Small encyclopedia with Indian instruments
The text is taken from an excerpt of Suneera Kasliwal, Classical Musical Instruments, Delhi 2001


The sarod is one of the leading instruments of Hindustani music today. The origin of the sarod like that of the sitar is undocumented and surrounded by ambiguity. Repeated efforts at modifications has brought the instrument to its present state of sophistication. Written and oral evidences suggest that the sarod is an adapted and improved version of the rabab, but since the antecedents of the rabab itself are extremely confused and unclear.

The term sarod, meaning song or melody is of Persian origin. Some scholars suggest that the word might also be used to denote some type of musical instrument of the medieval period. However, there is no consensus on this point. According to Allyn Miner, one scholar has suggested that in order to distinguish the Afghani rabab from the Seniya rabab the players of Afghani rabab started calling it sarod.

By joining various links it can be concluded that the instrument sarod is an outcome of the combination of the structural characteristics of the Seniya rabab, Afghani rabab and the sursingar. However, if we take into consideration tuning and the technical aspects, which are strikingly similar to the Seniya rabab, one is tempted to contend that the instrument is indigenous. The invention of the sarod is claimed by the descending students of the two Afghani gharanas of sarod players, Niyamatullah Khan's gharana and Gulam Alt Khan's gharana.

The modifications introduced by Niyamatullah Khan in the existing sarod during the years 1858-69, as claimed by his son Karamatullah Khan, are documented in his book Israr- i-Karamat urf Naghmat-i-Niyamat and Risala Sitar (1908).

The sarod developed till nineteenth century was probably smaller in size and did not have a good tonal quality. S.M. Tagore says that it is somewhat 'hard' and not as sweet sounding as the been, sitar or rabab.

According to Ashish Khan, the sarod prevalent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, had a nine inch belly (parchment), its fingerboard was short and narrow and the neck was very thick. The edge of the belly was very sharp. It had a less number of strings, and less sustenance of sound. The tuning was also different."


Sarod in our catalogue

Twentieth century legendary musician, Allauddin Khan, a student of Wazir Khan and Ahmed Alt credited with the introduction of the modifications and the changes of very significant dimensions which finally made the sarod a full- fledged developed string instrument set ready to conquer the international music scene.

The body of the sarod is made of a single block of wood, preferably teak, but tun and sagwan are also used. The body of the instrument can be divided into three parts: the peg box, the fingerboard and the resonator called pyala, which is enclosed with the parched skin.

The peg box is almost one foot long and about seven inches in diameter. This part is solid from inside. Tuning pegs of the main playing strings are put on either side. In some sarods a metal resonator is fixed at the bottom of the peg box. The fingerboard is about one-and-a-half feet long. It is hollow from the inside and narrower near the peg box, but gradually becomes broader near the resonator. The finger- board is covered first with a thin, wooden board and then with a thin metal sheet. On the right side of the fingerboard pegs of sympathetic strings are fixed in two rows.

The third portion of the sarod is the resonator. This is roundish in shape and is about nine inches in diameter. This portion is covered with a very thin parched goat skin. Upon the middle portion of this resonator a bridge made of bone about three inches long is fixed. It is a thin bridge like that of the violin. The main playing strings rest upon the bridge in their respective grooves, but the sympathetic strings pass through the holes drilled in the bridge.

There are mainly two types of sarods — the sarod with six pegs and the one with eight pegs. Both are equally developed but have distinctive features of their own. The type of sarod which has eight main strings and two chikari strings, has a small extra bridge near the upper nut and four drone strings rest upon it. These strings are tuned to the main notes of the raga which is to be played. This type of sarod also has an extra resonator fixed in the bottom of peg box; also it is longer than the other type of sarod. Apart from these characteristics, there is no other major difference in the structure of the sarod of these two varieties. However, the shape of the drum of both the varieties varies a lot and therefore the tonality is also quite different. The sarod, with almost the identical roundish belly of the Seniya rabab, with eight main and two chikari strings and with a longer body as discussed above, is designed by Allauddin Khan along with his instrument-maker brother Ayet Ali Khan. The principal players of this kind of sarod are Ali Akbar Khan, son of Allauddin Khan, and his disciples.

In all the other gharanas, the sarod with six pegs is played. The drum of this type of sarod is comparatively small and oval-shaped. Amjad Ali Khan's sarod is of this type. It has six main plus two chikari strings, with a shorter body and eleven to thirteen tarab strings. He uses three fingers of the left hand to play on the sarod with the help of his finger nails. The sarod of Buddhadeo Dasgupta differs slightly from Amjad All's. His drum or resonator is more roundish and has six plus two main strings. Therefore, it can be concluded that these days there are three models of sarods prevalent among the sarod players. Sympathetic strings vary between eleven and fifteen. Their tuning sequence and their gauge also vary from artist to artist.

The sarod is played with the help of a- plectrum held in the right hand by means of two fingers and thumb. This plectrum is called 'jawa' and is made of coconut shell. Formerly a plectrum made of wire was used, which was not good enough. After many experiments with various materials such as horn, stone, etc., it was found that the coconut shell is the best.