Sufiana Gharana & Sopori Baaj

Literally speaking a Gharana refers to a family or lineage usually across multiple generations. In the Hindustani (North Indian) Classical musical tradition a Gharana represents a lineage of musicians with a distinctive performance style, school of thought or tradition and often being a combination of all these elements. While some Gharanas focus exclusively on vocal or instrumental music, there are some that have a combination of both the traditions. Gharanas often owe their origin to one or more masters and are often named after the place where these masters stayed and taught students under the traditional Guru-Shishya Parampara. Successive generations of students carry forward the legacy of the masters leading to the creation of a Gharana. The Gharana system, being a living tradition, is inherently dynamic. Innovations within this system, over time, can lead to the formation of notable identifiable branches within the existing Gharana or even entirely new stylistic variations that may in time lead to the formation of new styles or Gharanas.

The fabled Sopori – Sufiana Gharana of Sopore, Kashmir is the only Hindustani Classical Music Gharana from Jammu and Kashmir. The Sopori family is the exclusive traditional Santoor family of the country with its roots spanning over nine generations over more than 300 years. It comprises of both the traditions i.e. Hindustani Classical music and Sufiana Mausiqi of Kashmir, which owes its roots to the age-old Shaiv Gayan and Sufi Parampara of Kashmir. The Gharana has a unique combination of both vocal and instrumental music with specialization in Santoor, Sitar, Sehtar (Kashmiri Sitar) and Wasool (traditional Kashmiri rhythmic instrument, a diminutive of Pakhawaj).

The great masters of Sopori family were deeply steeped into spirituality and Naad Yoga (sound therapy) and were Saint musicians with origins of Shaiv – Sufi Parampara. The contribution of the Sopori family is exceptionally path breaking in the musical history of Jammu and Kashmir. It is also to the credit of the Sopori Family that Hindustani Classical and Light Music acquire legitimate space in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Sopori – Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir has a huge repertoire of compositions in different languages like Sanskrit, Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi and Persian. The great Shaivite – Sufi Saint Musician Pandit Shankar Pandit ji (Great-grandfather of Pandit Bhajan Sopori), while carrying centuries old legacy on his shoulders, introduced the Indian classical musical elements into the Sufiana Gayaki system and thus created an altogether new style of presentation known as the ‘Sufi Baaj’. The Great Master Musician Pandit Samsar Chand Sopori ji (Grandfather of Pandit Bhajan Sopori) introduced a variety of Layakari, new Sufiana and Hindustani Classical compositions in the Gharana. The Great Music Legend Pandit Shamboo Nath Sopori ji (Father of Pandit Bhajan Sopori), popularly known as ‘Masterjee’ and hailed as the ‘Father of Classical Music’ in Jammu and Kashmir, had a huge collection of more than a dozen compositions in almost every raga in all genres like Dhrupad, Dhamar, Bada Khayal, Chota Khayal and also Tirvath, Tarana, Chaturang, Thumri, Dadra, Ghazal, Bhajan, etc. He practically made the whole State of J&K especially the Kashmir Valley sing and play with him. A large number of professionals, music performers and teachers have been his taught, which include over 35,000 students. Santoor Legend & Music Composer Pandit Bhajan Sopori further added a new dimension to the style of the Gharana with his innovation on the Santoor and compositions. He thereby expanded the scope of the Santoor as a complete Solo instrument and formally established the ‘Sopori Baaj’ in the realm of Hindustani Classical Music. The Gharana is represented in the ninth generation by maestro Abhay Rustum Sopori.

The Sopori – Sufiana Gharana have its own distinctive Gats (instrumental compositions), Bandishes (Vocal compositions) and Taranas, etc. A number of new Ragas have also been composed by Pandit Bhajan Sopori and Abhay Rustum Sopori like Raga Laleshwari, Raga Patwanti, Raga Nirmalranjani, Raga Hem Rast, Raga Nirmalkauns, Raga Mahakali, etc. adding to the musical treasure of Sufiana Gharana.

