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Pandit Bhajan Sopori - The coolest one
- Ashish Sharma

Pandit Bhajan Sopori
Photograph: Sanjay K. Sharma

For Pandit Bhajan Sopori and music lovers, the santoor is
a delightful reminder of the Kashmir Valley

 The melodious tinkle of the santoor instantly transposes you to the world beyond. Not without reason. The instrument is integral part of Kashmir as the Jhelum. And Pandit Bhajan Sopori is one of its celebrated exponents, despite having made the scorched concrete of Delhi his home. But his tenuous links with the Valley haven't diminished the magic quality of his santoor's mellifluous strains. If the achievement needed affirmation, then the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, which came his way recently, is certainly one. The journey to the honour has been anything but simple. Adapting the instrument to classical music has led Sopori, for instance, to experiment with more than a dozen different forms with slight variations. Says he: "I've moulded the original instrument according to my need. The original santoor, which used to be played with Sufi devotional music, is an instrument of one-and-a-half octaves, but my santoor is a three-octave device and has an effective range of around four-and-a-half octaves. There are 100 strings, as in the original, but these are spread over 25 bridges, four strings to each bridge. This helps in creating depth in the instrument and as the vibrations traverse the octaves, the process is actually perceptible as in the sarod and the sitar." 

 Sopori adds: "The idea isn't just to brighten the instrument's tone, but also to add to the depth of the sur, for that is what counts in classical music. Which is why I have been able to play 30-40 minutes of alaap in my recitals and such complicated ragas as Marwa and Megh. So much so, that I've played duets with artistes of the stature of V. C. Jog, the violinist. Recently, I presented dhamar to the accompaniment of the pakhawaj. Shortly, I'll be playing the tappa." 

It is not that the instrument itself is a new creation. Far from it. But there are conflicting views on its origin. Says Sopori: "There are those who believe it was brought to India via Central Asia. But the belief of our gharana is that it's the same instrument that was popular in the Shaivite devotional tradition in Kashmir and then passed on to the Sufi music legacy that overtook the Valley after the Conversion." This is confirmcd by the fact that even the wood used in the manufacture of the santoor has been traditionally worshipped. Also it has never been a lok vadya as suggested in some quarters. It has always been associated with classical devotional music. The son and disciple of Pandit S.N. Sopori has eminently carved out a niche for himself. Performing in public for the past 36 years - since the age of 10, in fact - his dedication has ensured a considerable visibility on the concert circuit with innumerable performances in India and abroad, many records in the market, a number of awards and the inevitable disciples. He combines all this with a job in All India Radio and the constant demands that are made on him as a music director. He has composed music for telefilms (Mahaan, Zameen and Yatra), a TV serial on adult education (Chauraha) and a number of short films on Kashmir. He's also the music director of a series on love stories, being readied for telecast on Zee-TV shortly. 

Clearly, he has his hands full at the moment. Which is something music lovers wholly approve of. 


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Kashmiri Overseas Association, Inc. (KOA) is a 501c(3) non-profit, tax-exempt socio-cultural organization registered in Maryland, USA. Its purpose is to protect, preserve, and promote Kashmiri ethnic and socio-cultural heritage, to promote and celebrate festivals, and to provide financial assistance to the needy and deserving.

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