FAQ

Anwar Khurshid is a Sitar player passionate about Sitar, based in Toronto, Canada.  On this page he answers some of the questions that Sitar School of Toronto students and sitar fans have asked over time.  Some of the answers and insights are from Sitar School students themselves.   There are additions to this page constantly, the work is not finished byfar.  There are yet more questions on Sitar that need to be answered. 


About the School
Where is Sitar School located?
Who teaches at Sitar School?
How can I sign up for the sitar school?
When do I learn my first raga?

About Playing the Sitar
My Mizrab for the Sitar keeps slipping, how do I tighten it?
To what notes do I tune the sitar?
Who can I get to adjust my sitar’s jawari?
Why is Sitar played on bare feet?
Why is Sitar played with only two fingers on the left hand?
How many Frets does a sitar have?
Do missing Frets make playing sitar easier or difficult?
Why are the Sitar Frets movable?
How can you shine Sitar Frets?
How do you tie Sitar Frets?
What material do you use to tie Sitar Frets?
What can I use if I don't have string to tie Sitar Frets?
Can my skills on other instruments transfer to Sitar?
Why is there a larger gap between certain Frets of the Sitar?
What are Sitar Frets made of?
How are the Sitar Frets shaped?
How long does it take to learn the Sitar?

About the Sitar
What is a Sitar?
Where is the sitar played?
Why is Sitar such a difficult instrument?
What makes Sitar so unique?
Why is Sitar music such emotional music?
What are the parts of Sitar called?
What gives sitar it's metallic sound?
Why is the sitar so light?
What is the gourd of Sitar made of?
What wood is the neck and sound board of Sitar made of?
What is a Mizrab?
What is a Zakhma?
What are some common misconceptions about  Sitar?
What are the gharanas of Sitar?
How can I recognize a good sitar?
What are Sargams?
Are there specific sargams for Sitar?
What are Talas?
What is a Raga?
What is a  Palta?
Do women learn Sitar?
Is Sitar being played in South India?
Is Sitar ever played with other instruments?
Who is a sitar player?
What makes a good sitar?
What  are the different kinds of sitars?
What is the history of Sitar
How is mizrab for a Sitar made?
What is the Jawari of a Sitar?



About the Sitar School


Where is the Sitar School located?
Sitar School is located in  Toronto Canada.  There are various branches of Sitar school in the Greater Toronto Area.  Lessons are given in  Downtown Toronto,  Mississuaga, Brampton and Scarborough.
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Who teaches at Sitar School?
Anwar Khurshid is the main teacher at Sitar School.  Senior students also help out.
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 How can I sign up for the sitar school?
Call Sitar School 647-706-6200 or send an email at info@sitarschool.com, better still drop by at the school for a lesson.
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When do I learn my first raga? 
Patience my dear is the name of the game.  The more time you spend on the basics the more you will progress.  Generally in about three months you can start learning a raag.
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About Playing the Sitar