The ‘Sopori Baaj’ is a unique, formal and exclusive format of playing Classical Santoor created by Pandit Bhajan Sopori. It incorporates all the essential technical and stylistic nuances of both the Gayaki (vocal) and Tantrakari (instrumental) Ang (aspects) such as ‘Meend’ (glissando movement), ‘Gamak’, ‘Glides’, ‘Krintan’, ‘Zamzama’, Taans’, ‘Bol’, ‘Chhand’ and ‘Laya’ patterns, etc. which are absolutely essential for the correct rendering of Raga-Sangeet in the true Indian Classical tradition. Performing along with the accompaniment of the Pakhawaj in Dhrupad system is also a special characteristic of Sopori Baaj introduced by Pandit Bhajan Sopori.

Pandit Bhajan Sopori is known for his legendary Layakari (complex mathematical variations in tempo within a fixed beat-cycle) and ‘Chhandkari’ (rhythmic patterns with fixed meters that are set against various beat-cycles with varying tempos) adding a unique dimension to ‘Sopori Baaj’.

The repertoire of Ragas in Sopori – Sufiana Gharana consists of popular, rare and complex ragas in different Gats and Bandishes composed in a variety of Taals (beat cycles) like Tevra & Rupak (7), Basant & Mat Taal (9), Sool & Jhaptaal (10), Ashtmangal & Rudra (11), Chautaal & Ektaal (12), Jai Taal (13), Dhamar & Adachautaal (14), Gaja Jhampa & Pancham Savari (15), Aditaal & Teentaal (16), Shikhar Taal (17), Lakshmi Taal (18) and also many Sufiana Mausiqi Taals like Chapandaz (6), Fakhta Zarb (7), Sehtal & Yaktala (12), Hijaz & Duroya (14), Doyeka (16), etc. and also half beat & quarter beat cycles like 5½, 6½, 7½,  8½,  9½,  10½,  7¼, 8¼, 9¼, 10¼, 7¾, 8¾, 9¾, 10¾, etc. The Vilambit Gats by Pandit Bhajan Sopori in Jhaptaal, Ektaal and Teentaal are regarded as highly technical and greatly acclaimed by music connoisseurs.

The Raga (melodic form) in ‘Sopori Baaj’ is presented in its authentic and purist form in accordance with the traditional Raga–Shastra (grammatical and structural nuances) of the individual melodic forms as described in the classical treatises. Emphasis is laid on the Alaap & Jod in the Dhrupad style and the exclusive ‘Chhand’ based Jod with the accompaniment of Pakhawaj as part of the Alaapchari, Raga Vistar (elaboration and exposition of the Raga or melodic form) and variety of Taan patterns in Sapaat, Gamak and Merukhand (tonal and microtonal variations created using various permutations and combinations of the notes of a Raga for ornamentation and to highlight the stylistic nuances of a particular melodic form) enriched with incredible Tehais and lightning tempo to enhance the beauty of the presentation and highlighting all its subtleties.

Apart from the Dhrupad and Khayal Ang, other classical and light-classical forms such as Tarana, Tappa, Tapp-Khayal, Thumri, Dadra, Kajri, etc. are also rendered on the Santoor in the ‘Sopori Baaj’. Another variety of rendition adding to the light form created by Pandit Bhajan Sopori is called as ‘Kashmirika Ang’, which features Kashmiri Sufiana, folk & Tarana melodies together highlighting the dimension of Kashmiri culture.

Abhay Rustum Sopori has also contributed to the ‘Sopori Baaj’ with his innovations and experimentations on the Santoor further extending its dimension. In keeping with his lineage he has further established the concept of ‘Gayan-Vadan Baaj’ in the Indian classical system and has revived the traditional Gharana system of singing the composition along with its instrumental rendering. He has introduced ‘Open String Concept’ on the Santoor together with the ‘Enhanced Sustain Technique’. He has revived the old ShaivSufiana compositions of his predecessors and adopted them in the Indian Classical Raga system and also composed and introduced new Bandishes (vocal compositions).