Rubab (instrument)

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Related instruments
Sarod, Dutar, Tanbur, Tungna

Rubab, robab or rabab (Pashto/Persian: رُباب, Kashmiri/Sindhi: روباب (Nastaleeq), रुबाब (Devanagari), Azerbaijani/Turkish: Rübab, Tajik/Uzbek рубоб) is a lute-like musical instrument.[1] The rubab is one of the national musical instruments of Afghanistan and other areas inhabited by the Pashtun and Baloch, and also played by Sindhi people in Sindh, by Kashmiri people in Kashmir,[2] and by Sikhs of the Punjab. Three variants of the rubab are the Kabuli rebab of Afghanistan, the Seni rebab of northern India, and the Pamiri rubab of Tajikistan.[3] These proliferated throughout West, Central, South and Southeast Asia.[4] The Kabuli rebab orignates from Afghanistan,[1] and it derives its name from Arabic rebab 'played with a bow'; in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, however, the instrument is plucked and is distinctly different in construction.[3]

Size variants[edit]

English Strings Pashto Persian In Inches
Small 5 sympathetic strings وړوکی رباب

Warukay Rabab



Medium 19 strings, 13 sympathetic strings منځنۍ) رباب)

(Mianzanai) rabab



Large 21 strings, 15 sympathetic strings لوی رباب

Large rabab

شاه رباب (king size)

Shah rabab



Historical instruments
Iranian rubab image on ceramic plate
Iranian style rubab from the 13th century C.E., found in Rayy (near Tehran, Iran).
Women playing veena and seni rebab
Woman playing the seni rebab in Medieval India, 1680-1700.
Siddhartha playing the lute, sculpture
Kushan Empire, 1st to 3rd century. Lute or vina, from the Yusufzai district near Peshawar. Greco Buddhist (Gandhara School). Resembles rubab, sarod and tungna.
Painting of rubab found in Mongolian grave in China
Mongolian lute, circa 1297, Tomb of Wang Qing, China

English Pashto Persian
Headstock تاج


سر پنجه or تاج

"Tāj" or "Sar Penjah"

Tuning peg غوږي




Nut ? شیطانک


Neck غړۍ




Strings تارونه


Long/Low Drones شاتار


Short/High Drones ? ?
Sympathetic Strings بچي


Frets پرده


Chest سينه


Side ? صفحه


Skin belly ګوډی or څرمن

"Tsarman" or "Goday"



Head or Chamber ډول




Bridge ټټو




tailpiece ? سیم گیر


Plectrum شاباز




In detail about the strings:

English Explanation Pashto Persian
Strings Main strings: 3 and made out of nylon

Long Drone: 2-3 and made out of steel

Short Drone: 2 and made out of steel



First/Low/Bass String Low/Bass String is the thickest string کټی


Second String Thiner than bass string and thicker than high string بم


Third/High String The thinest string out of all the three main strings زېر




2011 postal stamp of Azerbaijan depicting a 19th century Rubab.

The body is carved out of a single piece of wood, with a head covering a hollow bowl which provides the sound-chamber. The bridge sits on the skin and is held in position by the tension of the strings. It has three melody strings tuned in fourths, two or three drone strings and up to 15 sympathetic strings. The instrument is made from the trunk of a mulberry tree, the head from an animal skin such as goat, and the strings from the intestines of young goats (gut) or nylon.


The rubab is known as "the lion of instruments" and is one of the two national instruments of Afghanistan (with the zerbaghali).[3] Classical Afghan music often features this instrument as a key component. Elsewhere it is known as the Kabuli rebab in contrast to the Seni rebab of India.[3] In appearance, the Kabuli rubab looks slightly different from the Indian rubab.[5] It is the ancestor of the north Indian sarod, although unlike the sarod, it is fretted.[6]

The rubab is attested from the 7th century CE. It is mentioned in old Persian books, and many Sufi poets mention it in their poems. It is the traditional instrument of Khorasan[vague] and is widely used in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as in the Xinjiang province of northwest China and the Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab regions of northwest India.[7]

The rubab was the first instrument used in Sikhism; it was used by Bhai Mardana, companion of the first guru, Guru Nanak. Whenever a shabad was revealed to Guru Nanak he would sing and Bhai Mardana would play on his rubab; he was known as a rababi. The rubab playing tradition is carried on by Sikhs such as Namdharis.


In northern India, the seni rebab, which emerged during the Mughal Empire, has "a large hook at the back of its head, making it easier for a musician to sling it over the shoulder and play it even while walking."[3]

In Tajikistan a similar but somewhat distinct rubab-i-pamir (Pamiri rubab) is played, employing a shallower body and neck.[8] The rubab of the Pamir area has six gut strings, one of which, rather than running from the head to the bridge, is attached partway down the neck, similar to the fifth string of the American banjo.[9]

Notable players[edit]

  • Ustad Mohammed Omar (1905—1980), Rabab player From Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Ustad Rahim Khushnawaz (1945-2010), Rabab Player From Herat, Afghanistan
  • Ustad Homayun Sakhi, Rabab Player From Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Ustad Ramin Saqizada, Rabab Player From Afghanistan
  • Ustad Sadiq Sameer, Rabab Player, From Afghanistan
  • Ustad Shahzaib Khan, Rabab Player From Neoshera, Pakistan
  • Ustad Waqar Atal, Rabab Player, From Peshawer, Pakistan
  • John Baily, Emeritus Professor of Ethnomusicology at Goldsmiths, University of London [10]
  • Khaled Arman (b. 1965), Rabab Player and Guitarist From Kabul, Afghanistan [11]
  • Daud Khan Sadozai, Afghan Rubab and Sarod Player from Kabul Afghanistan [12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b David Courtney, 'Rabab', Chandra & David's Homepage
  2. ^ The Wide World Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly of True Narrative, Adventure, Travel, Customs and Sport ... A. Newnes, Limited. 1905. pp. 15–.
  3. ^ a b c d e "The roar of Afghan's 'lion of instruments'". Deccan Herald. 10 April 2016. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  4. ^ Miner, Allyn (2004). Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. p. 61. ISBN 9788120814936.
  5. ^ Kak, Siddharth (1982). Cinema Vision India, Volume 2. Siddharth Kak. p. 25. The rubab of Kabul is very similar to the sarod. The Indian rubab looks different. The sarod is a blend of these two rubabs.
  6. ^ Simon Broughton. "Tools of the Trade: Sarod". Songlines-The World Music Magazine. Archived from the original on 2006-11-18.
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ "Pastimes of Central Asians. A Musician Playing a Rubab, a Fretted Lute-like Instrument". World Digital Library. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  9. ^ Music and Poetry from the Pamir Mountains Musical Instruments, The Institute of Ismaili Studies.
  10. ^ "Professor John Baily". Goldsmiths, University of London.
  11. ^ "Biography". Khaled Arman.
  12. ^ "Biography". Retrieved 2021-05-19.

External links[edit]