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Rahmat Khan (1843–1910) plays sursingar .

Sursingar , also sursringar, surshringar, suṛśrṅgār , is a rare long-necked lute that was mainly played in northern Indian classical music in the 19th century . The sursingar with six metal melody strings and a wooden ceiling, introduced at the beginning of the 19th century, is a further development of the dhrupad rabāb used in court music of the Mughal period , which had a skin cover and five gut strings. The improved musical possibilities made them particularly suitable for the dhrupad style. The structural innovations, including a metal fingerboard, made the sursingar the model for the sarod , which was developed from the Kabuli rubāb in the 1860s . After the sursingar had practically disappeared in the middle of the 20th century, it is now played again by some musicians, especially in Calcutta .

Origin and Distribution

Miniature painting from the Bundi school , around 1780. The musician tunes a string instrument with a circular body, the shape of which is similar to the plucked lute dhrupad rabāb and today's string lute kamaica in Rajasthan.

Long-necked lutes, which, according to images on seals, probably as early as the 3rd millennium BC. Were known in Mesopotamia , are in India on the reliefs of Buddhist stupas from the 2nd / 1st. Century BC BC with a pear-shaped body and three to five strings and belong to the stringed instruments called vina in ancient Indian Sanskrit literature . Another type of lute with a shorter neck and two to three strings is known from reliefs in the Gandhara region from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In addition to images of lutes with a rounded body, there are also those with a laterally notched or waisted body, such as is found today in the Kabuli rubāb , the sarangi and the dilruba .

According to Henry George Farmer (1930), the word rabāb is first mentioned in Arabic sources of the 10th century for a string instrument in Persia and the Central Asian region of Khorasan . At that time the rabāb was apparently already known in the Arab regions of Syria and Mesopotamia. To this day, the word rabāb, from the Maghreb to Indonesia, is predominantly used to denote a bow-struck fiddle. A painted ceramic bowl from Mesopotamia dated to the 9th century, on the other hand, shows a seated musician, probably from Central Asia, holding a two-string plucked long-necked lute rubāb with a pear-shaped body across his upper body. Judging by the S-shaped sound holes, the ceiling should have been made of wood. At the transition from the body to the neck, the body is bent up to triangular points on both sides.

The sounds that appear in South Asia under the name rabāb / rubāb were and are all plucked; a distant relationship between the Indian string instrument sarangi and certain Arabic bowed short-necked lutes ( rebāb in Tunisia) is possible. From the 11th century on, the Persian chronicles of the Ghaznavids in Punjab used the instrument name rabāb . More frequently mentioned Rabab of the time of the Delhi Sultanate living musicologist and poet Amir Khusrau .

Text illustration with three different rabāb in the Urdu musicological work by Sadiq Ali Khan, Sarmāyah-i ʿIšrat yā Qānūn-i Mūsiqī , 1884.

The music theorist Darvish Ali Changi (around 1550–1620), who lived in Bukhara and played the harp ( chang ) after his name , reported in the treatise Risāle-i mūsīqī, a rabāb type with five strings, four of which were made of silk and one of silver , was said to have been brought from Balkh to Transoxania during the reign of Muhammad II (1200-1220) . The rabāb was therefore played among the Timurids in Central Asia in the religious music of the Sufis . Between Transoxania, Khorasan , Persia and northern India, several different types of lutes have been named rabāb over the years . The name rabāb is mentioned only once in the Bāburnāma, the autobiography of the first Mughal ruler Babur (r. 1526-1530), when it comes to the description of a private gathering while enjoying wine, which took place in Kabul in 1519 . The music ensemble consisted of an amateur musician playing rabāb and a wandering Sufi singer.

The rabāb are first depicted in India on miniature paintings from the early Mughal period in the 16th century. Three types of lutes can be distinguished on the miniatures of the Bāburnāma . The illustrations refer to the origin of the rabāb from the Persian cultural area and speak against a direct connection with the ancient Indian sounds known from Gandhara reliefs. The triangular edge at the end of the body is characteristic of the rabāb of the Mughal period. The pegbox of this “Persian” rabāb is long rectangular and curved backwards.

