Pandit Bhajan Sopori – ‘Legendary Santoor Virtuoso & Music Composer’
A Living Legend and a Musical Genius Pandit Bhajan Sopori is more than an individual – a performer and composer par excellence, musicologist, teacher, writer, poet, and an extraordinary human being – he is a complete institution in himself. Regarded as the cultural bridge of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of the country, Pandit Bhajan Sopori is hailed as the “Saint of the Santoor” and the “King of Strings”.
For his immense contribution to Indian music and culture, Pandit Bhajan Sopori has been honoured with prestigious awards like Padmashri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, J&K Government Lifetime Achievement Award, J&K Government Civilian Award, Doctorate of Literature by Utkal University (Odisha), National Flag Honour of the Arab Republic of Egypt, etc.
Pandit Bhajan Sopori was born in Srinagar (Kashmir) into a family of musicians of the fabled ‘Sufiana Gharana’ of Kashmir (the exclusive traditional Santoor family of the country). The mystic master is the bearer of a rich musical legacy and is the great-grandson of Pandit Shankar Pandit ji, the great master who developed the style popularly known as the ‘Sufi Baaj’ (style), based on Sufiana Qalam and Hindustani Classical music. Pandit Bhajan Sopori was initiated into Santoor playing by his grandfather Pandit Samsar Chand Sopori ji and later by his father Pandit Shamboo Nath Sopori ji, hailed as the father of music in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Pandit Bhajan Sopori, the Legendary Santoor Maestro and Music Composer, has been the pioneer in establishing the Santoor on national and international platforms as a complete solo instrument. The quiet and unassuming maestro has come long way since he created history by being the first person to play the Indian Classical music on the Santoor in concerts way back in the early 1950’s. In his decades of dedicated work he has explored various dimensions of the Santoor, carrying out many path-breaking innovations. He has increased the range of the Santoor from the conventional one-and-a-half to more than 5 octaves, balanced the ‘Kalam’ (strikers) with ‘boles’ and attached the ‘Tarab’ and ‘Tumba’ for enhanced tonal quality, etc. These innovations combined with his strong base in traditional ‘Raga–Sangeet’ allow for a systematic exposition of the Raga combining both the ‘Gayaki’ and the ‘Tantrakari Ang’ (style) in his recitals, demonstrating all the essential stylistic nuances of Hindustani Classical Music such as Meend, Glides, Gamak, Boles, including the ‘Dhrupad Ang’ with the accompaniment of the Pakhawaj. His recitals are known for their high degree of technical virtuosity combining highly intricate ‘layakari’, legendary ‘chandhkari’, speedy ‘taan’ patterns running through three octaves and a melodious ‘alaap’. He has thereby expanded the scope of the Santoor as a classical instrument and formally established the ‘Sopori Baaj’ in the realm of Indian Classical Music for which he is hailed as the “Saint of Santoor” and the “King of Strings”. It is also entirely to the credit of the Sopori Family that Hindustani Classical and light music acquire legitimate space in the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
A highly learned person, Pandit Bhajan Sopori, has a double Masters degree in Indian Classical music, specializing in both the Sitar and the Santoor, besides having a Masters degree in English Literature. He has also studied Western Classical Music at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Pandit Bhajan Sopori combines a profound knowledge of music and musicology and has carried out immense research on Naad (sound) and Naad Yoga (sound therapy). Pharmaceutical companies have released his highly commended albums on sound therapy like ‘Doctor to Patient’, ‘Naad Yoga on the Santoor’, etc. He has also composed music for films, commercials, documentaries, serials, operas, choirs, etc. and has been the youngest ever composer of the National Orchestra of India (Vadya Vrinda). He is the only classical musician of the country to have composed music for over 6000 songs in almost all the languages of the country 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 & Christian), Children songs, etc. He has composed the works of almost all the eminent Urdu and Persian Ghazal writers of India and Pakistan like Hali, Jammi, Ghalib, Daag, Momin, Bhadur Shah Zaffar, Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Firakh Gaurakhpuri, and others, to name a few. He has also composed the works of Kabir, Rai Das, Sur Das, Meera Bai, Bhramanand, Guru Nanak, etc.
