In a small town of Southern Maharashtra, the quintessential Indian instruments&ndashTanpura and Sitar&ndashare handcrafted, repaired and customised by a group of sitar makers who have been doing this for centuries. The sitar makers of Miraj specialise in handcrafting some of the finest and most sought-after instruments by classical musicians using pumpkins. Yes, you read that right. Pumpkins.
The Pumpkin Town
Recognised as one of the hubs of Hindustani classical music for over 100 years, Miraj has been the hotbed of a flourishing musical culture. Miraj is credited with fashioning the signature instruments of many of the country&rsquos leading classical musicians, bands and orchestra artists. The famed Faridsaheb Sitarmaker Marg of the town is the epicentre for the artisans. The lane is named after the founding father of the local musical instrument industry, Faridsaheb Sitarmaker.
Buried deep in the heart of Maharashtra&rsquos Sangli district, Miraj is home to a number of these sitar makers who have been actively contributing to the repairing and making of traditional Indian instruments, even in the face of rapid modernisation. With electronic instruments replacing traditional ones at an unprecedented speed, these traditional artisans still persevere.
Selecting the Pumpkin
In the arid land of Pandharpur, batches of inedible pumpkins are grown specially to be made into instruments. The gestation period of nine months is when the vegetable grows fully and gets naturally dried. Since these pumpkins are naturally coarse and less fleshy, they are well-suited for hollowing out completely for carving. The season for harvest is winter when the weather of Pandharpur is between 28°C and 12°C.
Song of the Pumpkin
The selection takes some thought, but once you have the pumpkin, the process starts with taking the top off and the insides cleaned. The pumpkin is kept with water inside it for two days to make it soft and pliant for shaping. After the wooden neck is fitted at the perfect angle, the polishing of the instrument starts, which is the most time-consuming and takes close to a week. The artisans then start etching designs and customising the instrument per the customer&rsquos requirement. Some instruments, which are especially asked for by big names in classical music, can take months to finish and perfect.
After the death of Faridsaheb Sitarmaker, the techniques that were developed by him nearly a century ago are surprisingly still in use in the town of Miraj. Their descendants who live in the Sitarmaker lane, still manually make the sitars and tanpuras with very little involvement of machinery. Apprenticeship within the family is the only way to learn the art, in which information is passed down to generations via practical methods. Even though there are highly functional and fast modern electronic counterparts, genuine lovers of Indian classical music pick these handcrafted perfections over cheaper electronic ones. This helps give the artisans a good livelihood and respect and preserve their ancient intangible heritage.