The swarmandal (Hindi: स्वरमण्डल [s̪ʋərmən̪ɖəl̪]), surmandal or Indian harp is a plucked board zither, originating from the Indian subcontinent, similar to the qanun that is today most commonly used as an accompanying instrument for vocal Indian classical music.[1] The name combines swara (notes) and mandal (group), representing its ability to produce many notes.

Jasraj with a swarmandal

Modern swarmandals are similar to European psaltries. Autoharps are used as an equivalent instrument in India today.[1]

Swarmandals measure from twenty-four to thirty inches in length and twelve to fifteen inches in width. The singer may choose to employ any number of strings from 21 to 36. The strings are hooked in a nail lodged in the right edge of the swarmandal and on the left are wound around rectangular pegs which can be tightened with a special key. Wooden pegs were used instead of metal ones in the medieval period. A sharp 12-inch (13 mm) ridge on both sides of the swarmandal stands a little apart from the nails on which the strings are tightened. This ridge functions as a bridge on both sides. The swarmandal is similar to the autoharp or zither in many respects.

Some of the vocalists who have used this instrument extensively are Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1902–1968), Salamat Ali Khan (1934–2003), Jasraj (b. 1930), Kishori Amonkar (1932–2017), Rashid Khan (b. 1966) and Ajoy Chakrabarty (b. 1952). Other vocalists such as Amir Khan have played around with it privately but preferred the simpler, less intrusive tanpura for accompaniment.

The Beatles' 1967 single "Strawberry Fields Forever" features a swarmandal, played by George Harrison, as does "Within You Without You", from the band's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

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  1. ^ a b Alastair Dick (1984). "Swarmandal". In Sadie, Stanley (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. p. 477. Volume 3.