Early 1970, Michel Dumont (Musician, flutist, graduate of the conservatories of Brussels and Valencienne, who became a theatre and opera decorator at La Monnaie/De Munt) together with his wife Martine Mergeay (journalist and music reviewer at La Libre Belgique, Le Vif/L’Express and Musiq3) went to India to explore and learn about Indian Classical Music. They meet Ravi Shankar and purchase a sitar at the Rikhi Ram shop in New Delhi. They stay one year in Benares and face a profound study about raga in instrumental (Michel) as well as in vocal (Martine) techniques.
Last year (2020) unfortunately Michel passed away after suffering a long disease. His sitar remains alone…
It finally arrives on my table. It has clearly not been played on for a long time. The strings and pardas are rusted and there is a lot of dust on the body. The lacquer on the soundboard has been severely cracked and there is a dull and matte appearance to the whole instrument. The decorations are faded out.
Then I quickly started to remove all the worn parts and the pardas. The lacquer was well sanded and given a new layer of varnish. The decorations were then carefully and neatly scraped off. Then I cleaned and polished all the pardas and put them back on with new orange wires. The tuning pegs, too, were given a thorough cleaning and were given a good layer of fresh chalk. The original label was missing, so I copied it by hand as was common in those days. The sitar is also getting a new stagghorn jawari ghoraj and, of course, new strings. This extraordinary sitar is now ready for a new life…
And it is one of the best-sounding sitars I have ever held in my hands. The tarav response is exceptional and the tone is particularly well balanced. It is made of exquisite teak wood in an era when a new instrument was still built with great care and of course, by one of the most passionate and experienced builders in India…
This instrument has been made on demand
The original idea comes from Frédéric t’Serstevens (March 2016)
Design & drawings by Klaas Janssens @ Sitar Factory (April 2016)
Completion by Klaas Janssens @ Sitar Factory (June 2016)
Dimensions: 1060mm x 300mm x 130mm (L x W x H)
Neck width: 89mm
Strings action: String configuration: custom sitar (Baj, Jora, Laraj & Kharaj), tuned as guitar
Pardas: 24 custom hybrid shaped
Taravs: 11 traditional with wooden kutis
No cikaris installed
After finalizing the structural rough woodwork on the travel-sitar’s body (see Part 1 = Travel Sitar Mods (3A)) the final acts are: completing the body finish and preparing and installing the sitar’s hardware such as godi (jawari), machine heads, strings, pardas and eventually an electro-magnetic pickup.
I’ve painted the body in white using Bio Pin™ waterbased organic white paint and Colortone™ high gloss waterbased finish. The patri, jawari, cikari machine head mount and cikari posts are all made out of Elforyn™. So it became a real “organic & vegan” sitar,… 100% suitable for vegetarians… 🙂
Installing 7 Schaller™ Mini M6 machine heads and 20 bronze pardas N°6.
Main strings gauges :
1) Baj tar : steel, 0,30mm (N°3)
2) Jora tar : nickel flatwound, 0,46mm (N°26)
3) Laraj tar : nickel flatwound, 0,56mm (N°24)
4) Gandhar tar : steel, 0,30mm (N°3)
5) Pancham tar : steel, 0,30mm (N°3)
6) & 7) Cikari tar : steel, 0,23mm (N°0)
In 1940, young Rikhi Ram Sharma was making harmoniums in Kartar Music House in Lahore.
One day a casual customer gets Rikhi Ram Sharma interested in a sitar. He finds and opens a simple 7 string sitar to find out how it is made and starts learning making sitars from Sher Mohammad & his son Mohammed Maksud Ali (Usef Mohammed Ali) who are running another music shop “Sher Mohammad Sitar Makers” in Bansanwala Bazaar, Lahore. They make and play sitars since many years.
There he also meets Mohan Singh (31 years old).
In 1943 two young boys from Himachal Pradesh, Kartar Chand Sharma (18 years) & Hansraj Sharma (14 years), both clever and handy carpenters, join their uncle Rikhi Ram Sharma and Mohan Singh at Sher Mohammad’s shop in Lahore. They also learn how to make sitars and together they form a kind of basic sitar production line until 1947.
In 1947, partition split the country.
Mohan Singh initially went to Amritsar and then moved to Jalandhar (Punjab) where he started the Mohan Singh Shop. In 1959 his son (nephew ??) Gurdial Singh takes over the shop and later changes the name into Gurdial Singh & Sons.
