Once in a long while is born a man whose efforts change the face of reality, whose conviction forces destiny to rewrite itself, whose genius has an impact across centuries. To state that Pandit Shivkumar Sharma has created history in the world of music, is an understatement, an inadequate attempt to capture the maestro’s achievements and contributions. After all how many musicians can boast of single handedly bringing forth an obscure, almost unknown instrument to the level of being “indispensable” on the concert platform! Musicians and their instruments do become synonyms, but how often does an instrument acquire an identity because of a musician!
Santoor, which was used in Soofi music in the velley of Kashmir, owes its classical status to Pandit Shivkumar Sharma. In the early decades of the twentieth century, Santoor or Shata-Tantri Veena as it was called in the ancient times, was used as an accompaniment to a specific type of singing called Sufiana Mausiqi. When Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma, a renowned vocalist from Jammu, and a disciple of Pt. Bade Ramdasji of Benaras spotted it, he was convinced of the potentialities of the instrument. After extensive research on the instrument he bestowed the responsibility of establishing it on the concert platform on his only son Shivkumar. The rest, as they say, is history.
However, the road to success was far from smooth. After several radio broadcasts and performances he appeared for his national level concert in Mumbai in 1955. This was a turning point in his life where he received applause as well as was severely criticized by the orthodox sections of musicians and listeners. Santoor according to them was not a complete instrument on which one could play classical music. Instead of getting disheartened or discouraged, in his characteristic manner he took these criticisms as a challenge. After in-depth research, he made some important modifications on this hundred stringed instrument, like a new chromatic arrangement of notes and increased the range to cover full three octaves. Besides, he also created a new technique of playing with which he could sustain notes and maintain sound continuity. Today Santoor is at par with any classical instrument, well established not just all over India, but across the globe.
With his creative genius, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma has created a new genre of instrumental music. Through his performance career of over a half century, he has created millions of new listeners and ardent fans of Indian classical music. His performances are such a brilliant combination of rich knowledge, perfect skill and abundant spontaneous creativity, that all the sections of listeners feel enriched. Little surprise that his concerts are awaited by connoisseurs, music students, musicians and lay listeners alike.
He believes in the immortality of this great heritage of Indian classical music and wishes to leave no stone unturned to make it so. With this aim in mind, he has been imparting his knowledge to the next generation of musicians. So deep is his conviction that despite no institutional or government support, he has been teaching in the Guru Shishya tradition, without charging a fee from his students, who come to him from all the corners of India as well as different parts of the world like Japan, Germany, Australia and America.
While he never compromises on the purity of music, Pt. Sharma’s open minded approach has resulted in some of the most popular, innovative experimental albums like Call of the Valley, Feelings, Mountains, etc. In fact he is among those rare musicians who have been able to create successfully in the world of film music as well. Now for over forty years Santoor is an indispensable part of Indian film music. His compositions for blockbusters like Silsila, Lamhe, Chandni, Darr, etc. are all time favourites across the country.
Music, he believes, is food for the soul. Naturally, his music is meditative and soothing at the same time. His immense faith in the ancient wisdom of Vedanta has resulted in creation of music for Shlokas from the Upanishads and a new raag called Antardhwani.
Various recording companies from India and overseas have tried to capture Pt. Sharma’s genius for the last forty years. Today he has over 100 recordings to his credit in LPs, CDs, audio cassettes and even DVDs. In fact he is the only classical musician who has agreed to do a music video in order to appeal to the young generation. Naturally, a musician with such a vast spectrum of achievements has a long list of National and International awards conferred upon him like the Honorary Citizen for the City of Baltimore, USA (1985), Sangeet Natak Academy Award (1986), Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar (1990), Honorary Doctorate from the University of Jammu (1991) Padmashree (1991), Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan Award (1998), and Padma Vibhushan (2001), to name a few. Born in 1938, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, a musician par excellence, a great composer, an understanding, kind guru, a sensitive and aware citizen, this living legend is truly a personification of the Indian ethos and values. The world of music will forever be indebted to him for his incredible contribution.