The Saint of Santoor

Pt. Bhajan Sopori was a complete institution in himself
The Saint of Santoor
Pandit Bhajan Sopori was born in Srinagar (Kashmir) into a family of musicians of the fabled Sopori - Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir, the exclusive traditional Santoor family of the country with its roots spanning over more than 300 years. Special arrangement

BY DR. RAFEEQ MASOODI

A musical genius Pandit Bhajan Sopori was more than an individual – a performer and composer par excellence, musicologist, teacher, writer, poet, and an extraordinary human being – he was a complete institution in himself.

Regarded as the cultural bridge of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of the country, Pandit Bhajan Sopori was hailed as the “Saint of the Santoor” and the “King of Strings”.

Pandit Bhajan Sopori was born in Srinagar (Kashmir) into a family of musicians of the fabled Sopori - Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir, the exclusive traditional Santoor family of the country with its roots spanning over more than 300 years.

The mystic master was the bearer of a rich musical legacy and was the great-grandson of Pandit Shankar Pandit, the great master who developed the style popularly known as the ‘Sufi Baaj’ (style), based on Sufiana Qulam music and Indian classical music.

Pandit Bhajan Sopori was initiated into Santoor playing by his grandfather Pandit Samsar Chand Sopori and later by his father Pandit Shamboo Nath Sopori, hailed as the ‘Father of Music’ in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pandit Bhajan Sopori, the Legendary Santoor maestro and music composer, was the pioneer in establishing the Santoor on national and international platforms as a complete solo instrument.

The quiet and unassuming maestro came a long way since he created history by being the first person to play the Indian Classical music on the Santoor in concerts way back in the early 1950’s.

In his over 6 decades of dedicated work he explored various dimensions of the Santoor, carrying out many path-breaking innovations. He increased the range of the Santoor from the conventional 11⁄2 to more than 51⁄2 octaves, balanced the ‘Kalam’ (strikers) with ‘boles’ and attached the ‘Tarab’ and ‘Tumba’ for enhanced tonal quality, etc.

These innovations combined with his strong base in traditional ‘Raga-Sangeet’ allowed for a systematic exposition of the Raga combining both the ‘Gayaki’ and the ‘Tantrakari Ang’ (style) in his recitals, demonstrating all the essential stylistic nuances of Hindustani Classical Music such as Meend, Glides, Gamak, Krintan, Zamzama, Boles, including the ‘Dhrupad Ang’ with the accompaniment of the Pakhawaj.

His recitals are known for their high degree of technical virtuosity combining highly intricate ‘Iayakari’, legendary ‘Chhandhkari’, speedy ‘Taan’ patterns running through three octaves and a melodious ‘Aalap’.

He has thereby expanded the scope of the Santoor as a classical instrument and formally established the ‘Sopori Baaj’ in the realm of Indian Classical Music for which he is hailed as the “Saint of Santoor” and the “King of Strings”.

A highly learned person, Pandit Bhajan Sopori, had a double Masters Degree in Indian Classical music, specialising in both the Santoor and the Sitar, besides having a Masters degree in English Literature. He had also studied Western Classical music at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Pandit Bhajan Sopori combines a profound knowledge of music and musicology and carried out immense research on Naad (sound) and Naad Yoga (sound therapy).

Pharmaceutical companies have released some of his highly commended albums on sound therapy like ‘Doctor to Patient’, ‘Naad Yoga on the Santoor’, etc.

He also composed music for films, commercials, documentaries, serials, operas, choirs, etc. and has been the youngest ever composer of Vadya Vrinda, the National Orchestra of India.

He was the only classical musician of the country to have composed music for over 6,000 songs in almost all the languages of the country like Hindi, Kashmiri, Dogri, Urdu, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Himachali, Rajasthani, Telegu, Tamil, etc. and also foreign languages like Persian and Arabic. His acclaimed work includes compositions for various musical genres like Ghazal, Geet, Bhajan, Choirs, Devotional (Hindu, Sikh, Muslim & Christian hymns), Children songs, etc. He has composed the works of almost all the eminent Urdu and Persian Ghazal writers of India and Pakistan like Hali, Jammi, Ghalib, Daag, Momin, Bhadur Shah Zaffar, Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Firakh Gaurakhpuri, and others, to name a few. He has also composed the works of Kabir, Rai Das, Sur Das, Meera Bai, Bhramanand, Guru Nanak, etc.

Pandit Bhajan Sopori led the revival of Sufism to spread the message of humanism amongst the masses especially the youth. Steeped deeply in the Sufi Parampara (tradition) by way of his Gharana and also his own spiritual leanings, he started performing for Sufi saints in Kashmir at the tender age of eight.

