Duitara: Folk Instrument of Meghalaya

Very little is known about the history of the duitara, a guitar-like stringed instrument found in northern India.

Thanks to its broadening appeal in the region, however, the duitara is becoming the folk instrument of choice for performers from all walks of life.

Basic Construction

The duitara features a narrow, hollow body constructed from hardwood and covered with dried animal skin. There may be one or more small sound holes near the center of the body. Four strings attached to tuning pegs at the top of the long neck are plucked using a wooden plectrum during performances. Duitaras are often homemade, allowing craftsmen to add some unique design touches to their instruments.

Where It’s Played

The rhythmic plucking of duitara strings is frequently heard in Meghalaya, a hilly state in northern India. Men and women of the indigenous Khasi tribe play the duitara while singing or accompanying traditional ballads. Other popular instruments in the region include the bamboo besli flute and the mieng, a type of bamboo mouth harp. Like other types of folk music throughout the world, traditional Khasi music is handed down through the generations, with constant, repetitive practice required to master the songs.

How It’s Played

Duitara players typically incorporate one of a few rhythms that match those used for the ksing, a traditional Khasi drum. Although the duitara is played extensively throughout the Khasi community, there is not a standard method for tuning the instrument. Typical finger techniques used on the neck include slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs.

Broadening Appeal

Although it was originally played in the home by elderly family members, the duitara has become widely popular throughout Khasi society. You may find the duitara used in weddings, religious ceremonies, and secular settings. Professional musicians, vegetable vendors, and everyone in between can become skilled duitara players.

The duitara is one of many stringed instruments favored in Meghalaya. Along with the duitara, the maryngod, marynthing, and saitar help make up the unique musical works of the Khasi people.