My Mizrab for the Sitar keeps slipping, how do I tighten it?
Occassionally the Mizrab for a sitar can get silghtly loose. While striking the strings, it either gets eskewed or comes off completely.  In such cases just try turning the wounds at the top of the mizrab using pliers.
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 To what notes do I tune the sitar?
C Sharp is considered the ideal note for the tone and playabiltiy to tune a sitar.  A larger sitar could be tuned down to a C.
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Who can I get to adjust my sitar’s jawari?
Ask Anwar Khurshid, Paul Barrette or Lowell Lybarger for an opinion.  Don't trust any of the jokers who wreck bridges so that you could burn them.
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Why is Sitar played on bare feet?
Sitar is placed on the left foot.  Try playing a sitar with socks on, it slips.
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Why is Sitar played with only two fingers on the left hand?
1. Tradition. 2 Efficiency. 
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How many Frets does a sitar have?
Normally a sitar has 19 Frets. Some sitar players play with 17 frets.  The 19 frets are the tuned to ma,  pa, komal dha, teevar dha, komal ni, teavar ni, sa, re, komal ga, teavar ga, ma, teevar ma,  pa, dha, komal ni, ni, sa, re, ga.
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Do missing Frets make playing sitar easier or difficult?
It is easier to visualize and identify the notes on the long neck of the sitar with some of the frets missing. Generally missing frets make it easier to play the sitar, unless these notes need to be played  by pulling.  In such a case, playing fast and hitting the notes by pulling the string is difficult.  
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Why are the Sitar Frets movable?
The 8th and he 14th frets can be moved  to  a flattened second and a flattened sixth.  The other fretts are moved slightly for tuning.
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How can you shine Sitar Frets?
I use Brasso.
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How do you tie Sitar Frets?
Sorry this is not clear, but you make a loop first and hold along the neck.  Pass the string along both ends of the fret and over the loop.  Push the end of oringinal loop, through the loop and pull.  Use the second end to tie half hitches.
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What material do you use to tie Sitar Frets?
Fishing line, or nylon string.
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What can I use if I don't have string to tie Sitar Frets?
I have used dental Floss in emergencies, rubber bands, but fishing line, Nylon String are the best if you can get those.
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Can my skills on other instruments transfer to Sitar?
The knowledge of music, sense of timing, tuning, ear training and the coordination etc, certainly transfer over to Sitar.  People who have played other instruments do learn faster than people with no prior knowledge.  However, that may not necessarily be a blessing.  Sometime techniques from other instruments are brought over which are not desirable in traditional sitar playing.
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Why is there a larger gap between certain Frets of the Sitar?
If you look at the sitar, you see a larger gap between the 7th (the root note of the scale) and the 8th fret. There is a larger gap between the the 13th (the fifth) and 14th fret as well.   This means that the flat 2nd and the flat 6th are missing.  These gaps actually make visualizing the notes easier.  Since the sitar has such a long neck, it makes identifying the root note and the tonic easy.  It is the nature of Indian Classical Music that most raagas are such that both the flat second and the maor second are not used.  There are very few raags with both these notes played.  If needed the flat second can be played by pulling the string to get the exact note.
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What are Sitar Frets made of?
Sitar Frets are made of brass generally.
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How are the Sitar Frets shaped?
Sitar Frets are cut from a thick brass wire.  These pieces are then hammered into an arch shape on a piece of wood.  The under side of the wire is filed away so that it is flat.  A groove is sawed on either side of the frett so that it can be tied to the sitar with a string.
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How long does it take to learn the Sitar?
It depends on the level of proficiency that one wishes to achieve.  It is a life long quest and a lengthy process requiring time commitment.  However, the bare basics of posture, hand position, hand movements and playing can be convered in only one or two lessons.  It is the music part that takes longer.  Sitar music needs to be assimilated over time.  Learning sitar music ie Indian Classical Music takes much longer. 
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About the Sitar


What is a sitar?
Sitar is a musical instrument.  It has been around for atleast four hundred years, some people say 800 years.  It is played in different regions of the world.
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Where is the sitar played?
Sitar is a musical instrument played all around the Indian subcontinent.  It is played very commonly now in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal.  There is interest in playing sitar in Turkey, Iran and the rest of Middle East including Israil.  There is an interest in sitar all over the world now.  There is a strong interest in learning sitar in North America and Europe now.  There are sitarplayers now in Australia too.  
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Why is Sitar such a difficult instrument?
The music played on Sitar is not easy to learn.  The culture associated with learning has also to be grasped to a certain extent.
Unlike other instruments even after years of practice and performance, the fingers still hurt.
The notes are far apart so one has to physically move the hands a lot.  The action is quite high so the string has to be pressed down considerably.  Hitting the exact fret accurately is very difficult.  Bending to the exact note is not easy.
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What makes Sitar so unique?
Sitar is played up and down and also left to right.  The left hand moves down the neck of the sitar to go up the scale and up the neck to go down the scale.  But one can go up the scale by as much as six notes by pulling the main string.  Anwar Khurshid is known to do this with utmost ease.  Pulling or bending the string is called Meend.  The string is pulled from right to left, ie opposite to a blues guitar bend.
There are five ways of rendering a note in Indian Classical Music, uttang,  zamzama, soot, meend and gammak.  Sitar has a distinct sound and feel for each of these renderings.  In violin for instance soot and meend sound the same.
Sitar has two levels of strings. The sound of the sitar is unique both because of the strings on the top which are plucked along with the main string, and the bottom ones which resonate.  Resonate means that when one string is plucked, another finely tuned string starts to sound even though the second string is not plucked at all.  Resonance gives Sitar a unique sound aura.  It is also like playing to oneself with a short time delay.

