Last week, we looked closely at the mizrab or plectrum used by sitar players and the reasons for its significance in sitar recitals. Sarod players also use a plectrum, but this is vastly different from the mizrab. Called java, this plectrum is made from coconut shell. Tapered and thinned at one end, the other end is wrapped with a thin fabric rubbed in beeswax. The waxed fabric acts as a firm grip, so that the plectrum does not slip out of the sarod player’s hand.
The thickness of the java and the curvature contribute to the tonal quality that is produced when the strings are plucked. This is why sarod players collect many javas over a period and have their favourites among those. Some even change javas during the recital to enhance a particular tone in sections of their performance.
Just as sitar players position their mizrab differently in relation to the strings and the bridge, the sarod players also change the manner in which they strike the java. Thus, the same java when positioned differently changes the tonal quality. Similarly, the java like the mizrab also controls the dynamics.
The skin-top stretched across the belly of the sarod also allows the player to have an enhanced percussive quality to the stroke patterns. Some sitar players employ their mizrab in the same manner, but the mizrab touches a wooden surface thereby producing a very different sound. However, it is left to the sitar or sarod players’ judgement to choose the extent of percussiveness that they may wish to add.
Over the years, sarod players and craftsmen have tried making javas with different materials, but the coconut shell seems to be commonly accepted material to this day.
Here is a link to a sarod recital by the maestro Ali Akbar Khan. He plays an aalaap or introductory section in the raag Darbari Kanada followed by a short exposition of a composition in the raag Adana. Listeners will note the diverse ways in which he uses the java to heighten the emotional content of the music.