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Raga meets maqaam

An all-santoor line-up is planned to mark the second death anniversary of Pt Bhajan Sopori

Raga meets maqaam

Pt bhajan sopori (1948-2022)



Krishnaraj Iyengar

Abhay Rustum Sopori has vivid memories of accompanying his father, Pt Bhajan Sopori, to pray at a Shankaracharya temple atop a hill and then at a Sufi dargah at its foothill during his childhood days in Srinagar. That’s not surprising for a descendant of an ancient musical lineage pillared by inclusivity. His father, the santoor maestro whose second death anniversary will be commemorated in Delhi next week, amalgamated two Kashmiri mystical music traditions — Sufi and Shaivite.

Rooted in Kashmir

Though based in Delhi, Abhay Rustum Sopori feels a ‘soul connection’ with his Kashmiri roots. During the 1947 Kabali raid, his family had to flee Sopore, barely managing to rescue and preserve a santoor, a sehtar and some manuscripts. The only surviving traditional Kashmiri vusool drum was burnt along with their home. Today, Abhay works tirelessly towards its revival and restoration. In 1990, the family had to escape to Delhi. Today, only a sehtar and two manuscripts survive with Abhay’s US-based uncle.

Abhay, a santoor player himself, believes that both schools of thought are united by the principle of “connecting to the supreme energy source”. Pandit Sopori’s tradition hence came to be deemed as Sopori Sufiana gharana. It traces back its origins to nearly 300 years and incorporates both classical ragas and Sufi maqaams (melodic modes in Persian music).

It embodies instrumental as well as vocal traditions and contains hymns in Sanskrit and Persian. “Bhajanji was a towering and a lovable musician. He was the first representative of authentic Kashmiri Sufiana santoor. He pioneered nuances like meend (glides) alien to the staccato santoor and added a kharaj base string to the instrument, making his the most complete style,” shares senior flautist Pandit Nityanand Haldipur. The Sopori ‘baaj’ or style, he explains, embodies Hindustani classical as well as Sufiana influences. “His strokes were very unique. Being a vocalist, he even incorporated gayaki ang in his style,” he adds.

So what is the Sopori baaj? Originally hailing from Sopore in Kashmir, Pandit Sopori was a descendant of Kashmiri Shaivite music saints like Pandits Som Joo, Sud Joo, Sahastra Joo, Suraj Pandit and Shankar Pandit; the latter is said to have reintroduced Hindustani classical music to Kashmir. Abhay’s grandfather, Pt Shambhunath Sopori, established Kashmir’s first-ever music school. While along with the santoor, other traditional Kashmiri instruments like the sehtaar and the almost extinct vusool drum have been a part of the Sopori tradition, Pandit Sopori gave the santoor a new technical and aesthetic dimension.

“Through decades of dedicated research, he increased the range of the santoor from the conventional one-and-a-half to five-and-a-half octaves. He employed kalam (strikers) of two different gauges, a heavier one for alaap and a lighter one for jod and gat sections, and attached chikari (supporting strings tuned to the tonic or ‘sa’),” Abhay shares.

His performances featured instrumental ornamentations like gamak shakes, krintan, zamzama and the dhrupad ang, along with intricate laykaari or rhythmicity and chaandkaari or rhythm patterns. “Pt Sopori and I shared a father-son relationship. I was blessed to have spent ample time in his presence. His was the ‘mukammal baaj o saaz’ (perfected style and instrument) that encompassed instrumental, vocal and been ang (rudra veena),” says sitarist Zunain Halim Khan.

He believes that after the Jafferkhani baaj pioneered by his father, legendary Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, the Sopori baaj is the only other novel Hindustani style prevalent for the last 50 years. The barsi concert will witness an all-santoor line-up. While the artistes are still being finalised, Abhay promises that “June 22 is going to be Santoor Day”.

#Kashmir #Srinagar


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