The bridge of a sitar called the Jawari is very delicately shaped to give sitar it's special sound and tone.
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Why is sitar music such emotional music?
Music played on the sitar is improvised and comes from the heart.  So it is a physical menifestation of a psychological phenomenon of a feeling or a mood in sound.  Spontaneity is a key element in appreciation of music just like humor. Music done well on the spot has the effect of touching the heart.  Sitar music is not memorized and regurgitated like someone playing a spoilt and scaled down versions of their famous father's music. 
Alap, the first movement is particularly very emotional and has a sad quality to it.  The emotional attribute comes in essence from meend or bends played and the sequence in which the notes are played by following each other.
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What are the parts of the sitar called?
Toomba =Gourd
Dand = Neck
Khoonty = Peg
Taar Dan = String holder
Jawari = Bridge
Tabli = Sound board
Manka = Bead
Tar = String
Tarab = Tarab
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What gives sitar it's metallic sound?
The main string is Steel string, so is the corresponding resonating string.  Sitar is plucked with a metallic plectrum worn around the index finger.  The actual plucking is done by striking metal on metal and adds a metallic texture to the sound of the sitar.
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Why is the sitar so light?
Most people are surprised when they first pick up the sitar physically.  It seems much lighter than they anitcipate the weight to be.  Often people lift it with a jerk, only to realize that they applied an unnecessarily large force.  Even though the sitar is quite large it is very light.  The neck is hollow and so is the gourd. The gourd itself is of a very light material.
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What is the sitar gourd made of?
The gourd of a sitar is a pumpkin, called toomba hollowed and dried.
What wood is the sitar neck made of?
The wood that makes the neck and the sound board ie tabli is called Tun in India and is a form of Cedar.   Sitar neck is also made of Teek wood.
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What wood is the neck and sound board of Sitar made of?
The name of the wood is Tun, or the Red Cedar (Cederla toona).  The tree is quite big. The Botanical family of Tun is Meliaceae.  The wood is red in colour, smell nice, light and strong.  It is sometimes mistakenly identified as Mahogany.
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What is a Mizrab?
A mizrab is the plectrum used play the sitar.  A mizrab is made of a thick steel wire that is specially shaped.  Another traditional name for Mizrab , rarely heard any more, is Zakhma. 
A picture to be added soon.
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What is a Zakhma?
Zakhma is yet another name for the pick or the plectrum worn around the index finger.  It is now commonly known as a Mizrab.
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What are some common misconceptions about Sitar?
That all seventeen strings on a sitar are played.
Jawari of the sitar and the decorations on the sitar are ivory.
Meend is vibrato.
The second gourd on a sitar is useful.
In concert settings it would be nicer to hear sitar without amplification.

What are some common misconceptions about Sitar  (From a Guitar player's perspective)?
The Rev. Dr. Duke Vipperman

“I play guitar so learning sitar will be a synch.”

You wish.  Of course, anyone experienced with any stringed and/or fretted
instrument will have an advantage over those without such training. But you
will also have to unlearn some things while you learn others. What things?
How long do you have?

Listen to the confessions of this old rocker and new sitar student.

Right Hand
(left--handed players please reverse the left and right in what follows.)

Guitar: The pick, placed between the thumb and first finger, is moved back
and forth. Or, if you are finger picking, several fingers move independently
to strike each string in turn or several together.

Sitar: The whole right hand waves over the strings as one. Your temptation
will be to depend on just the first finger. That must be unlearned because
eventually you will find you can play faster waving the whole hand. At least
that’s what I’ve been told! And I believe it! You will also learn to play
sitar as if it was at least two instruments – melody and rhythm (though
accomplished guitarists sometimes learn something similar).

Left Hand
Guitar: All four fingers of the left hand can play and must be ready for
action at a moment’s notice. Sometimes the thumb can reach around the neck
Richie-Havens style for some bass note action.

Sitar: Only two fingers are used, the first and second from the thumb. The
second is only used to turn at the end of an ascending set of notes. The
other two fingers should be in a rested position. It is hard to train those
two to rest while the others slave away! The neck’s too big to get that
thumb around - besides there are sympathetic string tuning pegs in the way.

Guitar: To avoid squeaking on wound strings, a guitarist learns to lift the
fingers slightly in transition from fret to fret.

Sitar: The first finger NEVER leaves the first string – unless to play
another string. Old habits die hard.