The "Persian" rabāb has a similar triangular outwardly curved edge as the end of the round or broad oval body to the narrow neck like the instrument in the illustration of the 9th century from Mesopotamia. This round body type covered with fur survives in the Rajasthanic string lute kamaica . The body closes like a cup to the neck. In late Mughal paintings, a somewhat different rabāb type can be seen with a circular, fur-covered body and a protruding, straight body end, which was popular in court music of the 18th and 19th centuries. This sound is known as dhrupad rabāb or seni rabāb . It was played in the classical style dhrupad until the middle of the 20th century . In the usual line of tradition, the dhrupad rabāb and the music played with it are traced back to Tansen , who was court musician of the Mughal emperor Akbar I in the 16th century . Paintings from the 17th century show tansen and contemporaries of him with this dhrupad rabāb . Tansen is considered to be the founder of an orally transmitted musical tradition ( rabābia line) to which rabāb players and later sitar players also belong. Tansen's successors were his son Bilās Khan, his son Gulāb Khan and in turn his son Chhajju Khan (around 1740-1806), who introduced technical innovations. Chhajju Khan's sons were the rabāb players Jaffar Khan, Pyar Khan and Basat Khan.

The closest personal connection of the rabāb in India is to Guru Nanak (1469–1539). A disciple and trusted companion of the first Sikh guru named Mardana can be seen on paintings together with Nanak playing a kind of rabāb . Mardana is said to have had Arabic ancestors and was famous for playing the lute. Another style of music, which also originated with Guru Nanak, is produced by the singers of religious songs called dhadis, who accompany each other on the snare drum dhadd and sarangi .

In the court chronicle of Akbar, Ain-i Akbari , written by Abu 'l-Fazl at the end of the 16th century , rabāb with 12 and 18 strings are mentioned. According to Abu 'l-Fazl, the rabāb played court musicians in chamber music, brahmins to accompany religious songs, and low-caste musicians for entertainment. In the musicological script Sangita Parijata ( Saṅgītapārijāta ), which was written in 1665 by Ahobala, whose life data is unknown, in northern India, the rabāb is a lute with seven strings made of silk and a body covered with animal skin. It also claims that the word rabāb comes from Sanskrit rava ("sound"). Kaviratna Purushottama Mishra (around 1690–1750) describes a five-string rabāb in Sangitanarayana as kacchapi (cf. kacapi ) and rupavati . According to Sarmāyah-i ʿIšrat yā Qānūn-i Mūsiqī , written by Sadiq Ali Khan in 1875 , the rabāb had a calabash body with a wooden ceiling and five metal strings. The description fits the sursingar rather and suggests that it was in the process of replacing the rabāb .

The British colonial official Baden Henry Baden-Powell (1872) also lists a lute called rabāb in his handbook of the material things of Punjab . The six-string instrument was therefore played in the north Indian Ganges plain and in particular in Lucknow at that time, but did not occur in Punjab. The drawing in this work, signed “Sarod or Rabáb”, does not show a dhrupad rabāb , but rather the completely different Kabuli rubāb , which has been part of Afghan music since the 18th century and which was further developed into sarod in Lucknow in the 1860s .

The sursingar was probably invented at the beginning of the 19th century by Jaffar Khan (1775-1825) by changing the dhrupad rabāb . Jaffar Khan was a rabāb and rudra vina player who belonged to the Seni (y) a- Gharana . The members of the Senia Gharana, the “male” line of musical tradition traced back to Tansen, were known as rabābiyā ( rabāb player), in contrast to the “female” line of the bīnkār ( rudra vina player, English transcription beenkar ). According to a legend connected with the invention, a music competition was announced at the court of Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh in Varanasi , in which Jaffar Khan was to compete on the dhrupad rabāb against the famous Rudra vina player ( bīnkār ) Nirmal Shah. The Maharaja is said to have prescribed both competitors to play the rain raga Mian ki Malhar . Since it was monsoon season, Jaffar Khan thought his instrument was unplayable due to the high humidity and asked for a month's delay. During this time he removed all moisture-prone components of the rabāb: As with the sitar and surbahar , he replaced the skin covering on the body with a wooden ceiling and the wooden fingerboard with a metal one. Instead of gut strings, he used metal strings. He also added three more strings in order to be able to play the fast part ( jhala ) at the end of a North Indian raga, according to the rudra vina . With this new instrument, which he named sursingar , Jaffar Khan entered the competition and was declared the winner. Regardless of whether the story happened in all its details, they picked up musicians who succeeded Jaffar Khan and experimented with the Kabuli rubāb, which in the 1860s also received a metal fingerboard as a major renovation and became the sarod .