Rikhi Ram Sharma, Kartar Chand Sharma & Hansraj Sharma moved to Delhi and started the Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument Mfg.Co. Their first workshop was initially planted in Paharganj but this is now completely demolished. The showroom of their music shop was build in Connought Place, where at present, the original shop is still there, now run by grandson Ajay Sharma.
They keep on working together until 1959.
In 1959 they get separated. Kartarchand starts his own workshop in Paharganj while in 1962 Hansraj founded Raj Musicals and got settled in a new location near Patel Nagar. The original Rikhi Ram workshop in Paharganj closes down and Rikhi Ram Sharma, together with his son Bishan Das Sharma, start a new workshop at another spot. They also attract new labour men.
Meanwhile, Kartar Chands brother Hari Chand arrives in Delhi in 1954. He gets married one year later and starts working as a mecanic craftsman at TW Carriage & Wagons workshop from the Northern Railway in Delhi. In 1962 he quits this job to join his brother in Paharganj, Together they start making sitars in the Kartar Chand Hari Chand shop at 9050/1 Multani Dhanda, Paharganj, New Delhi 110055.
In 1974 they adopt young (14 years) and tiny Kartar (Kaku) Chand Dhiman as a fixed helper. Kaku’s uncle was at that time working in the Rikhi Ram Sharma’s sitarshop and had asked to Kartar Chand Sharma to teach his nephew how to make sitars. They continuesly built highest quality professional sitars, surbahars & tanpuras. Occasionally also sarods and dilrubas. They also specialise in repair and maintenance and do frequently repair work for Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument Mfg.Co.
In januari 1993, Kartar Chand Sharma (69 years old) unfortunately passes away and Hari Chand Sharma continues the Paharganj Shop alone, regulary assisted by Kartar Chand Dhiman who himself worked out a “mobile” sitar maintenance and repair service in New Delhi for himself.
Today, Hari Chand Sharma aged 77, is getting retired. The Paharganj sitarshop will cease to exist soon. Kartar Chand Dhiman continues his flourishing mobile sitarwork in and around Delhi. He’s now busy constructing a new house in Dashrathpuri. It ‘ll have an extra room so that he’ll be able to do more sitarwork at home.
At the time of writing of this article, Hansraj Sharma is old (82 years) and sick and struggles for his life at home. His 2 sons Suman & Sanju keep on running the shop. They are specialised in Sikh musical instruments like saranda, sikh rabab, dilruba, taus, and sikh pakhawaj which were almost lost in history.
Some interesting economical info:
In 1960, the price of a 100% handmade Kartar Chand Sharma sitar was starting from Rs85 for a simple “student model” up to Rs150 for a professional and fully decorated version. Every now and then the price was raised per Rs5 only….
(Nowadays on e-bay seen $2500)
Kartar Chand Sharma, at their top, produced up to 10 sitars a month (non-decorated types = “student model” or VK model). According to the degree of decoration, the production time of a sitar easily doubles. The trio used to be assisted by a “polish” man and worked 7 days a week, from 7:00 hrs up to 19:00 hrs, many times up to 23:00 hrs. There was only one “holiday” per year, at Divali. That day they reserved for repairing their tools and sharpening the saws and chisels firmly, together with a profound clean-up of the shop.
Today, almost every sitar sold is made starting from a prefab sitarbody fabricated in Calcutta. Hardly anybody builds a sitar 100% handmade anymore. But nevertheless music business is booming. Musical instruments trade grows by 65% a year. (src Raj Musicals)
Raj Musical nowadays has +10 labour man in service at their workshop and 10 people employed in their expanding showroom(s).
Sources & info:
Hari Chand Sharma, interviewed by Klaas Janssens at his house in Dashrathpuri, New Delhi, 21/02/2012.
This time I returned from India with rather mixed feelings. My best friend, and sitarmaker – teacher Hari Chand is seriously considering to get retired. He is now nearly 77 years old and suffers from pain in his hands, his knees and other joints. The daily trip from his house in Dashrathpuri (near Dwarka sector) to the shop in Paharganj (easiliy 1 -1,5 hrs one way) takes more and more of his spare energy.