Eyes
Guitar: Being held close to the body, you can see the frets where you are
supposed to put your fingers.

Sitar: Usually, you only see your left thumb and the back side of the
sitar’s neck. Exactly where are your fingers? Your ears and learning must
direct you!

Vibrato
Guitar: To enhance single note play, guitarists will sometimes vibrate a
string.

Sitar: Meend or moving the string away from you to another note with
precision is not vibrato – but is part of the expressiveness of the sitar.
Most sitars will allow you to meend up five half steps on the first string.

Speed:
Guitar: Seasoned guitarists learn many tricks to increase their speed:
hammering off an open string (AD/DC’s “Thunderstruck”), pressing frets also
with fingers of the right hand (Stanley Jordan-esk), finger-picking, or,
what I did, turning up the amp so anytime you move the left hand out comes a
flurry of notes Hendrix style whether or not your right hand is doing
anything. Wow! Impressive!

Sitar: How fast can your two fingers race up and down that long neck?
Accurately?!

Chikari
Guitar: There is no equivalent to chikari on a guitar, though five string
banjo players will recognize the idea. Still, chikari will be played with
the whole right hand, not with one picking finger as on a banjo.

Sitar: Chikari are a great way to punctuate your musical thoughts and add
rhythmic beats and off-beats!

Learning Scales:
Guitar: Often scales to practice are given in western musical staff notation
or you memorize it from hearing it. Instruction is basically in English.

Sitar: Your teacher will sometimes tell you the notes to play as if speaking
poetry: “Sa Re Sa Ga, Re Sa Ga Ma” and so on. It is learning a new musical
language and many new musical terms.

Posture:
Guitar: You can play sitting, standing, squatting, behind your head,
whatever.

Sitar: You sit. Period. On the floor (thank goodness for pillows).
The toomba, the large main resonator made out of a pumpkin [really!], rests
on the ball of your right foot. You hold it in place by your right forearm
pressing on the top, but the instrument requires a third pressure point for
stability. That way the left hand can be free to roam the neck without
taking on weight.

Youthful bodies that bend might quickly adapt to the semi-lotus posture with
the right knee supporting the toomba.

But it took this old rocker (who used to jump off stages to land on his
knees while still wailing away) about two months of stretching just to be
comfortable sitting Ravi Shankar style. In this posture the right leg rests
on the floor in front of the left knee. Still, after the hour a day of
practice I probably ought to be putting in, I am in some pain when I rise to
my feet!

Your First Song
Guitar: In your first few lessons you are taught to play G, C, D, E, Em, A
and Am chords – equipping you to strum along to most popular music very
quickly: “Louie Louie” comes overnight. And if that doesn’t impress you can
always turn up the amp (guilty as charged).

Sitar: There is one chord in the main open strings. That’s it (think of it
as one super power chord). It is basically an Indian lute with a relatively
soft natural sound. Miking a sitar is tricky because of the different
sources of sound.

Playing the melody of “Norwegian Wood” (Beatles) or “Paint it Black”
(Stones) is a long way from playing sitar. Instead, you will practice scales
(sargams or talas) world without end as well as precise rhythmic
combinations of strokes.

Your first raga will be a long time in coming.

But hang in there: it’s worth it!

The Rev. Dr. Duke Vipperman
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How can I recognize a good sitar?
Close your eyes and listen.  
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What are the gharanas of Sitar?
What is a gharana?  Gharana literally means a household, thus also a family.  In Indian classical music Gharanas refers both to a school of music, a region and also to a way of thinking about how the music should be played.

Two main gharanas of Sitar in the present times are the Ettawah  Gharana or the Imdad Khani gharana and the Maihar gharana.   Imdad Khani Gharana claims to be in it's eighth generation.  There are atleast five generations of actual recordings  of this gharana. A sitar player from the 20th century,  Ustad Imdad Khan's recordings have been re-released in India.  His two sons, Ustad Inayat Khan and Ustad Vahid Khan have also been recorded.  In the present times, the sitar player late Ustad Villayat Khan has been recorded.  This is a great heritage and is an evidence of how traditional Indian music is.

Maihar gharana has produced sitar players like Pundit Ravi Shankar and Pundit Nikhil Banerjee.

