Legendary Santoor Maestro Pandit Bhajan Sopori Passed away At 73
Legendary Santoor maestro and Padma Shree awardee Pandit Bhajan Sopori, popularly known as the “Saint of the Santoor” and 'king of strings' for his mastery over the instrument passed away on Thursday, following a battle with colon cancer at a hospital in Gurugram. He was at 73. Sopori is survived by his wife and two sons Sorabh and Abhay, who also play santoor. The nation has lost two of its best santoor players in quick succession. While the music fraternity is yet to recover from the loss of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, one more pain seems excruciating. Sopori's death comes just weeks after santoor virtuoso Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, who also belonged to Kashmir and took the stringed instrument to the classical music stage, died on May 10. And on Saturday, playback singer KK passed away in Kolkata following a cardiac arrest.
Internationally acclaimed musicologist, ace composer Pandit Bhajan Sopori was born on June 22, 1948 in Srinagar into a family of musicians of the fabled ‘Sufiana Gharana’ of Kashmir, perceived to be the traditional Santoor family, with its roots spanning over 9 generations. The 100-stringed santoor may not be every musician’s forte, but his family has played it for six generations and he imbibed its finer nuances from his grandfather SC Sopori and father Shambhoo Nath. No wonder his first santoor recital came at the age of five. Over decades if he has been instrumental in putting santoor on the world stage, it also became his medium of communication and reflection of his inner self. In his over 6 decades of dedicated work, Pandit Sopori explored various dimensions of the Santoor, carrying out many path-breaking innovations and introduced the ‘Sopori Baaj’, the systematic style and format of playing the Classical Santoor. Even after migration from the troubled home state, he carried the beauty of the Valley both in his music and persona.
Various patriotic songs like “Bharat Bharat Hum Iski Santaan”, “Hum Honge Kaamyaab”, “Vande Mataram”, “Naman Tujhko Mere Bharat” too were elevated to greater musical heights with his musical prowess. Besides a master’s degree in instrumental music, specialising in sitar as well as santoor, the quest for more took him to Washington University, US, where he learnt western classical music. The syncretism of India not only lived in his santoor playing style, the sweet and tranquil notes, but also in his compositions. Pandit Bhajan Sopori has the distinction of composing thousands of songs in various languages and the works of eminent Urdu and Persian ghazal writers of India and Pakistan like Hali, Jammi, Ghalib, Daag, Momin, Bhadur Shah Zaffar, Iqbal, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Firakh Gaurakhpuri.
Pharmaceutical companies have released his highly commended albums on sound therapy like ‘Doctor to Patient’, ‘Naad Yoga on the Santoor’, etc, states his website. Apart from concerts and his individual practice, he has also composed music for films, commercials, documentaries, serials, operas, choirs, etc. He has composed music for over 6,000 songs in varied languages like Hindi, Kashmiri, Dogri, Sindhi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Himachali, Rajasthani, Telegu, Tamil, etc. and also foreign languages like Persian, Arabic, etc. His acclaimed work includes compositions for various musical genres like Ghazal, Nazam, Geet, Bhajan, Choirs, Devotional (Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian), Children songs, etc.
For his enormous contributions, Pandit Bhajan Sopori had to his credit hundreds of national and international awards, lifetime achievement decorations and titles including the prestigious Padma Shri, National Kalidas Samman, Sangeet Natak Academy Award, J&K Government Lifetime Achievement Award, J&K Civilian Award by Jammu & Kashmir Government, National Flag Honour of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Dr S Radhakrishnan Memorial National Award, Atal Bihari Vajpayee National Award. He also has a unique distinction and honour to be on an Indian Postal Stamp presented by the Indian Postal Department as a special honour to him in the year 2011.
Kashmir not only meant for him as just ‘his roots’; it was his ‘soul.’ It was in his lifestyle, his demeanour, his passion, his performance. He last visited Kashmir over two years ago. His last performance was in Gwalior in December 2021. He performed after getting Kalidas Samman there with the same vigour and dedication. It was in January that his health started failing him physically though could not diminish his spirits. Pandit Bhajan Sopori immense contribution is immeasurable. The legacy of him will always be cherished.