‘Saint of the Santoor’ Pandit Bhajan Sopori passes away

J&K loses another illustrious son, maestro; demise widely condoled
He is survived by his wife Prof Aparna and two sons Sohrab and Abhay.
He is survived by his wife Prof Aparna and two sons Sohrab and Abhay.Special arrangement

Jammu: Within a span of one month, J&K lost its another illustrious son and a maestro as Pandit Bhajan Sopori, popularly known as the “Saint of the Santoor”, passed away on Thursday evening at Gurugram hospital after a prolonged illness.

He was 74. Internationally acclaimed musicologist, ace composer Pandit Bhajan Sopori was born on June 22, 1948 in Srinagar into a family of musicians of the fabled ‘Sufiana Gharana’ of Kashmir, perceived to be the traditional Santoor family, with its roots spanning over 9 generations.

He is survived by his wife Prof Aparna and two sons Sohrab and Abhay.

His son Abhay Rustum Sopori, himself an accomplished Santoor player and a versatile composer, while speaking to Greater Kashmir from New Delhi, informed, “My father breathed his last at the Fortis hospital at Gurugram this afternoon at 3.30 pm. He had been battling Colon Cancer for almost one year. This was detected in June last year and he was under treatment. Doctors did try their best but in vain. Unfortunately the tumour was detected in an advanced stage as he (Pandit Sopori) did not have any symptoms. During the past few months, his situation deteriorated. The doctors were trying to explore all possible therapies or the line of medical interventions including chemotherapy.”

“Following his last chemotherapy session, his platelet count fell below 8000. He was rushed to the hospital on May 18. For the past few days, he had been in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), showing no signs of improvement. This afternoon he breathed his last. We have just brought him home as we don’t want to deprive his admirers of their last chance to have a glimpse of their beloved maestro and offer prayers. People are coming to our place to pay their respect and offer condolences. Tomorrow evening his cremation shall take place at Lodhi crematorium in Delhi at 3.00 pm. Right now, we’re getting many calls from Kashmir- our native land,” emotionally distraught Abhay shared, while trying to maintain his composure.

He informed that prior to last rites, the memorial services would be performed at their residence in Lodhi Colony tomorrow from 10 am onwards.

Nostalgically recalling his father’s unfathomable love for his roots, Abhay remarked, “Kashmir not only meant for him as just ‘his roots’; it was his ‘soul.’ It was in his lifestyle, his demeanour, his passion, his performance. He last visited Kashmir over two years ago. Before he fell ill, it was COVID pandemic that superficially disrupted his eternal ties with his motherland. Even after the Cancer was detected, he wished to visit Kashmir; unfortunately it could not happen though he was performing till last December. His last performance was in Gwalior in December 2021. He performed after getting Kalidas Samman there with the same vigour and dedication. It was in January that his health started failing him physically though could not diminish his spirits.”

Abhay revealed that his legendary father would not skip his online performances even while undergoing chemo sessions. “He was able to perform as most of the performances would be online because of COVID. Every time he had to go for chemo, we would record him a day or two in advance. So he managed all those concerts, he had lined up,” he added.

“Kashmir was in his each and every breath. But that is so natural, so innate because of our legacy; everything belonging to us is connected to Kashmir. We have been in (New) Delhi, but our roots, our soul have been there eternally,” Abhay stated, while reminiscing some cherished moments of his father’s life.

Representing the age-old Shaivite-Sufi tradition, Pandit Bhajan Sopori was initiated into Santoor playing by his grandfather the great master musician Pandit Samsar Chand Sopori and later by his father, equally illustrious Pandit Shamboo Nath Sopori, hailed as the ‘Father of Music’ in Jammu & Kashmir.

In his over 6 decades of dedicated work, Pandit Sopori explored various dimensions of the Santoor, carrying out many path-breaking innovations and introduced the ‘Sopori Baaj’, the systematic style and format of playing the Classical Santoor. Sad and sudden demise of the legendary maestro has been widely mourned all across J&K and outside.

Former J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and his wife Shameem Azad expressed their grief and heartfelt condolences on Pandit Sopori’s demise.

