Music and mental health: Sitarist Rishab Rikhiram Sharma is man on mission : The Tribune India

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Music and mental health: Sitarist Rishab Rikhiram Sharma is man on mission

The youngest and last disciple of Pt Ravi Shankar is using his sitar to open conversations about emotional well-being

Music and mental health: Sitarist Rishab Rikhiram Sharma is man on mission

On the verge of depression after a personal loss, Rishab Sharma has been using his sitar for therapeutic purposes.

Neha Kirpal

New York-based sitarist and music producer Rishab Rikhiram Sharma is on a mission to promote awareness about mental health through music. After a successful run across the US and Canada, he is currently on his ‘Sitar for Mental Health’ tour in various Indian cities.

Like many artistes, Rishab faced much anxiety about the future of his live concerts and performances during the pandemic. But things got worse in September 2020, when he lost his maternal grandfather, who was like a parent to him and a great connoisseur of music himself. “I shared a very special bond with Nanu as I would spend a lot of time with him while growing up. After his death, I was completely, utterly broken, and couldn’t accept that this had happened,” he recalls.

Sharma soon realised that he needed to deal with this loss as he was on the verge of depression. In 2021, feeling at his lowest point, he even gave up playing the sitar. “I was restless all the time, and couldn’t sleep for more than three hours at a stretch. I would often wake up with my heart pounding furiously,” he remembers. On the advice of friends and family, Sharma began therapy, and that helped him a great deal.

In due course, Sharma began playing sitar once again. “The moment I held my sitar, it felt familiar,” he smiles. His healing journey also made him realise that he could use social media to share his music and feelings with the world. “Clubhouse was a popular audio platform at the time to create the pseudo-reality of a listening experience,” he recalls. The young musician began playing sitar on it daily for an hour. It not only proved to be therapeutic for him, but his listeners too. People began sharing with him how soothing his music felt. Some even shared their grief about losing a family member.

“It was then that I thought of using the sitar to speak about mental health, open up conversations and help de-stigmatise the issue,” says Sharma. That is how ‘Sitar for Mental Health’ was born. With a mere 4,000 followers in February 2021, the movement has grown massively, creating a global community of almost 3,00,000 persons today.

A multi-sensory immersive experience, Sharma’s concerts aim to create a meditative atmosphere. He starts his shows with breathing exercises. He then plays the alaap, a slow progression of the raga, followed by some of his original compositions, such as ‘Kautilya’, ‘Chanakya’ and ‘Roslyn’.

Hailing from a lineage of luthiers that included his grandfather late Pandit Rikhi Ram Sharma and great grandfather late Pandit Bishan Dass Sharma, who were renowned musicians as well as instrument makers, Rishab is a follower of the Maihar gharana of music, rooted in the dhrupad style. He started learning sitar when he was just 10 years old, and began producing music two years later. Besides learning to make the instrument from his father, Sanjay Sharma, a national award-winning musical instrument maker, innovator and designer, Rishab also trained in different styles and genres.

A student of DPS, RK Puram, Rishab left for the US at 17 to pursue a dual degree in music production and economics at Queens College, City University of New York.

He was just 13 when his performance caught the attention of sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar, who then took on the young musician as his youngest and last disciple.

“Sitar and music have been my coping mechanisms ever since I was a kid. After a bad day at school, I would come home, practice my music and let my emotions flow,” he reminisces. It is an old tradition that he learnt from his gurus. “Ragachikitsa has existed in our culture for thousands of years. It literally translates into therapy or healing through ragas,” he says. Rishab also spent a lot of time recording with different bands during college.

At present, he has his calendar full with an upcoming US tour, performances in London in June as well as more shows in India towards the year-end. He is also putting together a ‘Sitar for Mental Health’ album, which will be released next month. It will consist of five traditional ragas produced in a contemporary style. There are more collaborations in the pipeline. The versatile artist, the first sitarist to be invited to perform solo at the White House for the Diwali event hosted by President Biden, is also creating a “very cool” sitar, which should be out sometime this year.

#Canada #New York

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