Sarangi, musical instrument
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2022: Rajesh Dhawan's pieces in Meerut
Sandeep Rai, Sep 10, 2022: The Times of India
Rajesh Dhawan grew up listening to the sound of strings, hammer and chisel as his father made sitars day and night to cater to an upsurge in demand for the instrument in the ’70s, shortly after maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar made it famous the world over, with the Beatles playing an important cameo.
During one of his visits to Haridwar in the early 1990s, a classical vocalist mentioned the name of a legendary sarangi maker in Meerut, the late Behra Yaseen, a genius craftsman who was partially deaf, therefore the name ‘Behra’. It was a revelation for Dhawan. He was introduced to Behra’s work whose sarangis, much later in life, were considered to be nothing less than the “Indian equivalent” of the priceless Stradivarius, the finest violins ever made, by future generations.
It is believed that 45-year-old Behra died in 1965 in extreme penury as the sarangi was still not a “respected instrument” and was primarily played at kothas, on whose mellifluous tunes tawaifs danced with ghungroo-adorned feet.
“Once, Behra was unable to provide money to buy fuel for the kitchen. He broke one of his sarangis and gave the wood to his daughter to light the fire. He was so sad at his conditionthat he refused to pass on his craftsmanship to posterity. But Behra’s instruments slowly turned into legends in themselves, played by sarangi maestros throughout the country and abroad,” said Dhawan. Dhawan was so inspired by his discovery that he took upon himself the task of reviving the lost legacy of Meerut’s sarangis, and Behra’s.
Although investing energy and finances in the dying art was a challenge, Dhawan’s resolve remainedsteadfast – to bring back the lost glory of Meerut. “It took me years to develop the art of making a sarangi as it is one of the most difficult instruments. Tuning it was yet another challenge. But visiting maestros, including Bharat Bhushan Goswami, helped me learn the nuances and the art of tuning the 40 strings.
I also chanced upon an old sarangi made by Behra and studied it deeply,” said Dhawan. His efforts slowlypaid off. Dhawan now gets the credit for the revival of the instrument. Renowned sarangi player Farooque Latif Khan said, “Dhawan has learned the art of infusing soul into the stringed instrument. From the material he uses to the finesse he attains, everything draws people to Meerut. ” Ninety-five-year-old Padma Vibhushan Pandit Ram Narayan, an Indian musician who popularised the sarangi as a solo concert instrumentin Hindustani classical music and became the first internationally successful sarangi player, is all praise for Dhawan. “Besides being an accomplished sarangi manufacturer, there is no one who can make a better bow than Dhawan in the entire country.
The quality of the bow has a major contribution to the production of sound in a sarangi,” he said. Recently, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, headquartered in Delhi, invited Dhawan to give a live demonstration of crafting the instrument. “We have just started a programme to train the youth in manufacturing this instrument under Dhawan’s supervision.
Our main aim is to ensure that the instrument doesn’t become extinct as the players are, in any case, becoming fewer in number with the changing times. One of the instruments manufactured by Dhawan is kept at the PM’s Office museum,” said Jayant Chaudhary, director, museum department, Sangeet Natak Akademi. Dhawan’s instruments are known for their cost-effectiveness. One piece costs around a “reasonable Rs 35,000”. “There are others, too, who want to restore the sarangi’s lost glory. A lot needs to be done to promote it,” said the luthier, who has made over 1,500 sarangis in the past 22 years. That’s a lot, considering that the wood used in it takes eight years to season and months to tune.