INTERVIEW Music

Call of the santoor

Rajkumar Majumdar’s santoor rectial at Bharat Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram. Photo: S. Mahinsha

Rajkumar Majumdar’s santoor rectial at Bharat Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram. Photo: S. Mahinsha   | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

Rajkumar Majumdar traces his musical journey on the santoor.



The santoor creates a bewitching calm. The strains of music that waft through the air spreads the feel one gets while watching ripples that appear on the water when a light breeze caresses it. The calm lingers and one wishes it lasts forever.

A similar tranquillity had set in during Rajkumar Majumdar’s santoor recital at the Bharat Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram; the audience listened in rapt attention as the deft hands played on. Interestingly, his mastery over the santoor was not the sole focus of this interview, because, here was a person who had trained for nearly 17 years as a tabla player but had now changed tracks to play this string instrument.

Beginning at the age of five with a tabla performance on Doordarshan, the young Rajkumar had his early training under his father, the well-known classical vocalist, Pandit Prashant Majumdar. “My father was my first guru. On several occasions, I was the accompanist for his concerts. This was enriched with the inputs I received as a shishya to Pandit Prem Ballabh Pant (Delhi gharana), professor Gyan Prakash Ghosh (Farukhabad gharana) and the late Pandit Shamta Prasad (Banaras gharana). But, an accident in 1997 deprived me of the use of my right hand. Bereft of the use of this arm, I could not play the tabla. For six long months, music had gone out of my life. I could not think of any way out. It seemed an endless wait. A friend of mine, a santoor player himself, suggested that I try my hand at the santoor. That was the turning point,” recalls Majumdar.

For this alumnus of the Hindu College in Delhi, who did his graduation in Mathematics (Hons), music was to be the axis of his life. The decision to shift to a stringed instrument after nearly two decades as a percussionist was not well-received by his father. The parent’s anxieties and reasoning were only reasonable: the son comes from a background known for its vocalists and percussionists. He would be foregoing this priceless advantage by taking to the santoor.

Rajkumar demonstrates how things got easy for him despite the problem with his hand, “When I use my hands on the tabla, the palm faces the surface of the instrument. There is more pressure on the vulnerable hand, whereas, when I hold the mallets for the santoor, my hands are held vertical to the musical instrument posing less of a strain.” He continues to train under Pandit Bhajan Sopori who took him under his wings in 1999.

The santoor as a musical instrument gained in popularity through maestro Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma who introduced it to the rest of the country when he took it out of the confines of the Kashmir region. Identified as the accompanying instrument for Sufi mystic chants, the santoor casts a spell and it is this Sufiana touch that Rajkumar carries in his performances too. In a world which seems to be in a hurry to create a fusion with the music from the West and East, he cites his experiences as part of a seven-member cultural delegation that performed fusion with a Trinidad group of 134 steel pan music players. “The sitar, pakhawaj, tabla and santoor outshone the music that emerged from the large group that played for the host country. It was a live example of the quality of our music,” he explains.

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 5:06:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/call-of-the-santoor/article6679003.ece

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