The Hindi - and Urdu -Name sursingar is from sur (from Sanskrit swara , "Note") and Sringara composed ( "ornament", "Romance"). The Hindi / Urdu pronunciation sursingar occurs for the first time around 1860, among other things in the work Madan al-Musiqi by Karam Imam. Later, the Bengali musicologist Sourindra Mohun Tagore (1840-1914), a relative of Rabindranath Tagore , used the Sanskrit word sura sringara . Hazrat Inayat Khan , son of the sursingar player Rahmat Khan, named the instrument sursanghar in his work Minqar musiqar (1912) . The term sursanga for a slim long-necked lute with an elegantly curved bird's neck on the pegbox and a calabash body probably comes from Tagore . One example built in the 1880s belongs to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art . With this further descendant of the rabāb , the musicians did not play the strict dhrupad, but the lighter classical styles khyal and thumri . Parallel to the gradual retreat of the Senia-Gharana from the end of the 19th century, instead of the dhrupad instruments ( rabāb, sursingar, Rudra vina ), sitar and sarod became the leading stringed instruments in North Indian classical music.

Karam Imam states that the sursingar has a sweet, full sound and was invented by Pyar Khan (Piya Khan, † around 1857). Along with his two brothers Jaffar Khan and Basat Khan, he was one of the leading dhrupad musicians in Lucknow in the first half of the 19th century and played the dhrupad rabāb . The sursingar is the arguably more of Ghulam Muhammad around 1825 introduced surbahar - a deep-sounding, great sitar - one as part of strengthening turning to classical Dhrupad style newly developed instrument. The surbahar was mainly used in Bengal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the descendants and students of Ghulam Muhammad. The experimentally combined string instruments at the end of the 19th century also included the surchayan , a combination of sarod and sitar without frets, and the candrasarang , invented and played by the sarod player Allauddin Khan at the beginning of the 20th century , which is still used by some of his students . The candrasarang , drawn with a bow, unites the neck of a small sarod with the deeply waisted body of a sarinda .


According to its shape, the sursingar is a hybrid musical instrument. It has a rounded body made of a calabash , which replaces the wooden body of the dhrupad rabāb and is also used in the sitar , a wooden top like the sitar and a second spherical calabash resonator ( tumba ), which is attached to the upper end of the neck, as in the rod zither Rudra vina and the sarod . The fingerboard is a plate made of chrome-plated sheet metal that was taken over from the sarod . The bridge ( jovari ) made of animal horn, placed flat in the middle of the top, corresponds to that of sitar and tanpura . The peg box with wooden pegs on the side is narrow, undecorated and slightly bent backwards. The total length is about 122 centimeters or more.

In addition to the five melody strings made of brass and steel, there is a drone string and two other rhythm strings ( chikari ) in the upper octave , which are called zil . In western notation, the strings are tuned to g – d – c – G – C – e – c 1 –c 1 . In addition to these eight strings, the sursingar has other shorter sympathetic strings made of metal, which end at small pegs in the middle of the neck at the top. The sursingar is now considered the bass version of the sarod .

The British infantryman Charles Russel Day (1860–1900) depicts in his treatise on Indian musical instruments from 1891 a different-looking sur-s'ringara , the hollow neck of which widens in the middle and bulges backwards. The pegbox of the 120 centimeter long instrument is bent backwards in a semicircle. In contrast to the sitar shown next to it, the fingerboard has no frets and is made of metal to make it easier for the fingers to slide ( glissando ). You can see six pegs on the peg box for the melody strings and nine pegs on the side of the neck for the sympathetic strings. According to Day , the sursingar usually has seven sympathetic strings that are tuned to the notes of the raga to be played.

Style of play

Horizontal playing position of the sarod . Tejendra Majumdar, 2014

In nineteenth-century North Indian classical music, the sursingar, with a more pleasant sound than the dhrupad rabāb, was supposed to be an alternative to the disappearing instrument. The sursingar is like the Rudra vina likely to produce deep, long-sounding tones for quiet, dignified Dhrupad desired. In addition, the metal fingerboard allows glissando ( meend ), an essential design element of the dhrupad, to be played. The sursingar experienced its heyday at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century in the cities of Lucknow, Rampur and Calcutta . By the middle of the 20th century the sursingar had almost completely disappeared, but since the end of the century it has been played again by a few musicians, mainly in Calcutta.

There are two playing positions: In the older one, the musician holds the instrument almost vertically in front of his upper body with the neck on the left shoulder and the upper resonator on the back. The younger playing position corresponds to that of the sarod , in which the instrument rests obliquely or almost horizontally in front of the seated musician. The strings are plucked with a metal pick .

