The legendary music icon and Santoor virtuoso, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma who passed away on 10th May, 2022 will be remembered for his life-long passion for spiritual music.
Talking to school children during a lecture, he had once said, “It is my life-long dream to play such kind of music which will make the listeners forget to clap; which will make them silent”. It was precisely this abiding passion that won him the epithet of a mystic musician. For five decades, his mesmerizing Santoor recitals successfully manifested the ‘spiritual’ in music and elated the audience to a state of total immersion, thoughtlessness and bliss.
With the departure of the legendary music icon, the world has lost a great votary of ‘spiritual’ in music in particular and Indian classical music in general. For the people of Jammu and Kashmir, it is the irreparable loss of a shining star of the present-day Indian classical music legacy that also boasts of stalwarts like K.L. Saigal, Mallika Pukhraj and Ustad Allah Rakha Khan.
Early Days: Born at the historic mohalla of Pacci Dhakki in Jammu 13 January, 1938, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma was the only son of Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma, a famous vocalist and Tabla player. Pandit Uma Dutt was a disciple of the legendary guru Pandit Bade Ramdasji of Benaras; Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and he had played together in their childhood as the latter’s father Ustad Ali Baksh of Patiala Gharana was a court musician in Jammu darbar.
Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma was trained by his father who was his first guru. Finding son’s inclination for music, Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma started giving him lessons in the tabla and vocal music from the tender age of five.
The Santoor Bond: Pandit Shiv Kumar became synonymous with Santoor because of his life-long dedication to Santooras an instrument for playing Indian classical ragas. But the genesis of his passion for Santooris again linked with his father. Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma, while working for All India Radio Jammu and Srinagar Radio as music supervisor, was drawn to the instrument which in Kashmir was played with the Sufiana music. With a desire to introduce Santoor in the Indian classical music, Pandit Uma Dutt started making changes to work out a system tuned to the needs of the Indian ragas. The young Shiv Kumar, when asked to play Santoor, picked it up very fast. After a couple of years, he began playing in children’s programmes on Radio Kashmir Jammu.
First Break: The real break came in 1955 when 17-year-old Shiv Kumar was presented at the Haridas Sangeet Sammelan in Mumbai. His maiden performance was witnessed by the icons of classical music – Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Amir Khan, Ustad Mushtaq Hussain, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Kesarbai Kerkar, Moghubai Kurdikar, Siddheshwari Devi and Rasoolan Bai, among others. There was a mixed reaction. Some found it fascinating while a few music critics said classical music could not be played on this instrument.
It owes to sheer hard work, grit and dedication of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma that he proved the naysayers wrong and emerged as a path breaking artiste. “He successfully tided over the problem of the staccato notes of the Santoorby evolving a style whereby the notes could be prolonged and sustained after making certain changes in the instrument.” It was after a long struggle and prolonged period of penury that Pandit Shiv Kumar succeeded in establishing the instrument as well himself as worthy inheritors of the perennial stream of Indian Classical music.
Call of the Valley: After his first album in 1960, he continued to struggle and worked for many years as a ‘sessions musician’ (he played tabla in ‘Mose chhal Kiye Jaaye’ from Chetan Anand’s ‘Guide’.
It was in 1967, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and flute maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia teamed up with guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra for a highly atmospheric and evocative album titled ‘The Call of the Valley’, which became a hit – both in India and with Western rock musicians who were falling in love at the time with Hindustani (North Indian) classical music, including George Harrison. “My music is inspired by nature. Nature is the biggest inspiration. My album `Call of the Valley’ that I released back in 1967 was thematic music – a shepherd’s day of life in the valley”. After ‘Call of the Valley’ , a number of music albums which followed also enjoyed immense popularity.
Success as a Composer: After the success of ‘Call of the valley’ offers from filmmakers followed. Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, as musical duo “Shiv Hari” composed music for array of Hindi films like “Silsila” (1981), “Faasle” (1985), “Chandani” (1989), “Lamhe” (1991) and “Darr” (1993). “My music comes from the folk music of Jammu, from the ‘pahadi’, from the mother across the river, from the people of the village. It is music from my memories… It is inspired by Dogri folk music”. As a duo, Shiv-Hari, they were nominated five times for Filmfare magazine’s Best Music Director prize. But feeling that composing music for films was interfering with his classical music, he slowly withdrew from it.
International Concerts: Despite his success in films, classical music remained Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma’s focus. He carried the delicate Santoor to concerts around the world regularly, often appearing on stage with tabla master Zakir Hussain (son of Ustad Allah Rakha Khan) and many others. One of his most frequent performance and compositional partners, however, was Hariprasad Chaurasia.
Biopic: Film division has produced ‘Antardhwani’, a film based on Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma’s life. Directed by Dr Jabber Patel, the 70 minute film not only traces the life of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, but also through him his music-the Santoor. The film is based on his biography, “Journey with a Hundred String-My Life in Music”, written by Ina Puri.
Nostalgia for Motherland: Having to settle in Mumbai, Pandit Shiv Kumar always felt nostalgic about Jammu, Duggar, Dogras and Dogri. “I do miss my beautiful state, Jammu. But to achieve something, one has to sacrifice something. I sacrificed the lure of my home.” He never missed an opportunity or an invite to come to Jammu. He always wore his Dogra roots on sleeves with pride. He would often correct those who called him a Kashmiri. “I am not Kashmiri though many people are under the impression that I am. Kashmiris are from the Valley. I am afrom Jammu, a Dogra.”
Charming Personality: A quintessential Dogra, he would win over everyone with his jade green eyes, curly hair, tall slim fair and striking frame, soft words, gentle manners and intense feelings. During his performances, his gentle countenance slowly transformed to a ‘state of trance’ that also led and helped the listeners to internalize the emotions of the ragas and get elevated to a unique state of ecstasy.
Santoor and the Spiritual: Convinced about the potential of his chosen instrument, he would say that “Santoor is spiritual music. It takes you into a serene atmosphere. It puts the mind to rest. Even if one does not know classical music. It makes you chant Om. Take it as meditation, break into thoughtlessness while listening to just this. Go beyond. That is the need of the time. He said that music should convey the spiritual aspect of life because man’s spiritual link is broken”.
Awards & Honours: Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma was honored with number of national and international awards, including an honorary citizenship of the city of Baltimore, USA, in 1985, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1986, Padma Shri Padma in 1991, and Padma Vibhushan in 2001.
Some of his other awards included: Platinum Discs for Call of Valley, for music of film Silsila, for music of film Chandani, Gold Disc for music of film Faasale and Pandit Chatur Lal Excellence Award – 2015.
Rahul Sharma: Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma is survived by his wife Manorama and two sons, Rahul and Rohit. Trained by his father Rahul Sharma is a young talented Santoor player who has earned name as a sensitive musician. Rahul Sharma began performing with his father and started accompanying him in concerts since 1996, at the age of 24. Rahul regularly gives performances in different parts of the country and abroad. He has taken Santoor into world music in collaborations with some of world renowned musicians. Rahul Sharma has more than 60 Albums to his credit. He has been awarded with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award-2011 and MTV IMMIES Best Instrumental Album – ZEN 2001.
Legacy: The unquestioned master of the Santoor Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, pride of Jammu and international music icon, will live through his timeless melodious music. In his hands Santoor spoke a unique language which glided from the idyllic to the hymnal and navigated the listeners from life’s chaos to transcendental silence.