Rubab (instrument)

Rubab, robab or rabab (Pashto: روباب, Persian: رُباب‎, Urdu: روباب‎, Kashmiri: روباب, Sindhi: رباب Azerbaijani: Rübab, Turkish: Rübab, Tajik and Uzbek рубоб) is a lute-like musical instrument originating from Afghanistan.[1] The rubab is one of the national musical instruments of Afghanistan and other areas inhabited by the Pashtun, Baloch and also played by Sindhi people in Sindh and by Kashmiri people in Kashmir.[2] It proliferated throughout West, Central, South and Southeast Asia.[3] It derives its name from Arabic rebab 'played with a bow'; in Central Asia, however, the instrument is plucked and is distinctly different in construction.

Related instruments
Sarod, Dutar, Tanbur, tungna

Size variantsEdit

  • large: shah rubab شاه رباب (Persian: شاه رباب‎, king size), 21 strings, 15 sympathetic strings
  • medium-sized: rubab (Persian: رباب‎), 19 strings, 13 sympathetic strings
  • small: zaliche (Persian: زيلچه‎), 5 sympathetic strings


Historical instruments
Iranian style rubab from the 13th century C.E., found in Rayy (near Tehran, Iran).
Kushan Empire, 1st to 3rd century. Lute or vina, from the Yusufzai district near Peshawar. Greco Buddhist (Gandhara School). Resembles rubab, sarod and tungna.
Mongolian lute, circa 1297, Tomb of Wang Qing, China


2011 postal stamp of Azerbaijan depicting a 19th century Rubab.

The body is carved out of a single piece of wood, with a head covering a hollow bowl which provides the sound-chamber. The bridge sits on the skin and is held in position by the tension of the strings. It has three melody strings tuned in fourths, two or three drone strings and up to 15 sympathetic strings. The instrument is made from the trunk of a mulberry tree, the head from an animal skin such as goat, and the strings from the intestines of young goats (gut) or nylon.


The rubab is known as "the lion of instruments" and is one of the two national instruments of Afghanistan (with the zerbaghali). Classical Afghan music often features this instrument as a key component. Elsewhere it is known as the Kabuli rebab. In appearance, the Kabuli rubab looks slightly different from the Indian rubab.[4] It is the ancestor of the north Indian sarod, although unlike the sarod, it is fretted.[5]

The rubab is attested from the 7th century CE. It is mentioned in old Persian books, and many Sufi poets mention it in their poems. It is the traditional instrument of Khorasan[vague] and is widely used in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as the Xinjiang province of northwest China and Jammu and Kashmir.[6]

The rubab was the first instrument used by Sikhism; it was used by Bhai Mardana, companion of Guru Nanak. Whenever a shabad was revealed to Guru Nanak he would sing and Bhai Mardana would play on his rubab; he was known as a rubabi. The rubab playing tradition is carried on by Sikhs such as Namdharis.


In Tajikistan a similar but somewhat distinct rubab-i-pamir (Pamiri rubab) is played, employing a shallower body and neck.[7] The rubab of the Pamir area has six gut strings, one of which, rather than running from the head to the bridge, is attached partway down the neck, similar to the fifth string of the American banjo.[8]

Notable playersEdit

  • Ustad Mohammed Omar (1905—1980), Rabab player From Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Ustad Rahim Khushnawaz (1945-2010), Rabab Player From Herat, Afghanistan
  • Ustad Homayun Sakhi, Rabab Player From Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Ustad Sadiq Sameer, Rabab Player From Afghanistan
  • Ustad Ramin Saqizada, Rabab Player From Afghanistan
  • Ustad Shahzaib Khan, Rabab Player From Neoshera, KPK, Pakistan
  • Ustad Waqar Atal, Rabab Player From Peshawar, KPK,Pakistan
  • Ustad Ghulam Hussain, Rabab Player From Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Niaz Hunzai, Rabab Player From Hunza, Pakistan
  • John Baily, Emeritus Professor of Ethnomusicology at Goldsmiths, University of London [9]
  • Khaled Arman (b. 1965), Rabab Player and Guitarist From Kabul, Afghanistan [10]
  • Daud Khan Sadozai, Afghan Rubab and Sarod Player from Kabul Afghanistan [11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ David Courtney, 'Rabab', Chandra & David's Homepage
  2. ^ The Wide World Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly of True Narrative, Adventure, Travel, Customs and Sport ... A. Newnes, Limited. 1905. pp. 15–.
  3. ^ Miner, Allyn (2004). Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Motilal Banarsidass Publications. p. 61. ISBN 9788120814936.
  4. ^ Kak, Siddharth (1982). Cinema Vision India, Volume 2. Siddharth Kak. p. 25. The rubab of Kabul is very similar to the sarod. The Indian rubab looks different. The sarod is a blend of these two rubabs.
  5. ^ Simon Broughton. "Tools of the Trade: Sarod". Songlines-The World Music Magazine. Archived from the original on 2006-11-18.
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ "Pastimes of Central Asians. A Musician Playing a Rubab, a Fretted Lute-like Instrument". World Digital Library. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  8. ^ Music and Poetry from the Pamir Mountains Musical Instruments, The Institute of Ismaili Studies.
  9. ^ "Professor John Baily". Goldsmiths, University of London.
  10. ^ "Biography". Khaled Arman.
  11. ^ "Biography". Retrieved 2021-05-19.

External linksEdit