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Santoor master Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma passes away


Santoor master Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma passes away
Santoor master Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma passes away

Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma, who elevated the santoor – a once-obscure trapezoid-shaped stringed instrument – from Jammu and Kashmir’s folk circuit to the proscenium alongside more conventional and heavyweight classical instruments like the sitar and sarod, died in Mumbai after suffering a heart arrest. His wife Manorama and sons Rahul and Rohit survive him at the age of 84.

pt. shiv kumar sharma

However, the road to owning an instrument that has been an accompaniment to Sufiana mausiqi (music) for centuries and adapting it to the complex world of ragas, riyaaz, and relentless critique — all while creating slides and embellishments similar to other string instruments but not imitating them — was long and arduous.

Sharma would occasionally claim that the difficulties he had in putting the santoor in the traditional centre stage were nothing compared to the contemplative trance it provided him. He made music that would be remembered for the innovative inflections he developed while handling a demanding and challenging instrument in the process.

Sharma achieved something amazing in a culture that rewards slick branding: he created wonderful music without saying anything about it.

Sharma learned music from his father, Uma Dutt Sharma, a classical vocalist who worked as a music supervisor at Radio Kashmir in Jammu and then in Kashmir. Sharma was quickly hooked to the tabla, learning the basics from his father and accompanying children’s programmes on the radio station when he was just eight years old.

Uma Dutt advised that a teenage Sharma try his hand at the santoor when he was moved to Radio Kashmir (Srinagar).

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The santoor is played with small walnut wood mallets, unlike other classical string instruments that are strummed with fingers or a plectrum. It is considered to be the only string instrument that isn’t played with one’s fingers, which makes producing microtones – a trademark of classical music – more difficult.

Sharma, on the other hand, remained devoted to the guitar, actually fostering it on his lap. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shankar, Amir Khan, Mushtaq Hussain, Omkarnath Thakur, Kesarbai Kerkar, Moghubai Kurdikar, Siddheshwari Devi, and Rasoolan Bai were among those who attended his maiden national performance in Delhi. Sharma was 17 at the time. Around the same period, V Shantaram approached him about playing the santoor in Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955). Sharma created a composition for the film that included Kathak dancer Gopi Krishna in a pivotal dance sequence.

Sharma’s santoor spoke a unique language that the world had never heard before, one that was hymnal at times and idyllic at others, one that came from a world of deep-rooted classicality at times and allowed one to navigate life’s chaos to be in transcendental silence — the kind that only his music could generate.

“The news of Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma’s death is devastating,” Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari remarked in a sympathy statement. He was a driving force towards the internationalisation of Santoor and Indian classical music. Pt Sharma was a gifted artist, guru, researcher, thinker, and, most importantly, a kind human being. With his tremendous achievements, Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma taught many students and enhanced the realm of music. I pay my respects to Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma and extend my heartfelt sympathies to Pt Rahul Sharma and the rest of the grieving family.”

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Sharma’s state funeral has been announced by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. His funeral will be held with full state honours at Pawan Hans tomorrow afternoon about 3 p.m. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., visitors will be able to pay their respects and meet Sharma for the last time at his son Rahul’s house in Juhu.


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