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Pandit Shiv Kumar's music - An Inspiration for the Millennials & Beyond

17 May 2022

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5 min read

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Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma

10th of May Padmashri Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma left for his heavenly abode. He was 84 years old at the time of his demise. He left behind a rich musical legacy for his students and several other music aspirants in India and worldwide.

Sharma made an unparalleled contribution to Indian classical music by reinventing Santoor from the Shata Tantri Veena (100 stringed veena) of ancient India to the new and improved version. 

Shiv Kumar Sharma pursued tabla and vocal music till the age of 13 under the mentorship of his father Uma Dutt Sharma. Thereafter, Shiv Kumar Sharma started his musical journey afresh with Santoor only to fulfill his father’s wishes who wanted him to take up the instrument as his full-time career. Eventually, he was able to put the little-known musical instrument on the world stage. His demise has created a void in the world of Indian classical music. But his music will remain immortal - inspiring and showing the guiding light for Indian classical music pursuers till eternity.

Today, as we bid adieu to Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, here is a humble attempt to reiterate his musical journey. The expanse of his work is unfathomable. It would be audacious to even try to graph it.

Evolution of santoor and career graph of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma

Shiv Kumar Sharma is not just another exponent of classical music. Rather, he gave the genre of music a completely new dimension. Santoor was just a trapezoid box that had originated in Persia and played in Kashmir.

Shiv Kumar’s father and mentor - Uma Dutt Sharma was the first to identify the potential in santoor to evolve from a folk dulcimer to become a part of mainstream classical music. The amalgam of Sufi notes with the Kashmiri folk songs, the santoor presented a promise of versatility and virtuoso like any other classical music instrument. Later, he motivated Shiv Kumar to dedicate his life and career to santoor. 

Shiv Kumar’s initiation and growth as a santoor player

Shiv Kumar trained in percussion under the tutelage of Harnam Singh - a student of pakhawaj maestro Khudau Singh. He learned vocal music from Bade Ramdas from Benaras. 

At the age of 13, when Shiv Kumar was introduced to santoor, he was not at all interested in it. Yet he took it up to keep his father’s words.  

Shiv Kumar took santoor to the stage in the year 1955 - in his first public performance at Haridas Sangeet Sammelan in Mumbai. He displayed the versatility of the santoor as a mainstream classical music instrument.

The concert was attended by the who’s-who of Indian classical music - including - Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, and Pandit Ravi Sankar - among several other celebrated gems of Indian classical music. 

Essentially, the ensemble presence of such eminent personalities was beyond expectation for the then 17 years old Shiv Kumar. 

However, though he was lauded for his performance by the connoisseurs of Indian classical music, the santoor as a musical instrument attracted a lot of criticism. Its cumbersome structure which included 100 strings stretched over 25 bridges, and inability to display significant musical expressions such as meend, gamak, and andolan were heavily criticized. 

Re-inventing Santoor

Shiv Kumar altered the size of the box and removed the triangular stand so that the santoor could be placed on the lap while playing the instrument. He reduced the number of strings, changed the material, and also replaced the qalams stick with walnut.  

These significant alterations improved the pitch and timbre of the instrument. These alterations helped the instrument to carve its place in the ambit of Indian classical music. After a lot of hard work, Shiv Kumar was able to display meend and gamak.  

And thus, santoor transcended from the flok culture to become a part of classical music. 

Propelling Success in Indian Classical Music

Shiv Kumar’s first solo album was released in 1960. His music became popular among all classical music enthusiasts.   

Later, Shiv Kumar collaborated with flutist - Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia. Their album - ‘Call of Valley’ 1967 established them as the Shiv-Hari pair. Later, he also collaborated with Ustad Zakir Hussain. Together they created some repertoire that went on to become timeless classics.

Music in Films

Not just the esoteric classical music admirers, Shiv Kumar’s music also appeased the masses through his contribution to Bollywood movie songs and background music. From Silsila in 1981 to Darr in 1993, the magic of musical pieces from Shiv Kumar’s santoor has given some timeless favorites to the Hindi film lovers. The list of movies includes names like - Lamhe, Parampara, and Chandni - films that are remembered more for the songs than anything else. 

Awards and Accolades

Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1986, Padma Shri in 1991, and Padma Bhushan in 2001, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma has been conferred with some of the highest civilian honors. However, the place he has etched in the hearts of his million fans and classical music connoisseurs through his music is way beyond any award. His music has been, is, and will always be very special for his admirers. 

Last words…

Picking up a musical instrument from the folk culture and taking to the highest vistas of success in classical music - Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma’s contribution to classical music is indeed laudable beyond words. 

Today, the entire Indian classical music fraternity is dealing with a loss that can never be filled. And the presence of all eminent personalities across the society - proves that Sharma was not only a great santoor player, but he was also a wonderful human being. 

There will indeed be no new composition from Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma after the 10th of May 2022. But the treasure trove that he has left for us is here to stay. It will always be there for us to learn from and find solace.     

Team ipassio.com pays a revered tribute to Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma.

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