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The Saint of the Santoor: An Evening with Pt. Bhajan Sopori

Anybody fearing that foreign influences are undermining indigenous arts would have had his or her mind put at ease by the turnout for the Hindustani Classical Santoor Program organised by the Cultural Coordination Committee. A diversely aged audience consisting of everyone from the elderly to college students walked into Fortune Inn Valley View’s Chaitya Hall on the 10th of December to watch Sangeet Natak Academy Award winning Santoor Player Padma Shri Pandit Bhajan Sopori perform. The event was attended by almost 170 people. The performance, which commenced half an hour late, was around an hour long and was wrapped up by 8:30 pm.

Credits: Manipal University Photography Department

The Santoor was originally called the Shata-tantri Veena, translating to a Veena having a hundred strings. The modern Santoor is a trapezoidal hollow box usually having seventy-two strings between the two sets of bridges that provide a range of three octaves. The instrument is played while placed on the lap. The performer sits in a position called Ardha Padmasana, that requires an erect posture. It is classified as a percussion instrument, the strings being neither plucked nor bowed but played using two light mallets.

Bhajan Sopori was born into a family of Santoor players that has excelled at playing the Santoor for the past six generations. He has performed on several occasions along with his son, Abhay Sopori. He is considered to be the cultural link between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India. Sopori is known to use the Santoor to highlight the concept of oneness and foster unity amongst the people. The music academy run by Pandit Sopori, the Sopori Academy for Music and Performing Arts, also promotes music amongst jail inmates, using music to heal and create emotional bonds between the prisoners and society.

Shobha Kamath, the chairperson of the Cultural Coordination Committee, was the convener for the event. The revered Pandit’s wife was also in attendance. The skill and expertise as he deftly manipulated the strings was evident even to the untrained ear. Sri Durjay Bhaumik on the Tabla and Sri Rishi Upadhyay on the Pakhavaj accompanied the maestro as he took the audience on an auditory ride. The artists occasionally engaged in jugalbandis amongst themselves that provided some of the liveliest moments of the evening. Stretches of soothing tunes that kept the audience spellbound were followed by sudden bursts in the tempo, ending with flourishes that prompted huge rounds of applause. Sopori maintained a connection with the audience throughout the concert, engaging them with a pleasant smile and punctuating the music with brief explanations that helped the musically amateur to appreciate what was happening a little more.

Credits: Manipal University Photography Department

Pandit Sopori is often regarded as the cultural link between Jammu and Kashmir and the remaining part of India. Sopori Academy for Music and Performing Arts is involved in promoting Indian Classical music and reviving ancient instruments. At the end of the concert, it was clear that the King of Strings, as he is called, was the right person to lead this mission as the audience walked out of the room with a heightened appreciation for the art.

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