Indian classical music legend Shiv Kumar Sharma has died. The leading exponent of santoor, a dulcimer-like instrument, suffered a heart attack at his residence in Mumbai.
Sharma is credited with converting the santoor, which was mainly played in Kashmir, into a major instrument of Indian classical music and was also part of a duo - along with flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia - who worked on classical and film music.
Shiv-Hari, as they were called, composed music for at least eight Bollywood films, including Silsila, Chandni, Darr and Lamhe. Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes to Sharma.
Born and raised in Jammu, his father, Uma Dutt Sharma, came from a family of priests, and was himself a classical vocalist and played the tabla, the traditional Indian drum.
In the early 1950s, when he was handling music programmes for a state-run radio station, Uma Dutt began researching the santoor, a traditional instrument of Kashmir used in local Sufi music. He bought home a 100-string santoor and encouraged his young son to try playing it.
Years later, Sharma recounted that he had initially resisted playing the instrument. By 17, he was playing both the santoor and the tabla for the local radio station, before becoming a versatile musician - playing the tabla for maestros such as Ravi Shankar (sitar) and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod). Singer Vijay Kichlu once said Sharma made the santoor a major component of Indian classical music.
Kichlu said: "Unlike the santoor, the sarod, the shehnai and the violin were considered major instruments, with the sarangi being used as an accompanying instrument to vocalists." Also, playing the santoor was not easy: the instrument is not played with the fingers. Instead, its strings have to be struck with a mallet held in each hand.
Said to have modified the instrument to "suit the requirements of Indian classical music - specifically to enhance its tonal quality", he was also the first musician to play the instrument on his lap for hours at a time - traditionally the santoor was kept on a wooden stand when played.
In 1955, when he was 17, he had turned down an offer from V Shantaram, a Bollywood director, to compose a song in his film - saying his calling lay elsewhere. But five years later, he arrived in Mumbai looking for music-based jobs in the film industry - by then, he had also acquired a master's degree in economics.
Film music historian, Manek Premchand, once commented: "His work, for much of the sixties and some of the seventies, kept running like a train on two tracks - his work in cinema, and his opus on the classical concert stage." Ravi Shankar once called Sharma a "superstar" who would be always "mentioned as a pioneer in elevating santoor to the height of classical refinement".
A rare musician who effortlessly straddled both classical and popular music, Sharma played the santoor for least 40 popular Hindi film songs sung by greats such as Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh. In the eighties, his collaboration with Chaurasia spawned many hits, beginning with Silsila, starring superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
Bachchan once remembered a New Year's Eve during the shooting of Silsila when the duo played well past midnight at the hotel they were staying in Delhi. "When it was all over, we could see not just a physical exhaustion on the part of Sharma but as though his very soul had got exhausted," he recalled.
In 1998, Kumar and Chaurasia became the first Indian musicians to play at a Nobel prize ceremony in Oslo alongside Alanis Morissette, Elton John and Phil Collins. The duo also performed in the central hall of India's parliament.
Sharma received some of India's greatest honours: the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1986, the Padma Shri in 1991, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001. He is survived by his wife and two sons. One of his sons, Rahul, is also a santoor player of repute who has recorded with Richard Clayderman and Kenny G.
He was 84.