The sarod is a stringed musical instrument, used mainly in Indian classical music. Along with the sitar, it is the most popular and prominent instrument in Hindustani (north Indian) classical music. The sarod is known for a deep, weighty, introspective sound (contrast with the sweet, extremely rich texture of the sitar).
The tonal quality somewhat resembles the classical guitar, particularly at the lower notes, though in the higher ranges the sound is less rich than the guitar. It is a fretless instrument like almost all other Indian instruments, since Indian music depends extensively (in some cases almost entirely) on continuous slides between notes, known as meend (glissando).
The Sarod is believed to be of Persian descent, as the name Sarod means “beautiful sound” in Persian. Many scholarly and anecdotal accounts also consider the ancestral source of the sarod to be the rubab, a similar instrument originating in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The sarod is essentially a bass rebab.
The rebab was modified by Amir Khusru in the 13th century. Dr Lalmani Misra opines in his Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya that the sarod is an amalgamation of the ancient chitra veena, the medieval rebab and modern sursingar.
Amjad Ali Khan’s ancestor Mohammad Hashmi Khan Bangash, a musician and horsetrader, came to India with the Afghan rebab in the mid-1700s and became a court musician to the Maharajah of Rewa (now in Madhya Pradesh). It was his descendants, and notably his grandson Ghulam Ali Khan Bangash who became a court musician in Gwalior, who gradually transformed the rabab into the sarod we know today.
A parallel, but equally credible theory credits descendants of Madar Khan (1701-1748), and Niyamatullah Khan in particular, with the same innovation circa 1820. It is possible that Ghulam Ali Khan and Niyamatullah Khan came to the similar design propositions either independently or in unacknowledged collaboration.
The sarod in its present recognizable form dates back to c.1820, when it started gaining recognition as a serious instrument in Rewa, Shahjahanpur, Gwalior and Lucknow. In the twentieth century, the sarod received some finishing touches from Allauddin Khan, the performer-pedagogue from Maihar best known as Ravi Shankar’s guru. None of the three theories of the origin of the Sarod have credible historic documentation, and are more speculative than concrete theories.