Dr Kanada Narahari – Sitar Virtuoso

Dr Kanada Narahari (Kanada Raghava) was born in Manchikeri, a small village in western ghats, Karnataka, India to his illustrious parents,  Vidvan Narahari Keshava Bhat and Sumangala Bhat. His father Vidvan Narahari Keshava Bhat is a renowned Sanskrit scholar, poet and author of many works in Sanskrit on theatre plays and Yakshagaana, a form of traditional performing art.

Therefore it is not surprising that, young Kanada Narahari would have been exposed to Indian performing arts, music and literature at very tender age. When he was just nine years old, he enrolled to study Carnatic classical vocal with Vidushi Shreedevi Aravind. After spending some years under Vidushiji, he began to develop an interest in Hindustani  Classical music and was particularly attracted to the Sitar.

This then began a new journey. At the exciting age of 22, he initially spent a year under Subrahmanya Hegade, he found solace at the feet of his mentor and teacher, Pundit Sanjeev Korthi.

Of course while this incredible journey evolved, Dr Narahari qualified as an Ayurvedic Doctor with BAMS degrees.  This then allowed him to experiment the healing properties of Classical music and began to infuse music into his therapeutic practice.

In order to do this effectively he developed an academic interest in all genres of music and today in widely recognised as a prominent music therapist.

Today he has evolved into an highly accomplished sitar player having performed widely in India, Nepal and South Africa.

The Sitar

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The sitar is a string instrument used mainly in Hindustani music and Indian music. . The instrument is believed to have been derived from Veena an ancient Indian instrument, which was modified by Hazrat Amir Khusro, a Mughal court musician to conform with the tastes of his Mughal patrons and named after a Persian instrument called the setar.(meaning three strings). The sitar flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries and arrived at its present form in 18th century India

Used widely throughout the Indian subcontinent, the sitar became popularly known in the wider world through the works of Pt Ravishankar, beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Etymology and History

The Urdu or Hindi word Sitar originally derives from Persian seh + tar, literally meaning “three strings.” Another etymology is that it may be derived from Sanskrit words saptatantri veena (Sanskrit- seven stringed veena),which later was called as saat + tar (Hindi-seven strings) and then eventually became sitar. The instrument is thought to have been a version of the Veena, another prominent instrument in Carnatic and Hindustani music, altered in order to conform with Mughal tastes. In his Bhaaratheeya Sangeetha Vaadya, Dr. Lalmani Misra traces the instrument’s development from the  Tritantri Veena through the nibaddh and anibaddh Tanpuras.

The Anatomy of a Sitar


A sitar can have 18, 19, 20, or 21 strings. Six or seven of these are played strings which run over curved, raised frets, and the remainder are sympathetic strings. (tarb, also known as taarif or tarafdaar) 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 (used by Ustad Vilayat Khan and his disciples) has six playable strings, whereas the Kharaj-pancham sitar, used in the Maiher Gharana, to which Ravi Shankar belongs, and other gharanas such as Bishnupur has seven. Three of these (or four on a Ghandar-pancham sitar or “Vilayat Khan”-style of Etawa gharana), 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 large bridge (badaa goraa) for the playing and drone strings and the small bridge (chota goraa) 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 , which is a variation of mahogany, for the neck and faceplate (tabli), 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.

Construction Styles

There are three popular modern styles of sitar offered in a variety of sub-styles and decorative patterns. The two popular styles are the “gayaki style” sitars (sometimes called “Vilayat Khan style sitars”) and the full decorated “instrumental style” sitars (sometimes called “Ravi Shankar style sitars”). The gayaki style sitar is mostly of seasoned tun wood, with very few or no carved decorations. The number of Sympathetic  strings is often limited to eleven but may extend to thirteen. Jawari (bridge) grinding styles are also different, as is the thickness of the “tabli” (soundboard).

The other type of sitar, the instrumental style, is most often made of seasoned tun wood. but sometimes made of (Burma) teak. It is often fitted with a second resonator, a small tumba (pumpkin or pumpkin-like wood replica) on the neck. This style is usually fully decorated, with floral or grape carvings and celluloid inlays with colored (often brown or red) and black floral or arabesque patterns. It typically has thirteen sympathetic strings. It is said that the best Burma teak sitars are made from teak that has been seasoned for generations. Therefore, instrument builders look for old Burma teak that was used in old colonial-style villas  as whole trunk columns for their special sitar constructions. The sources of very old seasoned wood are a highly guarded trade secret and sometimes a mystery.

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