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Traditional Music of the World: Santur


Santur has become an exponent for our traditional music lovers all over the world especially in India and Persia where it was originated. It is specially a musical instrument from Iran which was deciphered from the recordings in Assyrian and Babylonian stone inscriptions in 669 B.C. (Farhat, Online) In 1400 AD, it was bestowed the name of dulcimer. Now there are 10 types of Dulcimers that are played in countries of Iraq Egypt, India and Turk and in several other countries. (Farhat, Online)

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In Iran, Dulcimer was known to be the instrument of Ilamite, as they owned two types of musical instruments like harps and flute and an instrument that resembles dulcimer. Illiamite was a clan or ancestry, which made its presence felt around 2500 B.C and till 640 A.H. They were considered to be founder of today’s culture and civilization in the Middle East. (Reza Riazi, Online) Their association with dulcimer was verified from the stone inscriptions in Izeh. (Farhat, Online) Dulcimer was even associated with Qanoon because of certain similarities between the two instruments though there are marked differences between the two. Both had been designed for single appellation. (Farhat, Online)

The term Santur had been spelled differently in different sources for e.g. “Sontour, or Santir (Arabic) or Santour” (Farhat, Online). The word Santur gives the feeling of calm and peace and is very soothing to the ears. For the Jewish tribes too, it became the most popular musical instrument and again was renamed according to the tradition, culture and language of tribal people. (Farhat, Online) According to the Oxford Companion to Music, it was Pepy in 1660 A.D who indexed and recognized dulcimer. He also revealed that the sound of this instrument was heard for many years in the streets of Britain and in the dramatic plays. Hungarians, Romanian or Bohemian gypsies who were exponents in its different types, most popularly played it. (Farhat, Online)

However, in the music of the Bible, dulcimer is translated as Yangkin, as an instrument created and played in China and its name in German was recorded as Hack Bret. The dulcimer of our bygone days had a lot of resemblance to the present day dulcimers but with little innovations and modifications. The instrument had similarity with piano as far as its fabrications are concerned. Gradually it got the shape of piano but after certain modifications it got into a shape as we see it today. (Farhat, Online)

The best example of this instrument is a harp, which is picked in a horizontal position, and is struck with two sticks. (Oxford Music Online, 1) This type has been retraced in the “iconographical documents of the ancient Babylonian (1600–911 BCE) and neo-Assyrian (911–612 BCE) eras” (Oxford Music Online, 1). The Santir had also made its appearance among the best instruments amidst the orchestra of Nebuchadnezzar, who was a King of Chaldea from 604 to 562 BCE. (Oxford Music Online, 1)

There are certain Arab sources also who had defined its use during the Sassanian era around 226–641 CE. (Oxford Music Online, 1) This instrument was liked by the Spanish Muslims of 11th century. Similarly in 14th century, Arabs were also using it and enjoying its music, the discovery of which was made by Ibn Khaldun. In 16th century, the Egyptians were also working on Santur and created a distinct line between the “qanun and the santur” (Oxford Music Online, 1). Meanwhile it was widely being used and enjoyed by the people of Iraq. (Oxford Music Online, 1)

Dulcimer is named as Cimbalom in Hungary where it was played in the Hungarian restaurants. In these restaurants, the instrument was being played as a solo or in a group with violin and double bass. (Leach, 134) Gypsy musicians, who are experts in playing cimbalom, play it but they cannot read music. (Leach, 134)

The santur is of a trapeze shape across which are tied 80 strings, and are stretched in the group of four. It constitutes a soundboard, which has small holes formed in a groups in a circle. It performs a function of sound- holes. There are some tuning pins and hitch pins too which are hung from the side of the instrument, and are different than other kinds of dulcimer. They are generally the wrest-plank or pin-block, which is a continuation of the soundboard.

The instrument also consists of two rows with ten bridges: and the strings are divided into halve by the center row giving a shape of octave. Like all kinds of traditional dulcimers, this kind is not chromatic and the tone has to be molded to the requirement of the player. Middle row of the bridges is moved to set the mode so that mode can be played on the right-hand side of the middle row. After this, tuning of the brass strings is done and then the middle bridges are moved to its original place, which was changed during the setting of the mode.

Steel and brass wire of fine quality is used to make strings whereas the beaters are sticks made up of fine wood and one is held in each hand. “The santur’s measurements are 35-” at its longest end, going to I3k” at its shortest, and it has a depth of 2″ (Leach, 134).” The cimbalom is similar to the santur with difference regarding to its range and its four legs on which it stands. (Leach 134)

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma is one of the most important components of the Indian classical musicians and a great santur player. In the period of more than half a century, Shiv Kumar Sharma has created a new generation in the classical music blending creativity with adoring skills and perfect-ness of the language music. He created revolution in the development of Santur. In India, Santur was known to be an instrument of local Kashmir but efforts of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma made Santur not only famous in India but also whole over the world.