Well-known sursingar players in the 19th and 20th centuries were Jafar Khan, Pyar Khan and Basat Khan, the son of the latter, Mohammad Ali Khan, the sarod player Allauddin Khan (1862–1972), Bahadur (Sen) Khan (student of Pyar Khan), the sarod player Radhika Mohan Maitra (1917–1981), called Radhubabu, teacher of Buddhadev Das Gupta and Kumar Birendra Kishore Roy Choudhury (or Raychaudhuri), from Gauripur, Maimansingh district . Anindya Banerjee (* 1958) in Calcutta is a sarod and sursingar player in the Maihar Harana.


  • Alastair Dick: Suṛśrṅgār. In: Laurence Libin (Ed.): The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Vol. 4, Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York 2014, p. 656
  • Alastair Dick: Rabāb. 4. Long-necked, barbed lutes. (ii) South Asia. In: Grove Music Online , 2001
  • Allyn Miner: Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries. (Florian Noetzel, Wilhelmshaven 1993) Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi 1997
  • Sursingar. In: Late Pandit Nikhil Ghosh (Ed.): The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India. Saṅgīt Mahābhāratī. Vol. 3 (P-Z) Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2011, pp. 1037f

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Harvey Turnbull: The Origin of the Long-Necked Lute . In: The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 25, July 1972, pp. 58-66
  2. Walter Kaufmann : Old India. Music history in pictures. Volume II. Ancient Music. Delivery 8. Ed. Werner Bachmann. VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1981, p. 36
  3. ^ Henry George Farmer : The Origin of the Arabian Lute and Rebec. In: The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 4, October 1930, pp. 767-783, here p. 775
  4. ^ Henry George Farmer: Islam. Music history in pictures . Volume 3: Music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance . Delivery 2. Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1966, p. 38
  5. ^ Jürgen Elsner in: Paul Collaer, Jürgen Elsner: Music history in pictures. Volume 1: Ethnic Music. Delivery 8: North Africa . Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1983, pp. 86, 88
  6. Aygul Malkeyeva: Musical Instruments text in the Miniatures and of the "Baburnama". In: RIdIM / RCMI Newsletter, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 1997, pp. 12-22, here pp. 17f
  7. Cf. the miniature from the 17th century of a music group with rabāb in: Arthur Henry Fox Strangways: The Music of Hindostan. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1914, plate 1 after p. 14
  8. Allyn Miner, 1997, pp. 61f
  9. David Courtney: Seni Rabab .
  10. Rabab. In: Late Pandit Nikhil Ghosh (Ed.): The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India. Saṅgīt Mahābhāratī. Vol. 3 (P – Z) Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2011, p. 840
  11. Alastair Dick: Rabāb . In: Grove Music Online, 2001
  12. Bigamudre Chaitanya Deva: Musical Instruments. National Book Trust India, New Delhi 1977, p. 94
  13. Allyn Miner, 1997, p. 63
  14. ^ HB Baden-Powell: Handbook of the Manufactures and Arts of the Punjab, with a Combined Glossary and Index of Vernacular Trades and Technical Terms. Punjab Printing Company, Lahore, 1872, p. 274 , image before p. 277
  15. Ec. Saṅghadāsa Perēra: Origin and Development of Dhrupad and its Bearing on Instrumental Music. KP Bagchi & Co, Calcutta 1994, p. 192
  16. Prakash Sontakke: The Role of Hawaiian Guitar in the Present Context of Hindustani Classical Music - A Practical Analysis. (Dissertation) Karnatak University, Dharwad, 2015, p. 194
  17. Sursanga . Metropolitan Museum of Art
  18. ^ Jon Barlow, Lakshmi Subramanian: Music and Society in North India: From the Mughals to the Mutiny. In: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 42, No. 19, 12. – 18. May 2007, pp. 1779–1787, here p. 1786
  19. Allyn Miner, 1997, p. 119
  20. Allyn Miner, 1997, p. 69
  21. ^ Allyn Miner: The sitār: an Overview of Change . In: The World of Music, Vol. 32, No. 2 (India) 1990, pp. 27-57, here p. 40
  22. Allyn Miner, 1997, pp. 70f
  23. ^ Allyn Miner: Musical Instruments: Northern Area. In: Alison Arnold (Ed.): Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Volume 5: South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent. Routledge, London 1999, p. 337
  24. Alastair Dick, 2014, p. 656
  25. ^ Charles Russel Day: The music and musical instruments of southern India and the Deccan . Novello, Ewer & Co., London / New York 1891, plate III, p. 121
  26. Kalyan Mukherjea, Peter Manuel: Radhika Mohan Maitra: His Life and Times. In: Asian Music, Vol. 41, No. 2, summer – autumn 2010, pp. 180–197
  27. Anindya Banerjee .