“It's a shocking news for me and my wife Shameem to learn about the sudden demise of eminent Santoor maestro and ace music composer Pandit Bhajan Sopori ji. He was family to us. Shameem and Sopori Sahib were dear brother and sister. Both took music lessons from Bhajan ji's late father Pandit Shambhoo Nath Sopori ji,” Azad said.

“I am speechless as I have not only lost a great mentor but a dear brother. My long association with Guru-Bhai in the field of music was more than four decades. I am short of words to express how deep a void I feel. Bhajan ji will live-on in my memory. My sincere condolences to his wife and sons. May his soul rest in peace. I pray to the Almighty to give strength and courage to the bereaved family to bear this irreparable loss,” said Shameem Azad.

Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) party president and MP from Srinagar Dr Farooq Abdullah and vice president Omar Abdullah too expressed profound grief and shock over the sad demise of noted music composer and Kashmiri classical Santoor maestro.

In his condolence message, Dr Farooq said, “Bhajan Sopori Ji was a musical genius. He conscientiously and devotedly protected, cherished, propagated and carried forward the family heirloom of musical legacy which he had inherited from his forefathers. A performer and composer par excellence, musicologist, teacher, writer, poet, and an extraordinary human being- his demise has left a deep void in the field of Indian Classical music.”

“Pioneer in establishing the Santoor on national and international platforms as a complete solo instrument! The saintly son of Kashmir had come a long way since he created history by being the first person to play the Indian Classical music on the Santoor in concerts in the formative years of his career. I pay my earnest tributes to him and pray for eternal peace to his departed soul,” said former Chief Minister and NC president.

Expressing deep shock and anguish over the sad demise of Pandit Bhajan Sopori, former Chief Minister Omar said, “Received the news about Sopori Sahib's demise with utmost grief and heartache. In his decades of dedicated work he carried out many path-breaking innovations with regards to Santoor and established it as a solo instrument at the world stage.”

“His notable contribution in the musical renaissance of Kashmiri music remains unchallenged. He used his compositions to highlight the concept of oneness of humanity and foster the idea of national integration. I pay my humble tributes to him. May his departed soul rest in peace,” Omar said.

Jammu Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) president Syed Muhammad Altaf Bukhari; former cabinet minister and senior vice president of the party Ghulam Hassan Mir; and JKAP’s vice president and former legislator Zaffar Iqbal Manhas also expressed their grief and sorrow over the death of the legendary Santoor maestro.

In a statement issued here, JKAP president Syed Muhammad Altaf Bukhari said, “This is an irreparable loss not only to his family but also to the entire people of the Valley. We all are grieved over the passing away of this son of the soil, who has earned his name and fame across the globe due to his God gifted talent. May his soul rest in peace! May Almighty give enough strength to the bereaved family to bear the pain of his departure!”

Mir, in his condolence message, said, “It was shocking to learn about the death of Pandit Bhajan Sopori. I am deeply saddened. Pandit Bhajan Sopori despite his worldwide popularity would love Kashmir and the people of Kashmir. We will miss him too.” Mir prayed for the departed soul and paid his condolences to the family of Pandit Sopori.

Zaffar Iqbal Manhas, in his condolence message, said, “Today, we have lost someone who had us proud. His fan following and the number of people who loved him for his talent are beyond the Valley and mainland India. He was an internationally acclaimed Santoor maestro. People irrespective of their religion, region, and ethnicity would love this son of the soil. I am grieved. My condolences to the family of Sopori Sahib.”

For his enormous contributions, Pandit Sopori had to his credit hundreds of national and international awards, lifetime achievement decorations and titles including the prestigious Padma Shri, National Kalidas Samman, Sangeet Natak Academy Award, J&K Government Lifetime Achievement Award, J&K Civilian Award by Jammu & Kashmir Government, National Flag Honour of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Dr S Radhakrishnan Memorial National Award, Atal Bihari Vajpayee National Award. He also has a unique distinction and honour to be on an Indian Postal Stamp presented by the Indian Postal Department as a special honour to him in the year 2011.

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