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Ektara (Bengali: একতারা, Punjabi: ਇਕ ਤਾਰਾ; literally "one-string", also called iktar, ektar, yaktaro gopichand) is a one-string instrument most often used in traditional music from Bangladesh, India, Egypt, and Pakistan.
In origin the ektara was a regular string instrument of wandering bards and minstrels from India and is plucked with one finger. The ektara usually has a stretched single string, an animal skin over a head (made of dried pumpkin/gourd, wood or coconut) and pole neck or split bamboo cane neck.
Pressing the two halves of the neck together loosens the string, thus lowering its pitch. The modulation of the tone with each slight flexing of the neck gives the ektara its distinctive sound. There are no markings or measurements to indicate what pressure will produce what note, so the pressure is adjusted by ear.
The various sizes of ektara are soprano, tenor, and bass. The bass ektara, sometimes called a dotara often has two strings (as literally implied by do, "two"). Yet another version is khamak, one-headed drum with a string attached to it which is plucked. The only difference from ektara is that no bamboo is used to stretch the string,which is held by one hand, while being plucked by another.
Use in kirtan
These instruments are commonly used in kirtan chanting, which is a Hindu devotional practice of singing the divine names and mantras in an ecstatic call and response format. Used by Sadhus, or wandering holy men. Also, the ektara is used for Sufi chanting as well as by the Bauls of Bengal.
Ektara is the most ancient form of stringed instrument found in the Eastern parts of India, the instrument family being scattered all over the country. Though it has a humble tribal beginnings, it has been associated with and popularized by the ascetic and minstrel tradition of songs in Bengal.
A typical Bengali Ektara is constructed out of a half of a dried gourd shell serving as the sound-box, with a metal string running right through the middle of the shell; at the top, the string is tied to a knob, which adjusts the tension the of the string and thereby, the tuning—the knob and the string-tension is supported by two bamboo-strips, tied to two opposite sides of the gourd shell.
The playing style of this instrument is a simultaneous pluck and gong, matching the rhythm of the music. The Ektara and the Ghati Baya, together form a complete set accompaniments, especially to Devotional and Deolati musical traditions. The string, as in a Dotara, is tuned to the main/root note of the composition.
In Sindhi and Punjabi folk music
Nowadays the ektara is widely used by folk singers especially by Sufi singers in Punjab and Sindh. Traditional and modern forms of bhangra sometimes use an ektara or tumbi to accompany the singer and dhol. On the occasion of "Urs" held in memory of the renowned saint and mystic poet Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1689 - 1752) at Bhitshah, near Hyderabad in Sindh, held every year between 13th and 15th of Safar, devotees sing with fervor and frenzy his love-intoxicated Kafis to the strains of ektara which appears to be a very ancient musical instrument. Mention may also be made here of the Dotar of Khorasan. Nur-Mohammad Dorpur is a famous traditional Dotar player from the Khorasan region. The renowned Kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor who has performed at the famous 'Hollywood Bowl' in Los Angeles, also stresses the commonalities between the Indian and Persian musical traditions which are brought to a focus by instruments such as the Ektara and the Dotar.
- Dilip Ranjan Barthakur (2003). The Music And Musical Instruments Of North Eastern India. Mittal Publications. pp. 130–. ISBN 978-81-7099-881-5. Retrieved 14 July 2013.