He’s built his last complete sitar in 2008. Since then he is slowing down and reducing his daily work. He was still doing some setting and assembling work on selected and checked Calcutta prefab sitarbodies but also this came to an end. Now only some basic sitar repair work remained. Also the frequency of his visits to his shop decreased to only a few days a week. Arriving in his shop sometimes at 11:00hrs only, the working day often doesn’t last long. From 16:00 / 17:00 hrs onwards he is getting ready to return back home. The visit to his shop becomes almost a time-pass picnic only…
The flourishing days of Kartar Chand & Hari Chand are now long gone. Both brothers were very dedicated in making first quality professional sitars and they are famous for their unrivalled repair work. They are very closely related to the other world famous New Delhis sitarmakers family Rikhi Ram. Late Kartar Chand Sharma has been learning the skill from his uncle Rikhi Ram Sharma and Sher Mohammad in Lahore, 1943.
This sitar was made in the “Sher Mohammad & Sons Sitar Makers”- shop in Bansanwala Bazaar, Lahore 1940 – 1950 by early sitarmaker Sher Mohammed. At that time, before the Partition, he taught sitar making to, amongst others, Rikhi Ram Sharma and Kartar Chand Sharma. At Partition time, both Rikhi Ram Sharma and Kartar Chand Sharma left Lahore and headed for Delhi where they both settled their own sitar shop (only 800 m. away from each other). Rikhi Ram’s shop became world famous due to Ravi Shankar and the Beatles. Kartar Chand, joined by his younger brother Hari Chand, remained low profile and continued making high quality professional sitars at Paharganj. They developed their own style of sitars and got specialised in repair work. Amongst their main customers was late Pt. Balaram Pathak, and his son Ashok Pathak. In januari 1993 Kartar Chand passed away, and thus leaving the shop to his brother Hari Chand.
Both Rikhi Ram brothers Ajay & Sanjay, and after them many others, make and sell this handy and compact sitar. Some call it “Ovation” sitar, some call it “Studio” sitar and also “Travel” sitar is commonly used for this successful innovative musical instrument. Commercially it is a succes. No doubt about that.
But here is a list of remarks and complaints with which players came to me after they have been buying a new travel sitar in New Delhi. In my opinion there are a number of improvements that could be achieved rather easily:
The pickup doesn’t sound good, and comes loose in no time. So you can install a better one. (see Travel Sitar Mods (1) )
The tuning machines are cheap and crappy, and can get stuck after a few string changes. Also here it’s a good investment to install better ones. (see Travel Sitar Mods (1) )
Not much care has been taken to fit the jora tar properly. Only one travel sitar from Sanjay’s Rikhi Ram was ok. Too often there is need for intonation adjustment. (see Travel Sitar Mods (2) )
There are also some complaints about the finishing touch:
Parda’s which were made too short are installed anyways. A friend of mine has lost a parda while performing on stage with his “brand new” instrument. Floops, suddenly there it goes…
The new style decoration strips look like a cheap copy of simple western repetitive patterns. And when they are fit on the body they are not always correctly matching.
And finally there is my personal opinion concerning the “amputated” head. Of course this square leftover stump is one of the main basic improvements made to recent sitar making and playing in general since many years. But to me, it doesn’t look beautiful. I regret the lack of creativity. Isn’t it a missed chance to make this sitar look nicer on stage?
So, inspired by my own developed series of new style sitars I want to introduce my ultimate travel sitar modification. For this experiment I use a travel sitar body which I’ve been buying from Raj Musicals in New Delhi.
I started with opening the sitar neck and removing the square stump piece. Then I created a new head piece derived from the SAS and SBS sitar heads draft. In order to maintain strenght in the new construction the original neck’s top plate also had to be renewed. The celluloid decoration will be re-used on top of the new plate.
This modification I made to Mark B’s Travel sitar because he was unable to play the jora tar comfortably. The steel wire jora tar, although open correctly tuned, sounded too high while playing a note on the pardas.
I added a fibre intonation block to the jora tar, just as I did with my own made SAS and SBS sitars. Now he can play the jora tar up to the middle note Sa without any problem and accurately without meend.
Finaly, at the end of july we were lucky to have had at least a couple of days good weather with nice sunshine. One of these days I succeeded to finish the polishing of this sitar. I’ ve been making some fresh new polish ready during a previous (short) visit of our much beloved sun at the end of june…
A couple of days later the polish has been drying sufficiently. Time to complete the sitar again by mounting the pardas, jiwaris and strings.