Pandit Bhajan Sopori has led the revival of Sufism to spread the message of humanism amongst the masses especially the youth. Steeped deeply in the Sufi Parampara (tradition) by way of his Gharana and also his own spiritual leanings, he started performing for Sufi saints in Kashmir at the tender age of eight. He has since then composed the works of most of the legendary Sufi saints of the country like Lalleshwari, Sheikh-ul-Aalam, Amir Khusrau, Kabir, Hafiz Sherazi, Bulle Shah, Ghani Kashmiri, Baba Farid, etc. Further, he has also composed Naats (Islamic devotional songs), Vedic and Sanskrit Chants. Many of the Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit phrases have been set to melody and rhythm for the first time ever by him. He has also composed and introduced a number of new Ragas like Raga Laleshwari, Raga Patwanti, Raga Nirmalranjani and Raga Hem Rast.
Pandit Bhajan Sopori has composed various patriotic songs of India which have been received as master pieces and major musical hits of the country like ‘Bharat Bharat Hum Iski Santaan’, ‘Hum Honge Kaamyaab’, ‘Vande Maataram’, ‘Naman Tujhko Mere Bharat’, etc. He has also recomposed and revived the INA songs like ‘Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna’, ‘Vijayee Vishwa Tiranga Pyaara’, ‘Kadam Kadam Badhaye Jaa’, ‘Bharat Ki Beti’, etc. for national integration and also composed anti-terrorism songs like “Savdhan”, and “Mere Jannath Mere Kashmir” for the National Network. His compositions bear the distinctive stamp of his virtuosity and erudition and have featured most of the eminent classical musicians and also popular playback singers of the country. His classical version of ‘Saare Jahan Se Achha’, instrumental version of ‘Vande Maataram’ and instrumental folk version of ‘Vaishnav Jan To’ are recognized as pioneering efforts.
He created a new wave in the music of J&K with light and folk music and musicians practically grooming under him. This period from 1974 onwards is known as the “Renaissance of Music” in the Kashmir Valley. He revived and innovated the Folk music in the State making it popular amongst the masses. His compositions became extremely popular becoming a part of the folk music culture. He has his notable contribution in grooming up various writers to write literary, sufi, devotional as well as commercial lyrics. To bring the youth in the Kashmir Valley in the mainstream he composed a collection of prayers and Tarana-e-Watan (patriotic songs) sung by large public choirs comprising of almost 8000 school and college students as a ‘Common Prayer’ in the Valley.
Through his profound analysis, survey of history and various musical cultures, he established the Kashmiri Santoor as the predecessor to the resembling Santoor like instruments found in various other parts of the world. His propagation of music brought a revolution in the world of music and he has established a system for solo performance, voice culture, composition, arrangement, orchestration, conducting, designing of choral music, etc. He has also widened the scope of devotional and religious music.
To further his quest of promoting music as a medium of peace and harmony, Pandit Bhajan Sopori has traveled widely and performing extensively at all the prestigious festivals and conferences in the country and abroad, propagating Indian Classical Music and culture all over the world and going to the remotest of places. He has performed at various art museums, painting exhibitions and art centers in the country and abroad with the sole purpose of creating awareness and a sense of appreciation for all forms of arts amongst the masses as well as reinforce the importance of Sahitya, Shastra and the tradition in the field of music. In this pursuit, he has hundreds of disciples in the country and abroad in the field of Santoor, Sitar, Tabla, Guitar, Sarangi, vocal music, music direction, Rabab, Clarinet, Violin, etc. both in classical and light music. It has been his constant endeavour to patronize the upcoming artists and help them establish themselves in the music stream.
