Djovari: Giving Greater Life to Your Sitar

Contents copyright Thomas Marcotty 1974 et al.

Sri Mangla Prasad performs Djavari (giving life)
to a new AAA Mangla Prasad Sharma Concert Sitar.

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About this tutorial:
This is intended for people who need to work on the jawari of their sitars and need intelligent methods and directions about exactly how to do this.

Forward by Manfred Junius:

From time to time the bridge of the Sitar has to be cleaned and its surface has to be brought back to its proper shape. The sound quality of a Sitar depends much on the quality of the Javari. The following paper by Thomas Marcotty explains how a Javari is made. The author has studied the secrets of instrument making in India with well-known masters, and as a result of this his own instrument is always in perfect condition. The Western Sitarist can really profit from the knowledge of Thomas Marcotty and his valuable paper.

Djovari: Giving Life to the Sitar by Thomas Marcotty

Indian stringed instruments like Sitar require a certain amount of maintenance to preserve their tonal qualities. In particular, the bridge must be reground from time to time. In India this work is done by specialists operating mainly in Calcutta. As the normal Western Sitarist cannot travel to Calcutta to have his bridge redone, the following article provides some basic knowledge about bridge grinding so that the Westerner will be able to help himself.

The normal Sitar bridge looks like a little bench carved from soft wood and covered by a white plate. Normally this plate is made of camel bone or stag horn, but sometimes also of ivory or metal. The strings of a Sitar - and this is the point to note-vibrate on a slightly curved surface. These curves, which are filed (or scraped with a chisel - ed.) into the surface of the bridge, lead to the effect that the wires, when swinging upwards, are lengthened, and shortened again when swinging downwards.

This slight change in string angle and compensating curve produces sounds enriched with the over tones characteristic of Indian lutes. However, the pressure and the movement of the vibrating strings will spoil the surface of the bridge after a certain time. The wires will dig their traces. The delicate curves of the bridge will be ruined and the instrument will consequently loose its overtones. This can lead to even the finest Sitar sounding like a very cheap occidental guitar.

The procedure necessary to revive the overtones is called "Djovari" in Hindi, which means "giving life". The following description of the Djovari is given under the assumption that the bridge has been completely ruined and must be replaced by a new one. This way the Djovari procedure can be demonstrated step by step.

When picking a new bridge the Sitarist should choose one provided with a thick surface plate able to stand the Djovari several times. It remains a question of personal taste as to the material of which the surface plate should be made. Ivory and stag horn produce a rather round and romantic sound. But the softness of these materials results in only a short life of the bridge. Camel bone, and of course metal are of greater longevity, but these materials tend to produce the sharper and rather twanging sound heard in the Carnatic music of Southern India.

1. To start the Djovari, the surface of the bridge must be carefully flattened. The best way is to pin or glue a sheet of sand paper on an even table, and to rub the bridge slowly to and fro. For control one should cover the surface with thick pencil lines. When these lines have disappeared the bridge will be flat.

2. The Sitarist should now saw the large slot in the bridge. This slot must divide the musically operative part of the surface from the little wall which will afterwards hold the strings. The exact depth and width of the slot are of no particular importance, but it is advisable to stay close to the following measurements: Depth = 2 mm, width = 0,5 mm, distance from the edge = not less than 3 mm to make sure that the wall holding the strings will not split away too easily under the pressure of the wires. Skilled instrument makers simply fix the raw bridge in a vice and saw the large slot with a relatively heavy saw blade. As this procedure requires some experience the beginner is advised to make use of a very thin rectangular file.

3. Shaping the surface of a bridge is a rather simple task, but to achieve a satisfying result the Sitarist should apply some methods of control. At this point of the operation it is therefore necessary to divide the surface of the bridge into sixteen squares with a pencil.

This should be done with the greatest care and, if these lines should fade during work, they must be renewed at once.

4. The Sitarist should now provide himself with a larger rectangular file (4 to 5 mm thick, 15 mm wide, 150 to 200 mm long) in order to shape the squares 13, 14, 15 and 16 in a flat and even circular curve as shown in the following figure.

The object of this operation is to spread the pressure of the strings evenly over this quarter of the surface, so that the wires may properly communicate their frequencies to the bridge, and then from the bridge to the wooden plate of the Sitar. The curve must start at the line dividing the squares 9 to 12 from the squares 13 to 16 and it should end about 1,5 mm below the surface of the bridge (or 0,5 mm above the bottom of the large slot).

5. Next it is necessary to saw the small slots intended to hold the strings. The following picture shows the distances from string to string for a Sitar with six wires (Vilayat Khan style) and also for an instrument with seven wires (traditional style).

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