In contemporary Hindustani Classical music, Sarod occupies a distinct position. Its deep, weighty, resonating sound, further enhanced by the sympathetic strings distinguishes it from other musical instruments. But, where did this instrument come from? Can we trace back its origin?
The term ‘Sarod’ means sound, or melody. Interestingly, this word is of Persian origin. There is no consensus about the exact ancestor instrument of the Sarod, but many scholars of Hindustani classical music believe that it is a combination of the ancient Chitraveena (mostly used in Carnatic music), the Seniya Rabab (said to have been developed by the notable musician Tansen during the time of Emperor Akbar) and the Sursringar. Reference is also made to Sharadiya Veena from which the name Sarod may have been derived.
Some scholars suggest that a similar instrument may have existed about two thousand years ago in ancient India during the ages of the Gupta kings. In fact, a Gupta period coin depicts the great king Samudragupta playing a veena, which many believe to be the precursor of the sarod.
However, it is mostly agreed upon that the instrument has descended from the Afghan Rabab , an instrument from Central Asia and Afghanistan. Most of the holders of original sarod “baaj” today, are musical descendants of Afghan “rabab” players, who mastered the instrument and its playing techniques. These Afghan-born were originally horse traders and soldiers in the Mughal cavalry. They were also amateur musicians. They played the Afghan “rabab”, and after coming to India, some of them settled in Rewa, some in Shahjahanpur, approximately 100 miles from Lucknow, some in Bulandshahr.
The history of sarod, although obscure, is thus rich in its own way!