He has since then composed the works of most of the legendary Sufi saints of the country like Lalleshwari, Sheikh-ul-Aalam, Amir Khusrau, Kabir, Hafiz Sherazi, Bulle Shah, Ghani Kashmiri, Baba Farid, etc. Further, he has also composed Naats (Islamic devotional songs), Vedic and Sanskrit Chants. Many of the Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit phrases have been set to melody and rhythm for the first time ever by him.

He also composed and introduced a number of new Ragas like Raga Laleshwari, Raga Patwanti, Raga Nirmalranjani, etc. Pandit Bhajan Sopori composed various patriotic songs of India which have been received as master pieces and major musical hits of the country like ‘Bharat Bharat Hum Iski Santaan’, ‘Hum Honge Kaamyaab’, ‘Vande Maataram’, ‘Naman Tujhko Mere Bharat’, etc.

He also recomposed and revived the INA songs like ‘Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna’, ‘Vijayee Vishwa Tiranga Pyaara’, ‘Kadam Kadam Badhaye Jaa’, ‘Bharat Ki Beti’, etc. for national integration and also composed anti-terrorism songs like “Savdhan”, and “Mere Jannath Mere Kashmir” for the National Network.

His compositions bear the distinctive stamp of his virtuosity and erudition and have featured most of the eminent classical musicians and also popular playback singers of the country.

His classical version of ‘Saare Jahan Se Achha’, instrumental version of ‘Vande Mataram’ and Folk instrumental version of ‘Vaishnav Janto’ are recognized as pioneering efforts.

He created a new wave in the music of J&K with light and folk music and musicians practically grooming under him. He revived and innovated the Folk music of Kashmir making it popular amongst the masses. His compositions became extremely popular becoming a part of the folk music culture.

This period from 1974 onwards is known as the ‘Renaissance of Music’ in Kashmir. He has his notable contribution in grooming up various writers to write literary, Sufi, devotional as well as commercial lyrics.

To bring the youth in the Kashmir Valley in the mainstream he composed a collection of prayer and Tarana-e-Watan (patriotic songs), sung by large public choirs comprising of almost 8,000 youth and school children as a Common Prayer in the Valley.

Through his profound analysis, survey of history and various musical cultures, he established the Kashmiri Santoor as the predecessor to the resembling Santoor like instruments found in various other parts of the world.

His propagation of music brought a revolution in the world of music and he has established a system for solo performance, voice culture, composition, arrangement, orchestration, conducting, designing of choral music, etc. He also widened the scope of devotional and religious music.

To further his quest of promoting music as a medium of peace and harmony, Pandit Bhajan Sopori traveled widely and performing extensively at all the prestigious festivals and conferences in the country and abroad, propagating Indian Classical Music and culture all over the world and went to the remotest of places.

He performed at various art museums, painting exhibitions and art centers in the country and abroad with the sole purpose of creating awareness and a sense of appreciation for all forms of arts amongst the masses as well as reinforce the importance of Sahitya, Shastra and the tradition in the field of music.

In this pursuit, he had hundreds of disciples in the country and abroad in the field of Santoor, Sitar, Tabla, Guitar, Sarangi, vocal music, music direction, Rabab, Clarinet, Violin, etc. both in classical and light music. It had been his constant endeavour to patronise upcoming artists and help them establish themselves in the music stream.

Pandit Bhajan Sopori used his Santoor and his compositions to highlight the concept of oneness and foster unity enshrining the idea of national integration, humanism and peace amongst the common man and the youth in particular.

For his enormous contributions, Pandit Bhajan Sopori received hundreds of national and international awards, lifetime honours, titles and decoration including the prestigious:

-Padma Shri 2004

-Sangeet Natak Academy Award 1993

-National Kalidas Samman 2020

-J&K Government Lifetime Achievement Award by Govt. of J&K 2016

-J&K Civil Award (Highest civilian award of Jammu & Kashmir) 2007

-Honorary Doctorate by Utkal University of Culture, Odisha 2018

-Honorary Doctorate by Hindustani Art & Music Society 2017

-National Flag Honour of the Arab Republic of Egypt

-National Award by Govt. of MP (Ustad Latif Khan Samman)

-Sangeet Martand Samman

-National Shiromani Award

-Dr. S Radhakrishnan Memorial 31st National Teacher and Media Award

-Atal Bihari Media Excellence Award

-Pride of India Lifetime Achievement Award

-Delhi Ratan Award

-Delhi Telugu Academy Award

-Beenkar Samman (Title honour)

-Best Citizens of India Award

-Dhrupad Shri Samman

-Rotary Sur Samrat Sangeet Ratna Samman

-Global Literary Festival Award

-T P Jhunjhunwala 24th National Excellence Award

-Strings and Vibrations Award of Kingdom of Bahrain

-Baba Allauddin Khan Award

-National Dogri Award

-Sangeet Bhushan Award

-Pracheen Kala Kendra – Koser Award

-19th Blockbuster Sur Aradhana Sangeet Ratan Award

-Rajiv Gandhi Pratishta Samman

-Maa Shardey Samman (lifetime achievement award)

