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Remembering the Santoor Maestro

Wednesday, February 06, 2019
By Amarendra Dhaneshwar

"Give me a solemn promise that, come what may, you will never change or compromise with your method of tuning the santoor," this was a stern command from none other than the Late Rahul Dev Burman to the santoor player Ulhas Bapat when he first heard him at a recording studio. Bapat who passed away prematurely last year after prolonged illness and multiple organ failure was a favourite santoorist of not only R D Burman but also of composers of the stature of Khayyam,Pyarelal and Vanraj Bhatia.

What set him apart from others was his unique style and chromatic system of tuning which enabled him to navigate from one raga to another without difficluty and also helped him to produce the 'meend' (glissando) and 'gamaks' (oscillations) which are rarely heard on the santoor. His contribution in this field extended the boundaries of the santoor and almost elevated the instrument to the aesthetic heights of the sarod and the sitar.

"Only passion and great passion can elevate the soul to do great things," said Diderot. Ulhas Bapat's life bears testimony to this maxim. His untimely death at the age of 67 was an irreparable loss to the world of music.

Bapat was not a hereditary musician. His father was a police officer who was also an amateur tabla player who encouraged his son learn the tabla which he did under the veteran Ramakant Mhapsekar. Later on, he was fascinated by the sound of the santoor played by the eminent celebrited santoorist Shivkumar Sharma. As a santoorist, he was more or less self trained. He learned raga music under K G Ginde, Wamanrao Sadolikar and Zarin Sharma. He could develop his own and his santoor's identity thanks solely to his passion.

He rose to great heights as a classical instrumentalist. With his chromatic tuning he could play any raga without having to change the entire tuning of the instrument. He played in major festivals and also participated in international events in which his performances were well acclaimed. He also created his own ragas. His santoor pieces in their songs have enriched their body of work. His pupil, Varada Khadilkar is expected to carry forward his musical legacy.

She was featured at the memorial programme held last week at the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre under the auspices of 'Miti Creations'. She played the raga 'Kirwani' in a manner which revived fond memories of Bapat's concerts. There were gentle meends and delicate 'krintans' which decorated her alaps. She also played a Rag Sagar incorporating several disparate ragas. Soham Jagtap, a junior student of Bapat also played in the programme. Guruprasad Gandhi and Prasad Padhye lent excellent support on the tabla.

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