The sitars and tanpuras of Miraj, a small town in Maharashtra’s Sangli district known for its craftsmanship in making musical instruments, have been awarded the coveted Geographical Indication (GI) tags.

The GI tag denotes the product comes from a particular geographical area, and often enhances its commercial value.

The tradition of making sitars and tanpuras in Miraj goes back more than 300 years, with over seven generations of craftsmen having worked towards making these string instruments, according to the makers.

On March 30, the intellectual property office issued GI tag to the Miraj Musical Instruments Cluster for its sitars and to the Soultune Musical Instrument Producer firm for tanpuras.

“The Miraj Musical Instruments Cluster functions as the apex body for both sitar and tanpura makers in the town,” its chairman Mohsin Mirajkar said.

As part of the body, more than 450 craftsmen are engaged in the production of musical instruments, including sitars and tanpuras, he told PTI.

The sitars and tanpuras made in Miraj have a high demand, which cannot be met due to the limited resources available locally.

“Hence instruments from many other parts of the country are often sold under the guise of being Miraj-made,” he claimed.

“When we started receiving complaints about such products, we decided to pursue for the GI tag and applied for it in 2021,” said Mirajkar.

The wood for making the sitars and tanpuras is procured from forests in Karnataka, while pumpkin gourds are sourced from Mangalvedha region of Maharashtra’s Solapur district, he said.

"In a month, the cluster manufactures 60 to 70 sitars and around 100 tanpuras," stated Mirajkar.

"The online business accounts for around 10 per cent, while 30 to 40 per cent comes from the retail music instrument shops and the remaining 50 per cent are direct customers, including some well-known artistes," he said.

“The clientele includes yesteryear classical singers and founders of the Kirana gharana, such as Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Saheb, late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, and Rashid Khan, who recently passed away,” he claimed.

History of making tanpura

On the origin of the art of making sitars, tanpuras and other musical instruments in Miraj, he said, "During the Adilshahi period, king Adil Shah sent skilled workers to Miraj to craft the dome of a dargah. These workers were originally trained in weapon-making.” “However, with the decline of battles during the British era, they transitioned to making musical instruments. The princely state of Miraj patronised this art, and we are the descendants of these skilled workers who continue this tradition," he said.

Speaking about the history of tanpura-making in the small Maharashtra town, Mirajkar recounted an incident from more than 200 years ago when a renowned classical singer visited Miraj and his tanpura developed a problem.

"Upon enquiring about a skilled worker who could fix the tanpura, he was directed to Patwardhan Sarkar of the Miraj Sansthan (part of the then princely state of Miraj). Two brothers, our ancestors, Farid Mohideen Saheb Shikalgar and Farid Saheb Shikalgar, who were skilled workers, were approached to fix the tanpura,” he said.

“Despite being unfamiliar with the instrument, they attempted to repair it and succeeded so well that the classical singer praised their work, saying they had improved the tanpura," he added.

Mirajkar said he got to know about the incident from his ancestors but nobody could recall the vocalist’s name.

After this, Patwardhan Sarkar recognised the potential of these workers and decided to establish an industry for making instruments, providing patronage to the craft, Mirajkar said.

“The farming of pumpkin gourd, required for making sitars and tanpuras, was encouraged along the banks of the Krishna river,” he said.

Impact of GI tag recognition

Asked about how the GI tag will boost the manufacturing of sitars, tanpuras and other musical instruments in Miraj, Mirajkar said, “This will put Miraj on the global map, and the craftsmen will also gain recognition.”

He said they also plan to establish a training and research centre for musical instrument-making. "Interested individuals can participate in the training programmes here," he added.

On the economic viability of making tanpuras and sitars, Mirajkar said it is viable but claimed that skilled workers do not receive returns proportionate to the hard work required to make the instruments.

"If I have to increase the wages of these skilled workers, I would have to raise the prices of instruments. But if the prices increase, there would be fewer buyers," he said.

Mirajkar said approval for the development of Miraj Musical Instruments Cluster has already been granted by the Government, but the work of the body remains incomplete, requiring additional funding.

"To make it more viable, the common people, music lovers and the government should consider aiding the entity," he said.