Sainya gharana is well known for a Sitar player from the 20th century Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan.  Amongst his students is the sitar player Pandit Debu Choudhury who was awarded Padma Bhushan by the govenment of India.  Pandit Debu Choudhury has been extensively recorded.
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What is Sargam?
Sargam is the short form of  sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa  ( the nick names of the notes)
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Are there specific sargams for sitar?
yes.
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What are Talas?
Rythyms.
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What is a raga?
A Raga also called a raag is defined by tradition.  It is a set of notes with a definite ascent and descent.  These notes are played in phrases and composotions that have to be learnt.  The raag is associated with the time of day or a season.  It has two important notes stressed the most called Vadi and Samvadi. 
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What are palta?
Paltas are basically scales as in Western music.  Palta means turned around.  Palta is something that comes around in the same pattern.  For instance sa re ga ma: re ga ma pa; ga ma pa dha;  ... and so on.
Some times a palta refers to an exercise that is simply repeated over and over even though it does not follow a simple pattern within itself.
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Do women learn Sitar?
Yes girls do learn sitar and some of them go on to become performing artists.    A few women musicians that I can think of at the top or my head are Alif Laila, Sharmista Sen, Joya Biswas, Anoushka Shankar, Beena Raza.
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Is Sitar being used in South indian music?
Not that I am an authority on this, however there are one or two South Indian musicians now who are playing sitar as well.
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Is Sitar ever played with other instruments?
When played with other instruments, the term used is Jugalbandi.  Sitar is played often with other instruments now as well as with vocals.  There are various collaborations amongst different cultures and different instruments with sitar.
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Who is a Sitar player?
Sitar is considered to be the most popular instrument from India.  Sitar is considered to be one of the most difficult instruments to master.  The traditional music played on Sitar is called Indian Classical Music.   Playing Sitar is synonymous with playing Indian Classical music.  Professional Sitar Players contend that by just getting some sounds out from the instrument or playing a few licks in a pop song, does not earn a person the title of a sitar player or a Sitarist.  According to them, a sitar player is a person who has learnt Indian Classical Music with an authentic Indian Classical music teacher or guru;  has learnt what to practice ie do riyaz.    Having said that not all Sitar players become professionals.  They play sitar for their own satisfaction, peace, love of music and an outlet for their own creativity.   Sitar is an expression of their feelings.  They just enjoy the sound.  They experiment with the instrument and try new things. These are sitar players too. 

Sitar playing is an experience in culture, self improvement and etiquette.  Being a sitar player is a life long quest.  Sitar is not just an instrument, it is a life style.
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What makes a good sitar?
A good sitar sounds good, has a nice tone, holds tuning, has properly tuned frets, the main string can be pulled  properly without changing the tone or touching the frets, ages well and looks nice.
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What  are the different kinds of sitars?
Nowadays the two main kinds of sitars are based on  two different styles of playing; the  gayaki style of playing and the tantrakari style of playing.  Gayaki style sitar is also called gandhar pancham style or also Vilayat Khan style sitar.  The Tantrakari style sitar is also called kharaj pancham style sitar and is known as Ravi Shankar/ Nikhil Banerjee style sitar.  The Gayaki sitar has room for bending the notes and more sustain and the tone is softer.  The Ravishankar sitar has a buzzy sound, and lends itself well to the older tantrakari style of playing.
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What is the history of Sitar?
The invention of Sitar is attributed to Hazrat Amir Khusrau.  Amir Khusrau is a poet, musician and a sufi from the 12th Century.  He modified a Persian instrument Seh Tar and added "parda" and more "tar" ie frets and strings.  Besides this he introduced the way of playing by using a plectrum called "Zakhma". This is however controvercial.  The alternative theory  is that sitar was invented by a different Amir Khusrau in the 16th century.  Yet another conjecture is that Sitar was invented by modified by a Veena called Triveni Veena.
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How is a Mizrab made?
A Mizrab is made be a thick wire by bending it and twisting the ends around the wire itself.  The structure is then pulled by a string and opened up for use.  It sounds confusing but it would be apparent once a picture demonstrating it is added.
A picture to be added soon.
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What is a Sitar Jawari?
The jawari of Sitar is a bridge that rests on the tabli ie the sound board of a sitar near the bottom.  It is made out of a piece of wood shaped like a rectangle with one side missing.  On it rests a piece of bone that is carefully surfaced.   The surfacing is done by sanding or filing the top and is called 'jawari karna' or doing the jawari.
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