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Famous santoor player Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, who took the stringed instrument to the global stage and straddled the worlds of classical and film music successfully, died in Mumbai on Tuesday, May 10, due to heart attack. He was 84 years old. Sharma had been suffering from kidney-related issues for the last six months and was on dialysis. The immediate cause of his death was cardiac arrest. Pt Shivkumar Sharma, one of India’s most renowned classical musicians, died between 8 and 8:30 am at his Pali Hill residence in Mumbai, said his secretary Dinesh to the news agency Press Trust of India.
Padma Vibhushan Pandit Shivkumar Sharma Passes Away
Indian music composer and santoor player, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma passed away at the age of 84. He had been suffering from kidney-related issues for the last six months and was on dialysis. He passed away due to cardiac arrest.
He had been active till his death and was going to perform in Bhopal next week. He was also suffering from renal ailments. “He had a severe heart attack in the morning. He was active and was to perform in Bhopal next week. He was on regular dialysis but was still active,” a family source told Press Trust of India. He is survived by his wife Manorama and sons Rohit and Rahul, also a santoor player.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condoled Sharma’s death. “Our cultural world is poorer with the demise of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma Ji. He popularised the Santoor at a global level. His music will continue to enthral the coming generations. I fondly remember my interactions with him. Condolences to his family and admirers. Om Shanti,” the Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
A Padma Vibhushan holder, Pt Shivkumar Sharma was born in Jammu in 1938 and is assumed to be the first musician to have played Indian classical music on the santoor, a folk instrument from Jammu and Kashmir. He is frequently credited with familiarizing the instrument globally. Sharma’s unique efforts and skills are believed to have outlined the way into Hindustani classical music for what was earlier observed a traditional and folk instrument. Sharma was also a well known composer of music and along with flautist Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, wrote for many Hindi films. He was known for inspiring his shows with enthusiasm, often calling on his audiences to jointly involve themselves in music.
Sharma was instructed by his own father, vocalist and tabla and pakhavaj player Uma Dutt Sharma, who also introduced him to the santoor. He trained in vocal classical music and in the tabla as a teenager. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1991, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001. As one half of musician duo Shiv-Hari, he composed music with flute legend Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia for a group of films like “Silsila“, “Lamhe“, “Chandni” and “Darr“.
Several public officers and others have tweeted condolences, considering the irreplaceable loss to north Indian classical music. Sarod player Amjad Ali Khan mentioned that the death of Pt Shivkumar Sharma was a personal loss for him. “The passing away of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharmaji marks the end of an era. He was the pioneer of Santoor and his contribution is unparalleled. For me, it’s a personal loss and I will miss him no end. May his soul rest in peace. His music lives on forever! Om Shanti,” Amjad Ali Khan wrote in a tweet. Ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas and veteran actor Shabana Azmi also condoled the death of Pt Shivkumar Sharma. “We have lost a gem today Padma Vibhushan Shri Shiv Kumar Sharma ji Santoor virtuoso a big loss to the Indian classical music,” Pankaj Udhas wrote on Twitter. “Deeply saddened to hear that maestro Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma has passed away. His mellifluous music will remain in our hearts ofcourse but tinged by the pain of his loss. My deepest condolences to the family,” tweeted Shabana Azmi. Music composer and singer Salim Merchant remarked Shivkumar Sharma as one of the “greatest musicians of our times”. Pt Shivkumar Sharma received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1986, followed by the Padma Shri in 1991, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001.
It was Ustad Bismillah Khan with whom Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, who breathed his last on May 10, 2022 at the age of 84, could be compared. Both accomplished the incredible and launched their respective folk instruments into the world of high-brow Hindustani classical music. If Ustad Khan uplifted shehnai – that was mostly played on celebrations – to the concert level, Pandit Sharma did the upliftment for the santoor, an instrument from the Kashmir that was played to go along with the singing of Sufiyana Kalam.
