Indian classical music lost one of its brightest stars today, as santoor maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma breathed his last. He was 84. 

In the past seven decades, the little-known folksy instrument, Santoor, from Jammu and Kashmir, rose to exalted status and became a part of Hindustani classical music. Thanks to Pandit Shivkumar Sharma who took the instrument on the world stage with his incomparable talent and magnificent musical legacy. Till then, Shata-Tantri Veena, as Santoor was known in earlier days, was used only to accompany Sufiana Mausiqi, a Sufi ensemble.  Today, when Sharma, 84, breathed his last in Mumbai following a cardiac arrest, not only Santoor lost its Patron, but also the Indian classical music lost one of its brightest stars. Sharma was suffering from kidney-related issues for the last six months and was undergoing dialysis.

Shivkumar Sharma was born in Jammu in 1938, in a musical family. His father Pandit Uma Dutta Sharma, a disciple of Pandit Bade Ramdasji of Banaras Gharana, was a vocalist and renowned player of Santoor. His mother too was a classical music vocalist.  Sharma was introduced to Tabla by his father at the age of five and later he was given training in Santoor. 

Uma Dutt Sharma, who had done extensive research on the possibilities of Santoor, visualised that Shivkumar would play classical music on the instrument and would take the instrument to greater heights.   

Taking Santoor across the world

Shivkumar Sharma started playing Santoor at the age of 13. His first public performance was in Bombay in 1955. Sharma modified the folk instrument to make it more suitable for classical music. He increased its range to a full three octaves and also created a technique for smoother gliding between music notes in order to imitate human voice quality. Sharma also created a new way of playing it so that the notes and sound continuity could be maintained for a long time. 

Sharma was versatile and innovative. His experimental albums ‘Feelings’ and ‘Music of the Mountains’ stand testimonials to this. Sharma also collaborated with numerous musicians, including Zakir Hussain and Hariprasad Chaurasia.  Shiv-Hari, the musical pairing he had with Chaurasia contributed to some of the best Bollywood soundtracks such as Silsila, Darr, and Lamhe to name a few. Sharma also collaborated occasionally with his son, Rahul Sharma, who is also a santoor player.

Even when connoisseurs across the globe revered him for his unparalleled prowess, Sharma was known to be a harsh critic of himself. He strongly believed that the most important qualities of a musician are discipline, patience, dedication, and focus. “It’s a very long journey and there are no shortcuts. The most important point is when a musician starts gaining popularity — it is the most difficult period in their career because being able to digest the praise is very difficult. For his remarkable achievements in the field of music,” he said in an interview. 

Art world grieves

Following Pandit Shivkumar Sharma’s demise, several celebrities took to social media to pay tributes.

 For Sarod player, Amjad Ali Khan, Sharma’s death was a personal loss. “The passing away of Pandit ShivKumar 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. 

“Deeply saddened to hear that maestro Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma has passed away. His mellifluous music will remain in our hearts of course but tinged by the pain of his loss. My deepest condolences to the family,” tweeted actress Shabana Azmi.

Playback singer Pankaj Udhas and musician Vishal Dadlani also paid their tributes. Udhas said that Shiv Kumar Sharma’s death is a big loss to Indian classical music.  Vishal Dadlani tweeted, “Yet another massive loss to music. PanditShivkumarSharma ji is irreplaceable. His playing redefined the Santoor along with Indian music itself. His film songs with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia ji as “Shiv-Hari” will also be loved forever. Strength to his family, fans & students. Music composer and singer Salim Merchant remembered Shivkumar Sharma as one of the “greatest musicians of our times”.

Shivkumar Sharma was honored with many prestigious awards, including the Padmashree (1991), the Padma Vibhushan (2001), the Sangeet Natak Academy Award, an honorary doctorate from the University of Jammu, the Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan Award, the Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar to name a few. His autobiography, Journey with a Hundred Strings: My Life in Music was published in the year 2002. 

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KTP Radhika

Radhika is the Editor and Founder of India Art Review.

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