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A Sarode of Maihar Prototype

The Sarode (or Sarod) is an Indian classical musical instrument. It is similar to the Western lute in structure. In terms of prominence and popularity amongst connoisseurs of Indian classical music, it occupies a position second only to that of the Sitar.


Many scholarly and anecdotal accounts consider the ancestral source of the Sarode to be the Rebab, a similar instrument originating in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Sarode is essentially a bass Rebab. The Rebab was modified by Amir Khusru in the 13th century. Dr Lalmani Misra opines in his "Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya" that the Sarode is an amalgamation of the ancient Chitra Veena, the medieval Rebab and modern Surshringar.

However, there are speculations among the Sarode community, notably from maestro Ali Akbar Khan, that a similar instrument might have existed almost two thousand years ago in ancient India. They refer to instruments which resemble the Sarode found in carvings of the 1st century in the Champa temple, as well as in paintings in the Ajanta Caves.

Amjad Ali Khan’s ancestor Mohammad Hashmi Khan Bangash, a musician and horsetrader, who came to India with the Afghan Rebab in the mid-1700s and became a court musician to the Maharajah of Rewa (now in Madhya Pradesh). It was his descendants, and notably his grandson Ghulam Ali Khan Bangash who became a court musician in Gwalior, who gradually transformed the Rabab into the Sarode we know today. A parallel, but equally credible theory credits descendants of Madar Khan (1701-1748), and Niyamatullah Khan in particular, with the same innovation circa 1820. It is possible that Ghulam Ali Khan and Niyamatullah Khan came to the similar design propositions either independently or in unacknowledged collaboration. The Sarode in its present recognizable form dates back to c.1820, when it started gaining recognition as a serious instrument in Rewa, Shahjahanpur, Gwalior and Lucknow. In the twentieth century, the Sarode received some finishing touches from Allauddin Khan, the performer-pedagogue from Maihar best known as Ravi Shankar's and Ali Akbar Khan's guru.


The design of the instrument depends on the school (gharana) of playing. There are three distinguishable types, discussed below.

  • The conventional Sarode is a 18 to 19-stringed lute-like instrument — four to five main strings used for playing the melody, one or two drone strings, two chikari strings and ten to eleven sympathetic strings. The design of this early model is generally credited to Niyamatullah Khan of the Lucknow Gharana as well as Ghulam Ali Khan of the Gwalior-Bangash Gharana. Among the contemporary Sarode players, this basic design is kept intact by two streams of Sarode playing. Amjad Ali Khan and his disciples play this model, as do the followers of Radhika Mohan Maitra. Both Amjad Ali Khan and Buddhadev Dasgupta have introduced minor changes to their respective instruments which have become the design templates for their followers. Both masters use Sarodes made of teak wood. Buddhadev Dasgupta prefers a polished stainless steel fingerboard for the ease of maintenance while Amjad Ali Khan uses the conventional chrome or nickel-plated cast steel fingerboard. Visually, the two variants are similar, with six pegs in the main pegbox, two rounded chikari pegs and 11 (Amjad) to 15 (Buddhadev) sympathetic strings. The descendants of Niyamatullah Khan (namely Irfan Khan and Ghulfam Khan) also play similar instruments. The followers of Radhika Mohan Maitra still carry the acoustically redundant second resonator on their Sarodes (excepting some players), while Amjad Ali and his followers have rejected it altogether.

Its body traditionally hand-carved from a single block of tun (Indian mahogany) or teak wood. It has a steel fretless fingerboard that makes it a difficult instrument to play. The bridge rests on the belly of the instrument, which is covered in goat skin. This version has four melody or playing strings and three rhythm strings, with the remainder being sympathetic (tarab) and jawari(or resonance) strings.

  • A second type is that designed by Allauddin Khan and his brother Ayet Ali Khan. This instrument, referred by David Trasoff (Trasoff, 2000) as the 1934 Maihar Prototype, is slightly more complex, and larger and longer than the conventional instrument, though the fingerboard is identical to the traditional Sarode described above. This instrument has 25 strings in all. These include four main strings, four jod strings (tuned to Ni or Dha, R/r, G/g and Sa respectively), two chikari strings (tuned to Sa of the upper octave) and fifteen tarab strings. The main strings are tuned to Ma ("fa"), Sa ("do"), lower Pa ("so") and lower Sa, giving the instrument a range of three octaves.

Many people mistakenly perceive the Maihar prototype to be the traditional model. This is, in fact incorrect as this version was first unveiled by Ali Akbar Khan circa 1934 when he accompanied his father on stage as a prodigious 12-13 year old. The Maihar Sarode lends itself extremely well to the presentation of alap with the four jod strings providing a backdrop that helps usher in the ambience of the raga. Inherent inadequacies in the design of the bridge, however, prevent this model for being an ideal vehicle for the presentation of jhala (or fast portions). Nevertheless, this Maihar prototype Sarode has been more popular in India and the West during the last half of the twentieth century for its rich, sonorous sound quality; and for the success of maestro Ali Akbar Khan with this Sarode type.

There are numerous other experiments being conducted by numerous highly competent Sarodiyas (or, Sarode players) in India today, but their names are best left unmentioned for the fear of attracting the ire of the self-styled preservers of tradition who do not realise that the notion of tradition itself is quite a dynamic idea.

Sarode strings are made either of steel or phosphor bronze. Most contemporary Sarode players use Roslau, Schaff or Precision brand music wire. The strings are plucked with a triangular plectrum (java) made of polished coconut shell, ebony, Delrin (TM) or other materials such as bone.


There are a number of reputed Sarode manufacturers in India. The most notable mention among them would be Mr Hemen Sen who designs and makes Sarode for almost all the renowned living Sarode players from Ali Akbar Khan to Amjad Ali Khan. Hemen Sen is a National Award winner of the Government of India for his excellence in Sarode making. Many Sarodiyas believe Sarodes manufactured by Hemen Sen to have the best sound quality. However Hemen Sen's Sarodes are costlier than Sarodes made by other manufacturers.


The lack of frets and the tension of the strings makes it very technically demanding to play, as the strings must be pressed hard against the fingerboard.

There are two schools of Sarode playing. One involves using the tip of one's fingernails to stop the strings; certain strength and stiffness of the fingernails is a prerequisite for accuracy of pitch. The other uses a combination of the nail and the fingertip to stop the strings against the fingerboard. The technique which uses the fingernails produces a ringing tone, while the the fingertip technique produces a flatter tone.

Well known Sarode players

Senior performers

  • Aashish Khan
  • Ali Akbar Khan
  • Allaudin Khan
  • Amjad Ali Khan
  • Bahadur Khan
  • Buddhadev Dasgupta
  • Hafiz Ali Khan
  • Radhika Mohan Maitra

Contemporary performers

  • Aditya Verma
  • Amaan Ali Bangash
  • Anindya Banerjee
  • Anirban Dasgupta
  • Ayaan Ali Bangash
  • Brij Narayan
  • David Trasoff
  • Devjyoti Bose
  • George Ruckert
  • Gurdev Singh
  • Kalyan Mukherjee
  • Ken Zuckerman
  • Partho Sarothy
  • Pradeep Barot
  • Rajeev Taranath
  • Ranajit Sengupta
  • Tejendra Narayan Majumdar
  • Wajahat Khan