"According to me, music is not for entertainment. It was my lifelong dream to play such kind of music which will make the listeners forget to clap; which will make them silent. My dream came true, once. I played one raag, while the listeners immersed deep into meditation and I experienced a state of thoughtlessness. This silence was so nourishing, so fulfilling, there was no need to play anything else."-Shivkumar Sharma
Pandit Shivkumar Sharma is an exceptionally gifted musician. In a sense, he is a complete artiste, having had his training in vocal, percussion and instrumental music, from none other than his father, Pandit Umadutt Sharma, a distinguished musician from J&K. However, it was his father's express desire that Shivkumar should dedicate himself to popularising the santoor.
Pandit Shivkumar Sharma has not only elevated this folk instrument of Kashmir to concert hall status, but thanks to his enduring efforts, the santoor has taken its place in concert halls around the world. With a style evolved out of gayaki (vocal), gatkari (instrumental technique) and layakari (rhythmic improvisation), Shivkumar imparts to his santoor recitals a multi-dimensional appeal.
Shivkumar Sharma was born in Jammu on January 13, 1938. After training as a vocalist from the age of five, followed by further training in percussion through the tabla, he took up instruments like the sarod, violin and harmonium. At the age of 14, he was introduced to the santoor by his father. This was an instrument on which the latter had done considerable research. The santoor had many structural deficiencies that rendered it unsuitable for playing certain basic nuances of classical music. One such example is the meend. It involves the glide or slide, which enables the creation of a semblance of continuum of one note to the other rather than moving discreetly from one note to the other. Thus, it produces an effect similar to the vocal rendering of notes.
Pandit Umadutt Sharma grappled with many such problems with the santoor. He adapted the instrument and refuted the argument of many critics that unlike the sitar or sarod, the santoor was not capable of mimicking vocal techniques. He achieved this by increasing the number of bridges to get a wider range of octaves, and changed the system of tuning and the structural configuration of the strings to allow for more precision on note reproduction. Shivkumar Sharma gave his first public performance in Mumbai in 1955. He recorded his first solo album in 1960. In 1967, he teamed up with bamboo flute maestro Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and slide guitarist Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra to produce a thematic album, The Call of the Valley. This is easily one of the greatest hits in the field of Indian classical music.
The measure of Shivkumar Sharma's achievement with the santoor has parallels with that of the great master of the shehnai, Ustad Bismillah Khan. The shehnai, too, was more a folk instrument than a classical one before the legendary Ustad came on the scene almost 70 years ago.
Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.