Author - ITC SRA
The Santoor originated in India a few thousand years ago as the ‘Shata-Tantri-Veena’, a name that it had acquired by virtue of its having a hundred strings. Noted musicologist Acharya Brihaspatiji, in a special paper read at the Kinnar School of Music of Pandit Ravi Shankar during a seminar held over forty years ago titled ‘The Origin of String Instruments in India’, said that in those days when Sanskrit was the spoken language, every stringed instrument was called a ‘Veena’ and the ‘Shata-Tantri-Veena’ used to be played with two wooden mallets (Kalams). Over the passage of time the instrument got the name ‘Santoor’ in the Kashmir Valley and for centuries together Santoor remained essentially a Sufiana Kashmiri instrument, belonging to a genre that is also known as Kashmiri Classical Mausiqi in the Valley. Ustad Mohamed Qalinbaf, among others, was an acknowledged maestro of this form. The style has got a terminology called Maqam, which is the equivalent of Raga in Indian Classical Music. The Sufiana Mausiqi of Kashmir was probably the result of a significant level of exchange that took place between India and Persia in the fields of literature and music, the word Maqam itself being an example of it, as it is not to be found otherwise in Indian Raga Music. The accompanying percussion instrument in Sufiana Mausiqi is Tabla and they have their own rhythmic cycles of 14 beats, 12 beats, 5 beats, etc. Although Santoor was used mostly as an accompaniment in this style, it was played as a solo instrument too, as was done by the great master of Sufiana Mausiqi Mohamed Abdulla Tibat Waqal. There is, however, no credible evidence of its having any association with Hindu temple tradition. One very interesting fact is that one finds quite a few instruments around the world similar as the Santoor. Thus we have the Santoori in Greece, Cymbalon in Hungary and Romania, Hack-Bret in Germany, Hammer-Dulcimer in countries like Italy, Switzerland, Ireland and North America, Santoor in Iran and Iraq, Yang-Chin in China, Cimbale in Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia. But the striking fact is that nowhere else in the world we find a 100-stringed instrument except in India, the Santoor of the Kashmir valley that was born out of the Shata-Tantri-Veena or the 100-stringed lute.
By virtue of our extensive interaction with renowned musicians and veteran musicologists, it is concluded beyond doubt that the Santoor was seen for the first time on the concert platform as a solo classical instrument, capable of a raga presentation in all its details, through the hands of Shri Shivkumar Sharma, one of the most accomplished and sought after musicians around the globe. In subsequent times other younger Santoor players like Shri Bhajan Sopori, Shri Satish Vyas and Shri Tarun Bhattacharya have also prominently established themselves in the concert circuit across the country and abroad. These artists have also contributed in their own respective capacity in the systematic and structural development of the instrument.
The meend or the unbroken slide from one note to another is one of the most important characteristics of Hindustani classical music. In Santoor this is achieved by striking the strings so as to create a resonance and then sustain it by gliding the ‘Kalam’ along the strings very delicately, creating minimum vibration. The gliding technique is very effective especially in the alaap portion, which is the slow and progressive unfolding of the raga.
Being still a relatively new instrument, the Santoor does not yet lend itself to the concept of gharana. There are however different styles of rendition in evidence that may mark the advent of individual gharanas in Santoor. One move in this direction may be the Sopori baaj, formally established by Shri Bhajan Sopori.