Pandit Shivkumar Sharma: Santoor Player
If one takes a closer vision, Sharma’s piece of work was the more daunting. On the other hand Khan did not have to introduce changes in the way shehnai was made, Shivkumar Sharma had to make alterations in the santoor, bring far-reaching changes in its structure and style of playing, and introduce new methodology to make it acceptable in the orthodox and conservative world of Hindustani classical music. Sharma began his journey to music by his father, Uma Dutt Sharma, whose father was the Rajpurohit in the service of the then Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja, Pratap Singh. Even though, Uma Dutt Sharma did not wanted to go behind the hereditary profession and he was drawn towards music, which did not enjoy a good reputation in those days.
Taking care that his father must not know about his pursuit of music, he started to learn tabla from Harnam Singh, a disciple of legendary pakhavaj (barrel-shaped drum) maestro Kudau Singh. Later on, he also learnt vocal music from Bade Ramdas of Banaras, a famous musician. It was from him that the young Shivkumar learn to sing and play tabla, and gained some musical skill. He was shocked when one day his father declared that he would be learning to play santoor hereafter. At that time he was just 14 years old and had heard santoor for the first time only two years back. He was not impressed by the instrument much and had no much desire to learn it, let alone leave his singing and tabla playing. But his father had other goals.
While working in a senior position with All India Radio’s Srinagar station, Uma Dutt Sharma had started to pay attention to santoor and how Hindustani raga music could be played on it. He had himself made some alterations to the instrument and wanted his son to take it up fully. Though not too happy with this sudden change, Shivkumar had to surrender before his father’s wishes. He never imagined that very soon he would become a kind of celebrity because of that very instrument.
Due to the demand of Maharaja Karan Singh, Braj Narain, a famous connoisseur of music who conducted one of the best known music conferences, the Haridas Sangeet Sammelan, ever year in Bombay, invited Shivkumar Sharma to play at the Sammelan. This was an exceptional honour for a boy of age 17, mostly because of his instrument santoor, that had never been heard at such a music conference, where the likes of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Pandit Vianyakrao Patwardhan, Ustad Allauddin Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar and Pandit Anokhe Lal used to play. Hence, In 1955 a star was born. Shivkumar’s santoor playing attracted the attention of top musicians and connoisseurs and he was very much complimented by them.
However, everything was not favourable to him. He also heard criticism that did not have to do much with his playing, but with the nature of his instrument. The traditional santoor that go along with the singing of sufiyana kalam has no less than 100 strings stretched over 25 bridges. It is played by striking the strings with two wooden sticks.
The only instrument in Hindustani classical music that is struck, santoor produces a staccato sound and does not lend itself to meend (sliding over notes), gamak (exaggerated, regular fluctuation in pitch) and andolan (vibrato; slowly shaking a note), which are the essential characteristics of Hindustani classical music.
Thus, the foremost challenge before the young Shivkumar was to overcome this limitation as much as possible. Professor Suneera Kasliwal Vyas, in her book, Classical Musical Instruments, gives a elaborate account of the changes introduced by Sharma.
Santoor is trapezoidal in shape and is played with two wooden sticks. Sharma changed the size of the box to upgrade its tonal quality and also changed the material used for the strings, their number and gauge. He removed the triangular stand and placed the instrument in his lap, changed its pitch and also changed the wood of the sticks from qalams to walnut.
In short, he modified the instrument, opened new vistas before it and expanded its musical scope. He also tried hard to reproduce meend and gamak and gained some success to this end. His endlesscon effort and skilled musicianship paid dividends and soon, santoor became an essential part of any Hindustani classical music festival. Its soothing and sonorous sound also attracted the attention of the Hindi film world and it began to be used in film music too.
Later, Sharma joined with flute maestro Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, with whom he had set up an extraordinary personal as well as creative rapport, to compose music for many Hindi films under the Shiv-Hari banner. However, this banner came into existence when in 1967, both produced a long-playing (LP) record titled ‘Call of the Valley’ for British music retailer HMV. The record sold very well and was later turned into a cassette and audio CD, as recording technology evolved.
After that, the sky was the limit for Sharma. He became one of the most sought after musicians as well as one of the most popular. One heard from music organisers that he was always very reasonable and accommodating and never fussed over anything. His approach was thoroughly professional. He was genuinely humble and polite as he always felt that his music was a means to pursue a spiritual goal. He was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan, but the real honour was the love and affection that he received from the countless admirers of his music.
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