-Sangeet Kala Ratna Samman

-Sangeet Vibhuti Award (lifetime achievement award)

-Raag Sagar (lifetime achievement award)

-RaagRanjani Sangeet Bhushan Samman (lifetime achievement award)

-Sangeet Ratna Award (lifetime achievement award)

-Shree Bhatt Kirti Award (lifetime achievement award)

-Gama Maharaj Aaward (lifetime achievement award)

-Sharda Samman (lifetime achievement award)

-M. N. Mathur Smiriti Kumbh Award

-R.S. Agarwal Award

-Ustad Chand Khan Award

-KECSS Award

-RAWA Samman

-Akashwani Annual Awards

-Punjab Sakha Award

-Kala Yogi Award

-Abhinav Kala Samman

-Shree Bhatt Kirti Samman

-Munnu Guru Sangeet Award

-Shama Award

-Sumadhur Hansdhwani Award,

-Distinguished Leadership Award

-Radio Kashmir Srinagar Golden Jubilee Celebrations Award

-Kashmir Overseas Association Award, USA, and many more...

Pandit Bhajan Sopori has a unique distinction and honour to be on an Indian Postal Stamp of Rs.5.00 /- presented by the Indian Postal Department as a special honour to him in the year 2011 for his extraordinary and missionary work in the field of art and culture. His name also features in numerous Biographical Note Volumes of India and abroad like Famous India’s Who’s Who, Asia Pacific Who’s Who, Asian Admirable Achievers, Famous India Nation’s Who’s Who, Reference Asia, Kohinoor Personalities of Asia, Asian American Who’s Who, etc.

Santoor

Santoor is a music instrument of India with its origins of Shaivite tradition of Kashmir. It belongs to the family of earliest stringed instruments called Veena. In ancient Sanskrit texts it has been referred to as Shatatantri Veena, the Veena with 100 strings. The Shatatantri Veena in Kashmir was used at every Vedic ritual and it remained associated with the sacred music from the earlier times till date. As it was already associated with the Shaivites, it was naturally adopted in the Sufiana Mausiqi of Kashmir. Santoor is not a folk instrument but a sacred Classical music instrument. However, it is a fact that Santoor resembling instruments with different names are popular in various folk music cultures around the world but all these instruments have a major difference in structure, tone, number of strings, etc. and also playing posture and techniques.

The traditional Santoor of Kashmir, as used in Sufiana Mausiqi, has 25 bridges with 4 strings on each bridge and as such 100 strings are laid over 25 bridges. This Santoor has one and a half octaves. The instrument is placed on a small triangular stand called the Sehpai.

The Santoor of ‘Sopori Baaj’ (Pandit Bhajan Sopori’s style of Santoor) is much bigger in size than the traditional Santoor with 100 strings divided and laid over 43 bridges giving the instrument a dimension of more than 51⁄2 octaves. Panditji, with his ‘Sopori Baaj’, has evolved and enriched the Classical Santoor to such heights that all renditions of Hindustani Classical system are possible to perform on the Santoor in their purest form like Dhrupad Ang with the accompaniment of Pakhawaj, Khayal Ang and also Light Classical Ang. It also has Chikari and the Tarab (sympathetic strings) like Sitar or Sarod to enhance the resonance. Pandit Bhajan Sopori replaced the Sehpai and added a Tumba underneath the Santoor giving a different dimension to the instrument.

Sopori - Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir

In Hindustani music, a Gharana is a system of social binding or a culture linking musicians or dancers by lineage or apprenticeship, and by adherence to a particular musical style. Sopori family’s Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir is the only Hindustani Classical Music Gharana from Jammu and Kashmir.

The Gharana has a unique combination of both vocal and instrumental music with specialization in Santoor, Sitar, Sehtar (Kashmiri Sitar) and Wasool (traditional Kashmiri rhythmic instrument).

The great masters of Sopori family were deeply steeped into spirituality and Naad Yoga (sound therapy) and were Saint musicians with origins of Shaiv – Sufi Parampara. It is to the credit of the Sopori Family that Hindustani Classical and Light Music acquire legitimate space in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Sopori - Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir has a huge repertoire of compositions in different languages like Sanskrit, Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi and Persian. It has its own distinctive Compositions (Gats, Bandishes, Taranas, etc).

A number of new Ragas have also been composed by Pandit Bhajan Sopori like Raga Laleshwari, Raga Patwanti, Raga Nirmalranjani and Raga Hem Rast, and also by maestro Abhay Rustum Sopori like Raga Nirmalkauns and Raga Mahakali adding to the musical treasure of Sufiana Gharana.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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