Santoor player, Pt. Bhajan Sopori (73) passed on Thursday in Gurugram after a prolonged illness. He was diagnosed with Colon Cancer last June.
Recipient of the Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi and Jammu and Kashmir State Lifetime Achievement Award, Sopori who hailed from Sopore in Kashmir belonged to the Sufiana gharana. His family had played the santoor for over six generations and the late master gave his first public performance at the age of 10.
Learning Western classical music at Washington State University, where he also taught music for several years, the late musician had a double master’s degree in Indian classical music specialising both in sitar and santoor.
Contributing immensely to improvising the santoor by adding more bridges and strings to the instrument, he also modified the tonal quality of the instrument.
An outspoken critic of favouritism and biases in the classical music scene, the artist, who formed the music academy ‘SaMaPa- Sopori Academy for Music and Performing Arts’ in 2004 takes the guru-shishya tradition forward. The academy, besides teaching students also brought music to jail inmates as therapy.
In times of networking and social media outreach by many artists, the musician always never joined the bandwagon and always stressed on creative excellence and opportunities for the truly deserving, a major reason why he set up the music academy.
With thousands of compositions from major Persian and Urdu ghazal writers including Ghalib, Jammi, Momin, Iqbal, Faiz and Hali, Sopori, he was instrumental in establishing a cultural link between Kashmir and the rest of the country.
When transferred to Delhi by All India Radio, no music was being produced in the valley. When he went back to Kashmir, he noted that even accompanists were unwilling to play due to threats from Islamic militants. However, he managed to convince them to come back to their art forms and ascertained that musicians in the valley could practice their art and earn a living.
His son, Abhay Rustum Sopori, himself an accomplished santoor player and recipient of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar and J&K State Award has performed across the world. Having also learned Western Classical, he is the youngest visiting faculty at the University of Massachusetts and has been the only contemporary Indian composer, whose Haftrang, as a tribute to Kashmir, has been conducted by maestro Zubin Mehta.
On his father’s demise, Abhay said, “He was 73, and would have celebrated his 74th birthday on June 22. We lost a really great musician, a great human being and a great father. It’s really hard for me to believe this and imagine my life without him.”
Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir tweeted, “Very sorry to hear about the tragic demise of Padma Shri Pandit Bhajan Sopori sahib. A great son of the soil, he was a colossus in the world of classical Indian music who made the santoor his own. May his soul rest in peace. My condolences to Abhay Sopori and the rest of his family.”