He believed music is a food for the soul; it gives emotional satisfaction, relieves us from all the tensions of the world and takes us into the serene world of divinity. He had an utmost faith in the philosophy of Vedanta and this faith in him induced in him the power and motivation spirit to create music for Shlokas from the Upanishads and a new Hindustani raag called Antardhwani.

About the origination of the raag Antardhwani, he said that initially he was not interested in creating new raag but after he got feedback from most of the listeners across the world to create a CD on alaap, he got motivated. He then discussed this idea with the company, Music Today who got interested to make a CD. (Robinson, Online) Then on he began to think about something new and fresh for the new CD. One day while tuning in instrument, he came across several combinations of notes, which were totally different from existing or hard ragas and were sounding very appealing to the ears. After working on the combination of various notes for few weeks, he found them soothing to the ears. Antardhwani was the new discovery for him. (Shatatantri, Online) Anyone can buy the CD of “Antardhwani: The Song Within” from or any music store.

Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma’s moto is simple. For him, music is not for entertainment but more than that. His dream is to create a music, which makes the readers spellbound, forget to clap their hands and fell into the meditative spree. “Antardhwani The Song Within” is an original raga and very beautiful with the same quality as one can find in traditional ragas. (Robinson, Online) This raag is based on Bhairavi Thaat and has similar swaras as Chandra Kauns with additional komal rishab. (Robinson, Online) While listening to these raags, one experiences a certain kind of transcendental detachment, as if body is performing in the existing material world, but thoughts and expression of music are in the divinity. (Robinson, Online)

Antardhwani is not only a raag but also a film based on his created raag “Antardhawni”. It is a film depicting the life and philosophical journey of musical realm of Pt Shivkumar Sharma himself. The film describes his life as a musician of par excellence and his personal life. Its first screening was held at city Pune of India and arrangements of the same was made at City Pride in Kothrud. The director of the film is Dr Jabbar Patel, and producer Kuldeep Sinha from film division. (The Punekar, Online)

He said that it is very difficult to make a concrete judgment on the film especially produced for him and for his creative expressions. This raga Antardhwani he had used in the film and in his own words, “it is a melody in search of identity” (The Punekar, Online) He further said while commenting on the film that technology does play a considerable part and one should not be dependent on it. The technology known as the Dolby-digital effect increases the quality and impression of the Santur. (The Punekar, Online)

Santur played by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma is of a shape trapezoid-and like a hammer dulcimer. It is made up of walnut wood with 72 strings, which are tied together with carved wooden mallets. (Culture India, Online) It is originally an instrument commonly characterized in the folk music, which got its birth in the Valley Kashmir in India, but due to the efforts of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, this instrument had got the position as of a classical instrument.

He came into this world in the year 1938 on 13th January in Jammu in India. He got into touch with the Santur due to the efforts of his father and teacher Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma who was the most popular player of Santor and a great vocalist. In those days in Jammu and Kashmir, it was known by the name of Shata-Tantri Veena. This was played for giving music to a peculiar form of singing known Sufiana Mausiqi. (Culture India, Online) Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma took this instrument on the world stage only under the guidance and orders of Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma (Culture India, Online)

Shivkumar Sharma made certain modifications to this traditional folk instrument to make it adjustable for the classical music. He even raised its range to include complete three octaves and formed a technique for making a space smooth between the notes and final origination of music so as to copy the quality of the human voice. He was also innovative in forming a new form of playing so that there is a continuation between the notes and sound, which could remain intact for quite a long period of time. (Culture India, Online)


Santur is one of the few classical instruments that has reached the hearts and soul of many people worldwide and listening to it creates an essence of belonging to the eternity.

Works Cited

Farhat, Hormoz. “Background on Traditional Persian Music and the Santur: An Introduction to Persian Music”. Internet (2007). Web.

Leach, John. “The Cimbalom”. Music & Letters. 53(2): 134-122. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Oxford Music Online. “Santur”. Internet. Web.

Reza-Riazi, Mohammed. Images and Motifs of the Ilamite. “Images and Motifs of the Ilamite”. Web.

Robinson, Michael. “Spiritual High: Interview with Pt. Shivkumar Sharma”. Internet (2003). Web.

Shatatantri. “A1998 Chat session with Shiv Kumar Sharma.” Internet (2007). Web.

The Punekar. “Antardhwani, a film on the musical realm of Pt Shivkumar Sharma”. Web.

FOR CD of Antardhwani: Web.

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"Traditional Music of the World: Santur." StudyKraken, 19 Sept. 2021,

1. StudyKraken. "Traditional Music of the World: Santur." September 19, 2021.


StudyKraken. "Traditional Music of the World: Santur." September 19, 2021.


StudyKraken. 2021. "Traditional Music of the World: Santur." September 19, 2021.


StudyKraken. (2021) 'Traditional Music of the World: Santur'. 19 September.

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