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A Pashtun man holding the Rubab.

The Rubab (Pashto: رُباب), also known as Robab or Rabab, is a musical instrument a bit like a guitar. It is mostly played by the Pashtun, Baluch and Kho people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are different kinds of Rubabs, like the Kabuli rebab, the Rawap, the Pamiri rubab, and the seni rebab. People in many parts of Asia, including Central, South, and Southeast Asia, play the Rubab. The word "Rubab" comes from the Arabic word "rebab". In Central and South Asia, people play it by plucking its strings, but in other places, they use a bow.[1][2]

History[change | change source]

Painting of a youn man playing the Rubab from Safavid Persia.

The rubab has been around since the 7th century CE. It's mentioned in old Persian books, and many Sufi poets talk about it in their poems. It's a traditional instrument and its types are used a lot in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and even in the Xinjiang province of northwest China.[3]

The rubab was also the first instrument used in Sikhism. Bhai Mardana, a Muslim friend of the first guru, Guru Nanak, used to play it. Whenever a shabad (holy song) was revealed to Guru Nanak, he would sing it, and Bhai Mardana would play the rubab. He was known as a rababi. The tradition of playing the rubab is still carried on by Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims.[4]

Variants[change | change source]

The seni rebab was first made during the Mughal Empire. It has a special hook at the back of its head, which makes it easy for musicians to carry it on their shoulders and play while walking. Another kind of Rubab, called the Punjabi rabab or 'Firandia' rabab, is popular in Punjab.[5][6]

In Tajikistan and northern Pakistan, there's a similar instrument called the rubab-i-pamir (Pamiri rubab). It looks a bit different, with a shallower body and neck and six gut strings. There's also one string attached partway down the neck, which is similar to the fifth string of the American banjo.[7][8]

Shape and features[change | change source]

A Pamiri rubab.

The rubab's body is made from one piece of wood, with a head that covers a hollow bowl where the sound comes from. The bridge sits on the skin and stays in place because of the tightness of the strings. It usually has three melody strings tuned in fourths, two or three drone strings, and sometimes up to 15 sympathetic strings. The instrument is usually made from the trunk of a mulberry tree, the head from animal skin like goat, and the strings from either the intestines of young goats (gut) or nylon.[9][10]

Strings[change | change source]

English Explanation Pashto Persian
Strings Main strings: 3 and made out of nylon

Long Drone: 2-3 and made out of steel

Short Drone: 2 and made out of steel





First/Low/Bass String Low/Bass String is the thickest string کټی


Second String Thiner than bass string and thicker than high string بم




Third/High String The thinest string out of all the three main strings زېر




Size variants[change | change source]

English Strings Pashto Persian In Inches
Small 5 sympathetic strings وړوکی رباب

Warukay Rabab



Medium 19 strings, 13 sympathetic strings منځنۍ) رباب)

(Mianzanai) rabab



Large 21 strings, 15 sympathetic strings لوی رباب

Large rabab

شاه رباب (king size)

Shah rabab


References[change | change source]

  1. "Rubab | Afghan". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 2024-02-18.
  2. Ganguli, Dr Siddhartha (2023-06-13). Music is Magic | Music is Medicine. Allied Publishers. ISBN 978-93-90951-59-8.
  3. The Ism???l?-Sufi Sage of Pamir. Cambria Press. ISBN 978-1-62196-803-0.
  4. Khalid, Haroon (2023-05-29). A White Trail: A Journey Into the Heart of Pakistan's Religious Minorities. Penguin Random House India Private Limited. ISBN 978-93-5708-104-7.
  5. "Sikh Instruments-The Rabab". Retrieved 2024-02-18.
  6. Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Music. Gyan Publishing House. 2005. ISBN 978-81-8205-292-5.
  7. Levin, Theodore; Daukeyeva, Saida; Köchümkulova, Elmira (2016-12-05). The Music of Central Asia. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-01751-2.
  8. Saka, Karim Khan (2010). Let's Speak Wakhi: Culture and Langue of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China's Wakhi Poeple (in French). L'Harmattan. ISBN 978-2-296-11116-5.
  9. Pettan, Svanibor; Titon, Jeff Todd (2015). The Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-935170-1.
  10. "About this Collection | World Digital Library | Digital Collections | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2024-02-18.