Pandit Bhajan Sopori has used his Santoor and his compositions to highlight the concept of oneness and foster unity enshrining the idea of national integration, humanism and peace amongst the common man and the youth in particular.
For his enormous contributions, Pandit Bhajan Sopori has received hundreds of national and international awards, lifetime honours, titles and decoration including the prestigious:
- Maharajah Travancore Swati Tirunal Puraskar 2019, Kerala
- Sangeet Ratna Srijan Shikhar Samman 2019, Delhi
- Honorary Doctorate (Honoris Causa) 2018 by Utkal University of Culture, Bhubaneswar, Odisha
- Atal Bihari Vajpayee National Award 2018, Delhi
- Sathkalarathna Puraskar 2018, Sathkalapeetam, Payyanur, Kerala
- Ustad Bale Khan Memorial Award 2018, Bengaluru
- Distinguished Service Award 2018 by Delhi Govt, MTNL, NDMC & Health Care Foundation of India), Talkatora Stadium, Delhi
- Pandit Ramji Upadhyay Lifetime Achievement Award 2018, Delhi
- PHD Art & Culture Samman (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2018, Delhi
- Sangam National Award 2018, Delhi
- Shanti Devi Gangani Award (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2018, Delhi
- Shudh Dhwani Samman 2018, Delhi
- Honorary Doctorate (Honoris Causa) 2017 by Hindustani Art & Music Society, Kolkata
- Swati Tirunal Award 2017, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
- Upendra Bhanja Samman 2017, Delhi
- Munnu Guru Sangeet Award (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2017, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh
- Kashmir Music Club Shashrang Award 2017, Kashmir, J&K
- Himalayan Cultural Centre Award 2017, Delhi
- Ustad Hafeez Khan & Ustad Basheer Khan Award 2017, Delhi
- Dhrupad Shri (Title Honour) 2016, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
- J&K Government Lifetime Achievement Award 2016 by Govt. of J&K, Srinagar, J&K
- Baramulla District Administration Award of Honour 2016, Govt. of J&K, Baramulla, Kashmir, J&K
- Baramulla District Administration Award of Honour 2016, Govt. of J&K, Sopore, Kashmir, J&K
- Rotary Sur Samrat Sangeet Ratna Samman 2016, Delhi
- Maraz Abdi Sangam Award 2016, Kashmir, J&K
- Sangeet Martand Samman (Title Honour) 2015, Delhi
- Pride of India Lifetime Achievement Award 2015, Delhi
- 31st S Radhakrishnan Memorial National Teacher and Media Award 2015, Delhi
- Atal Bihari Media Excellence Award 2015, Delhi
- Atal Vaibhav Shikhar Samman 2015, Delhi
- DAV Distinguished Alumni Award 2015, Delhi
- Sangeet Vibhuti Samman (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2015, Jaipur, Rajasthan
- Global Literary Festival Honour 2015, Delhi
- Sargam Mandir Swaran Jayanti Samman 2014, Delhi
- Sangeet Shiromani Award 2014, Delhi
- P Jhunjhunwala XXIV National Excellence Award 2014, Delhi
- Art Karat Award 2014, Delhi
- Indian Fine Arts Society Award 2013, Kingdom of Bahrain
- Pracheen Kala Kendra – Koser Award 2013, Chandigarh
- Delhi Ratna Award 2013, Delhi
- National Award by Govt. of Madhya Pradesh (Ustad Latif Khan Samman) 2012, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
- 19th Blockbuster Sur Aradhana Sangeet Ratan Award (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2012, Delhi
- KECSS Award (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2012, Delhi
- Best Citizens of India Award 2011, Delhi
- Rajiv Gandhi Pratishta Samman 2011, Delhi
- S. Agarwal Award 2010, Kolkata
- Ustad Ashique Ali Khan Sangeet Bhushan Award 2010, Delhi
- RaagRanjani Sangeet Bhushan Samman (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2010, Delhi
- Ninaad Sangeet Kala Ratna Samman 2010, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
