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This article uses the history and development of the sitar and its music 1) to argue for the neglected importance to historical studies of music as a central aspect of human culture; 2) to provide a case study of cultural exchange across what is known as the “Silk Road” over time and geography; and 3) to demonstrate the qualitative equivalence of phenomena we associate with “the Silk Road” and with “globalization.” Lutes appear in Indian iconography from the first centuries CE, probably inspired by Buddhist art from North India and Central Asia. They then disappear, replaced in the same contexts by tube zithers. Lutes were reintroduced from the thirteenth century or before by regimes with Persian and Central Asian cultural background. The rawabs and tamburs thus imported developed in India and borrowed features and performance techniques from Indian zither-type instruments. The further elaboration of Indian lutes, including the sitar (as well as sarod, surbahar, bīn and others), paralleled the development of various forms of North Indian music, especially under the patronage of Mughal emperors and regional monarchs, including Wajid ‘Ali Shah of Awadh. The process was conscious and driven by individual musicians and lutiers but likewise strongly influenced by sociopolitical vicissitudes, including the decline of Mughal central power, British colonial encroachment and annexation of Awadh, and the rise of Calcutta as a global, commercial city. The sitar reflects this lineage of historical and personal interventions in its technical features, playing technique, musical style, and accompanying lore and literature.