New Delhi, He began his journey in music as a tabla player when he was only five but Shiv Kumar Sharma soon found the santoor – and his musical destiny.
Stringing the santoor along as it were, Sharma, or Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma as he came to be known, took the little known folk instrument from Jammu and Kashmir into unexplored classical firmaments. And even the silver screen, ensuring that his audience spanned the globe and also the genres of Hindi film music and classical music.
Sharma, among India’s best known classical musicians who also walked the world of popular music as a composer with flautist Hari Prasad Chaurasia with whom he formed the Shiv-Hari duo, died at his home on Tuesday morning. He was 83.
It had been a lifetime of music.
As the only son of Jammu-based musician Pt Uma Dutt Sharma of the Benaras Gharana, he was born into music. His father initiated him into the intricacies of tabla playing when he was just five years old.
“One day when he was fourteen, his father returned from Srinagar with a santoor and announced that he had found his son’s true calling,” reads the summary of his autobiography “Journey with a Hundred Strings: My Life in Music” that he co-wrote with author Ina Puri.
“It was my father who brought music into our home. Before him, my daadaji had been raj purohit (court priest), or chief priest, at the royal temple of the maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Raja Pratap Singh,” Sharma writes in the memoir published in 2002 by Penguin India.
It was a huge risk for a young musician starting his journey to abandon his learnings in tabla and focus on a relatively unknown instrument like the santoor.
Critics initially dismissed the instrument as unsuitable for classical music but a determined Sharma changed the mechanics of the instrument, which originally comprises 25 bridges and 100 strings and was played while kept on a stand, to make it an important component in classical renditions.
When I was seven-eight, I started playing the tabla for children programmes on the radio. One day my father said, ‘I want to teach you this instrument (santoor)’. And that posed a big problem for me. I thought why should I play this instrument? But when I started playing the santoor, since I knew ‘raagdaari’ as a vocalist and how to play the tabla, it benefited me,” Sharma recalled in a 2013 interview with RSTV’s talk show “Shakhsiyat”.
According to musician Durga Jasraj, her late father and classical vocalist Pt Jasraj, played an important role in the earlier part of Sharma’s career.
It was her mother Madhura, who got him his first film as a santoor player in her father V Shantaram’s 1955 film “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje”.
It was for the first time that the santoor was used in Hindi cinema.
“When she (Madhura) heard him, she got him his first break in Hindi films and my father got him his first concert in Mumbai… They were soul brothers and they bonded right from the beginning,” Durga Jasraj told PTI.
In later interviews, Sharma recalled how Desai gave him a free hand as he did not understand the instrument much while Shantaram was completely enchanted by its sound.
Jo Tum Todo Piya , a ‘bhajan’ from “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje”, was also used in Yash Chopra’s 1981 film Silsila , the first film in which the filmmaker collaborated with Shiv-Hari.
His introduction to Indian cinema was followed by a public performance in Mumbai at the Haridass Sangeet Sammelan in 1955. At the age of 17, Sharma played the santoor in the presence of the who’s who of the classic music world such as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Siddheshwari Dev Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shankar and Allah Rakha Khan.
Sharma had once said he was sceptical about scoring the soundtrack for films when veteran filmmaker Yash Chopra had approached him and Chaurasia to compose music for his movie “Silsila”.
The 1981 romantic drama, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rekha, Jaya Bachchan, and Shashi Kapoor, was the first film collaboration for Shiv-Hari. The songs included “Dekha Ek Khwaab” and “Ye Kahan Aa Gaye Hum”.
“I remember when Yash Chopra asked me and Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia to compose music for ‘Silsila’, everyone thought he was taking a big risk by signing classical musicians. There is a difference between classical and film music. And it was a tremendous challenge to live up to,” Sharma said at an event in 2013.
For composing film music one has to keep in mind the story, situation of characters, location and so on, but classical music is mostly about ‘raag’, he said.
As Shiv-Hari, the pair composed music for eight films, most for Chopra’s home banner Yash Raj Films.
Sharma also collaborated with Chaurasia along with Pt Brij Bhushan Kabra, who popularised the guitar as an instrument in Indian classical music, for the successful album ‘Call of the Valley’ which was released in 1967.
Sharma had been active till the end and was due to perform in Bhopal next week. He was also suffering from renal ailments. He is survived by his wife Manorama and sons Rahul, also a santoor player, and Rohit.
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