Discover the fascinating story of Miraj, the small Indian city that has been a center of classical music and hub of string instruments for over 150 years.
Miraj is a small city located in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, known for its thriving classical music scene for over 150 years. The city is situated about 400 km (248.5 miles) west of Mumbai and was once part of the princely state of Patwardhan. Today, it is considered a hub of string instruments in India and is particularly famous for producing the tanpura, sitar, sarangi, and veena, which are used widely throughout the country.
Musicians from all over India come to Miraj to get their instruments specially designed by the skilled craftsmen of this historic city. The city has been a hub of art and artists for many years, especially in the field of music. According to locals, music is in the soil of the city, and the sound of instruments being tuned can be heard as one walks down the streets of Miraj. More than 50 families of the Shikalgars, who have been in the business for seven generations, run the industry, which is made up of over 300 artisans.
The ‘Shikalgars’ fascinating story goes back to the 18th century. Historically, the Shikalgars were known as metalsmiths who specialized in making swords and other military equipment during the rule of the Maratha Empire. However, after the fall of the Maratha empire in 1818 and the introduction of modern weaponry by the British, the Shikalgar community began to lose their traditional vocation due to a declining market.
The cultural history of the city changed in the coming years when Shrimant Balasaheb Patwardhan II, the king of Miraj, invited several musicians from across the subcontinent to perform during his reign. The musicians brought damaged instruments with them, and the king turned to the Shikalgar community for help, as they were skilled in metalwork. Today, children in Miraj are familiar with the art of string instruments, and the ‘Sitar Maker’ lane in Miraj has been home to hundreds of artisans for the last 170 years. The people who live in these lanes have mastered the craft so well that they are known as the “Sitar Makers.”
Over time, other families from the Shikalgar community joined the business, giving birth to a thriving industry. Musicians in India often seek the expertise of Miraj’s craftsmen to create custom-made instruments. The artisans work on their instruments in their workshops, spending hours perfecting their craft. However, Miraj’s century-old music tradition is now facing an existential crisis.
The industry, which once employed thousands, now has only a few hundred artisans left. According to the artisans, the arrival of electronic instruments and music apps has made it difficult to preserve their craft and has led to a loss of livelihoods. Some artisans have shifted to new technology, while others insist on preserving their traditional ways. Nonetheless, the city’s music scene continues to thrive, and Miraj remains an important center for classical music in India.
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