Voice of Punjab: Sangeet Natak Akademi awards for Harvinder Singh and Harvinder Singh Sharma : The Tribune India

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Voice of Punjab: Sangeet Natak Akademi awards for Harvinder Singh and Harvinder Singh Sharma

Sangeet Natak Akademi honours for vocalist Harvinder Singh and sitarist Harvinder Kumar Sharma, both of whom have dedicated their lives to music

Voice of Punjab: Sangeet Natak Akademi awards for Harvinder Singh and Harvinder Singh Sharma

Harvinder Singh

Shailaja Khanna

TWO artistes from Punjab have been honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi awards for 2022 and 2023, in the field of North Indian classical music, and unexpectedly so. I write unexpectedly because despite undivided Punjab being the centre of classical arts 100 years ago, the region is today regarded as barren, musically speaking. While the tabla of Punjab soars high, the classical tradition is not as highly regarded. This, despite the region boasting of its own dhrupad gharana — the Talwandi gharana; three khayal gharanas — Kasur, Patiala and Sham Chaurasi; Kapurthala instrumental gharana; and its own style of thumri — the Punjab ang. Tappa, too, was born in the region.

Harvinder Kumar Sharma

Harvinder Singh was awarded for North Indian vocal music for 2022. The 1964-born singer is a first-generation performer. Harvinder Singh’s father, Bhai Santa Singh, started singing Gurbani after he left the Army following a war injury in 1942. Harvinder started his initial vocal lessons under his father. The “khulli awaaz” required for classical singing was honed by his father. Truly, the tradition of raga-based Gurbani kirtan is keeping classical music alive in Punjab.

Later, Singh trained under several doyens — Pt LK Pandit of the Gwalior gharana while studying at Delhi University being one of them. The anti-Sikh riots of 1984 brought this to an abrupt end. He returned home and started learning from Ustad Yunus Hussain Khan of Agra gharana; he learnt for four years until the Ustad’s death in 1991. In 1988, he got a job of teaching music at a government college in Chandigarh. Prof Yashpaul of Agra gharana also groomed him and suggested that he additionally trained under Sardar Trilochan Singh of Ambala. Though not a celebrated performer, Sardar Trilochan Singh had trained under the great Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan of Kirana gharana. Prof Yashpaul thought the different perspective would help his talented disciple. He also told him that by learning from someone else, the disciple would appreciate the uniqueness of his training!

Singh has, in turn, taught his disciple Yuvi (Upendra Verma), a playback singer in Hindi films, and Kashish Mittal, one of the finest Agra gharana singers of his generation. Acknowledging that Punjab lost its premier position as a centre of music in 1947, Chandigarh-based Singh hopes that a new generation is allowed learning and performance opportunities. “Partition was a terrible period for the music of Punjab,” he laments, “but it is now time to regain lost ground.”

One of the four SNA Awards for North Indian classical music for 2023 was given to Harvinder Kumar Sharma for sitar. Also the first performer in his family, he was born in Kapurthala in 1957, where the family had settled after Partition. He was taught the sitar by his father, Pt Meghraj Sharma, a music teacher. Immensely talented, Sharma gave his first public performance at the age of nine at Tagore Theatre in Chandigarh. Hearing Ustad Vilayat Khan at Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan in the 1960s, Sharma confesses, he went crazy. “Main pagal ho gaya unko sunke.” While the opportunity to learn from his hero was to come later, he initially learnt from RD Verma, a disciple of Pt Ravi Shankar. An open-minded musician, Verma encouraged his disciple to listen to all musical greats.

Sharma also got the opportunity to interact with Narinder Nirula, a Patiala-based disciple of Ustad Vilayat Khan, and subsequently, in 1979 and 1980, he learnt from the maestro himself in Dehradun, through the intervention of Sadguru Jagjit Singhji of Bhaini Sahib. The link continued with Ustad Vilayat Khan’s son Ustad Shujaat Khan. A teacher since 1979, Sharma has remained an active performer through his 32-year teaching career. A stint he particularly cherishes is being sent by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to Moscow in 1989, where he taught for three years.

“Punjab, including what is now Haryana and Himachal, has a rich musical tradition; our people are inherently musical. I hope this award inspires more youngsters to take up music as a full-time performing career,” says Sharma. Living in Panchkula, he continues to perform and teach.

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