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date: 07 December 2019

Surmaṇḍal [svaramaṇḍala]locked

  • Alastair Dick



South Asian name for the plucked board zither. The term means literally ‘circle of notes’ in Sanskrit (svaramaṇḍala) and the derivative north Indian languages (surmaṇḍal). The status of board zithers in South Asia is, on the whole, marginal: in the northeastern states of India, Southeast Asian in language and culture, the dendung type of raft zither is found, but there has been little influence from this direction into South Asia.

In the 13th-century Sanskrit work Sangītaratnākara, a chordophone with 21 strings, the mattakokilā (‘intoxicated cuckoo’) is mentioned as the ‘chief of vīṇā’. This perfunctory account does not make it clear whether this was a board zither, or even whether the author had actually seen one or was quoting an earlier text. It might have been a transitory, experimental harp-vīṇā, with strings for each of the seven notes in three registers, of earlier times. Board zithers do not appear to occur in old Indian sculpture, and the author’s title ‘chief of ...

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