- N. Mathur Smiriti Kumbh Award 2010, Udaipur, Rajasthan
- Naad Chetanya Samman 2010, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
- RAWA (Renaissance Artists & Writers Association) Award 2010, Delhi
- Baba Allauddin Khan Award 2009, Delhi
- Ustad Chand Khan Award (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2009, Delhi
- Srijan Cultural & Social Development Award 2009, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
- Maa Shardey Samman (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2009, Ajmer, Rajasthan
- Ma Sharika Samman 2009, Faridabad, Haryana
- National Dogri Award 2008, Jammu, J&K
- Sumadhur Hansdhwani Samman 2008, Delhi
- J&K Government Civil Award (Highest Civilian Award of J&K) 2007, Srinagar, J&K
- Raag Sagar (Title Honour) 2007, Delhi
- Pandit Gama Maharaj Samman (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2007, Delhi
- Sangeet Vibhuti Award (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2006, Delhi
- Shree Bhatt Kirti Puraskar (Lifetime Achievement Award) 2004, Delhi
- Akashwani Special Honour 2004, All India Radio, Delhi
- Padma Shri 2004 (4th Highest Civilian Award of India), Delhi
- 14th Shama Award 2004, Delhi
- Munnu Guru Sangeet Smriti Samman 2004, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh
- Kashmir Samiti & KOA Award 2004, Jammu, J&K
- Beenkar Samman (Title Honour) 2003, Kolkata
- Kashmir Overseas Association International Award 2003, Boston, USA
- Celebrate India Award, Denver 2000, USA
- Millennium Delhi Ratna Samman 2000, Delhi
- YMCA Abililty Utsav Award 2000, Delhi
- Radio Kashmir Srinagar (All India Radio) Golden Jubilee Award 1998, Kashmir, J&K
- National Shiromani Award 1996, Delhi
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 1993 (Highest Performing Arts Award of India), Delhi
- Delhi Telugu Academy Award 1993, Delhi
- Sharda Samman 1993, Delhi
- Distinguished Leadership Award 1993, USA
- Kala Snehi Samman 1993, Delhi
- Punjab Sakha Award 1992, Delhi
- Kala Yogi Award (Title Honour) 1991, Mumbai
- Abhinav Kala Samman 1988, Bhopal
- National Flag Honour of the Arab Republic of Egypt 1986, Egypt
- Ismailia International Folklore Festival Award 1986, Arab Republic of Egypt
- Akashwani Annual Award 1985 for Compositional work by All India Radio, Delhi
- Akashwani Annual Award 1984 for Compositional work by All India Radio, Delhi
- Akashwani Annual Award 1983 for Compositional work by All India Radio, Delhi
- Akashwani Annual Award 1979 for Compositional work by All India Radio, Delhi
- 1st Prize in State Music Competition 1963 (Santoor) by J&K Academy of Art, Culture & Languages, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar, J&K
and many more…
- Pandit Bhajan Sopori has a unique distinction and honour to be on an Indian Postal Stamp of Rs. 5.00/- presented by the Indian Postal Department, Govt. of India as a special honor to him in the year 2011 for his extraordinary and missionary work in the field of art and culture.
- Pandit Bhajan Sopori also has a rare honour to have been awarded double Top Grade Awards by All India Radio, Govt. of India both as a Santoor player and Composer.
- Pandit Bhajan Sopori has also given music for various Tableaux for Indian Republic Day Parades, which include 1st Prize for Sangeet Natak Akademi Tableau 2010 and a number of Jammu and Kashmir Tableaux, etc.
Pandit Bhajan Sopori’s name also features in numerous Biographical Note Volumes of India and abroad like Famous India’s Who’s Who, Asia Pacific Who’s Who, Asian Admirable Achievers, Famous India: Nation’s Who’s Who, Personality of the Year, Reference Asia, Kohinoor Personalities of Asia, Asian American Who’s Who, International Directory of Distinguished Leadership, etc.