MUMBAI: Santoor virtuoso Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma, who took the stringed instrument to the global stage and successfully straddled the worlds of classical and film music, died at his Pali Hill residence on Tuesday following a heart attack. He was 83.
A Padma Vibhushan recipient, Sharma was born in Jammu in 1938 and is believed to be the first musician to have played Indian classical music on the santoor, a folk instrument from Jammu and Kashmir.
Until about sixty or seventy years ago, the santoor was hardly known to anyone connected with Indian classical music, even though musicologists trace its origin to centuries ago when a string instrument called the 'shata-tantriveena', or veena with hundred strings, was in existence.
Later, somehow the santoor became popular only in Kashmir and, for centuries, has been used there mostly as an accompanying instrument for vocalists singing 'Sufiana Mausiqi', or music related to the Sufi philosophy. Occasionally, the santoor is still used as a solo instrument in Kashmir but only to play Sufi music. The word santoor, derived from Persian, also means a hundred strings.
Shivji was introduced to music at the tender age of five. He was first taught vocal music, then the tabla and finally the santoor. His performing career started as a tabla player, broadcasting from Jammu and Srinagar radio stations.
Few people know that in his early days Shivji provided tabla accompaniment to musicians of the calibre of Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Nisar Hussain Khan, Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, Hirabai Barodekar, Begum Akhtar and Siddheshwari Devi. Around 1961, he provided tabla accompaniment in a jugalbandi with Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
While Shivji devoted his life to music, he did not neglect academics and studied for a Master's degree in Economics from the Jammu & Kashmir University. Given the kind of intellectual and spiritual background he came from, it is not surprising that he finally decided to accept the challenge of playing the santoor as his main instrument.
To him goes the credit of converting the santoor to one of the major instruments of Indian classical music. Till then only the sitar, the sarod, the shehnai, the flute and the violin were considered major instruments, with the sarangi being used mostly as an accompanying instrument to vocalists.
The santoor had many limitations such as striking the strings with mallets only and not with fingers. This made it difficult to produce the vital effects of the important 'kriyas' (actions) of classical music, such as 'meend' (a glide) and 'gamak' (a kind of musical jerk).
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's office said in a statement that Sharma will be accorded a state funeral.
Sharma had been active till the end and was due to perform in Bhopal next week.
Addressing his father as 'guruji', Rahul said the end was peaceful.
"He is not with us anymore but his music lives on. He went away peacefully. He has given the entire world his music, peace through his music and what he did for santoor... it's now known across the world.
(Extracts from the book "Shiv Kumar Sharma: The Man and his Music" Vijay Kichlu)