several non-Indian musical instruments including the tanbur (Rizvi 1941:331ff). It appears probable that some form of tanbur was introduced into northern India about the time of Amir Khusrau and that this type of “foreign” lute had become a fairly popular instrument by the time of Akbar (r.1560-1605).
It would be incorrect to say that Amir Khusrau invented this instrument though he may have modified it for the performance of Indian music genres.
Performers on the Tamburah
Performers on the “tamburah” are named in the Ain-i-Akbari (a treatise written by Abul Fazl for the Moghal Emperor Akbar) as follows:
- Yusuf of Herat (Afghanistan)
- Hashim of Mashhad (Iran).
The fact that the names of performers on the “tamburah” are included in a work of the magnitude of the Ain-i-Akbari suggests that the instrument referred to was not a drone instrument like the modern Indian tambura. It was more probably a fretted instrument of Near Eastern or Central Asian origin. Although lyres called “tanbur” are found in North Africa, this instrument was not found in India.
The Ain-i-Akbari refers to musical ties with Gwalior, Mashhad, Tabriz, Kashmir and Transoxania (Uzbekistan). The work also notes that the music schools in Kashmir, patronized by the King Zain-ul-Abudin, had been founded by Irani and Turani musicians (Gladwin 1783:213).
Tanburs in Miniature Painting
Although written evidence for the existence of long-necked lutes in India dates back to the thirteenth century, the first visual representations of this type of instrument can be found in Miniature Paintings and wall murals of the seventeenth century. Just as the Persian sehtar was a favorite subject of Persian Miniature painters, depictions of lutes, which resemble this instrument, can also be found in Indian paintings. By the mid 18th century some Indian tanburs were referred to by the name sitar.