The Surabahara is constructed in such a way that it has a deep, sonorous, long-lasting sound. The extra width of its stem helps in the execution of mindas of up to a full octave. These features facilitate the parsimony of strokes and left-hand movement between frets. These help in achieving a higher degree of melodic continuity.
Invention of Surabahara
The Surabahara was invented around AD 1825. Its invention is credited to Ustad Vilayat Khan's great-grandfather, Ustad Sahebdad Khan, and to Lucknow-based early nineteenth century sitarist, Ustad Ghulam Mohammed.
The Surabahara was invented so as to help sitara-players to present the elaborate dhrupad-style alapa that was earlier performed on the rudra vina. They designed the Surabahara to mix the ergonomic facility of the sitara and the musical prospective and acoustic richness of the Rudra Veena.
The expression of the Surabahara received much popularity and great sophistication. Originally it was played like the bin with the help of bare fingers. However later it has been played, at different stages and by different musicians with one, two, and even three mizrabs also known as plectrums. During the twentieth century, sitarists presented the dhrupad style alapa on the Surabahara, and the post-dhrupad styles of compositions on the sitara. As the sitara developed technically it gradually took over the elaborate dhrupad-format alapa. For this reason during the latter half of the twentieth century, the Surabahara went through a steady depletion in the number of competent performers.
Design of Surbahara
Surbahara is over 130 cm. It resonator are like dried pumpkin which also has a neck with very wide frets. The neck is made out of tun or teak wood and has four rhythm strings, four playing strings and 15 to 17 unplayed sympathetic strings. There are two bridges; the playable strings pass over the greater bridge. The sympathetic strings pass over the smaller bridge which is directly glued on the tabli. The main bridge has a slightly bent upper surface which results in a droning sound. The player plays the strings using a metallic plectrum, the mizrab, which is fixed on the index finger of whose right hand. Three plectrums are used to play the dhrupad style of alap, jor, and jhala on surbahar. In the dhrupad style, instead of performing the sitarkhani and masitkhani gats, the instrumentalist plays the slow dhrupad composition in accompaniment with Pakhavaj.
The Surabahara remains, however, a major link of continuity between the Dhrupad and post-dhrupad styles of instrumental music. Despite being rare, it remains an important part of the instrumental tradition of Dhrupad music, and in the major gharanas of Sitara music, which have helped the instrument make a transition into post-dhrupad stylistics.