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Pandit Ram Narayan: 100 colours of sarangi
- Vijay Shanker

August 11, 2012

Pandit Ram Narayan's name is synonymous with the sarangi. He is credited for having propagated Indian classical music on the international level, especially European countries and is the pioneer in providing an individual status to the sarangi which was always used as an accompanying instrument. The 80 plus veteran maestro, whose contribution spans more than six decades shares his thoughts with us.

What has been your family background and who initiated you into Indian classical music?
I was born in Amber village, near Udaipur in Rajasthan. I was initiated into music by my father. I learnt the basics from my father Nathuji Bijaywant who was a professional musician but used to play the esraj.

Did you learn to play the esraj and how did you take to the sarangi?
I did try the esraj but I felt that it had its limitations. When I started learning the sarangi, I realized that here is an instrument that can provide you a variety of emotions and melody too.

How did you further develop your passion for music?
When you are ardently interested in something, you automatically start learning and that's precisely what happened to me. By the time I was 12, I became a professional musician and at the age of 16, I was employed as staff artiste with All India Radio in Lahore which was an enriching experience for me.

Could you tell us about your experience in All India Radio in Lahore?
I began my professional career as a sarangi player, accompanying top musicians like Omkarnath Thakur, Pandit Krishna Rao, Shankar Pandit among others from 1944 onwards. It was really an enriching experience as I could learn a lot. Throughout this period, I was learning, experimenting and researching on this stringed instrument. After a certain period, I realized that my role as an accompanying musician was restricted and limited and if I have to grow as a musician it was essential for me to explore new possibilities. I felt that the sarangi definitely deserved solo concert status.

What did you have to contend with to provide sarangi the solo concert status?
It was difficult but I took it up as a challenge and started playing solo concerts. Initially the response was not that encouraging but my simple and kind nature, helped me in convincing that here is an instrument with lot of musical variety and melody, and hence deserves the solo concert status. You will be surprised to know that I was among the first to record for HMV.

Have you introduced any technical changes in playing the sarangi?
In the West, the technique of playing bowed instruments like the viola, the cello and the violin, has evolved over the years. They have evolved what is called the up and down movement of the bow, in addition to various other valuable techniques. I have introduced my own techniques to enhance the impact of the traditional 'ulta' (reverse) right to left and 'seedha' (straight) left to right gaj (bow) movements. This has considerably reduced the difficulties faced by aspiring students.

What has been the impact of your recitals both in India and abroad?
The response has always been overwhelming, especially in European countries. I have had the privilege of interacting with renowned musicians like Yehudi Menuhin, Pablo Casals, Rostropovich among others. I even composed a number for Yehudi.

I believe Yehudi Menuhin made some special comments about you. What were they?
Yehudi Menuhin said, "The sarangi remains not only the authentic and original Indian bowed instrument but the one which most poignantly in the hands of Ram Narayan most revealingly expresses the very soul of Indian feelings and thought. I cannot separate the sarangi from Ram Narayan, so thoroughly fused are they not only in my memory but in the thought of this sublime dedication of the great musician to an instrument which is no longer archaic because of the matchless way he has made it speak."

What are your memorable performances in other countries?
As mentioned earlier, the European countries are the most receptive like United Kingdom, France and Germany. I was invited four times for the Vienna Music Festival at Mozart's Hall which has a capacity of 2000 seats. Besides that, my student Joap Borr who heads the World Music Department of Rotterdam Conservatory of Music has written a good book on the history of the sarangi, A book in Marathi too has been published regarding my contribution to sarangi.

Are any of your family members into music?
I have 2 sons and 2 daughters. My elder son Brij is already a professional sarod player. My daughter Aruna is a talented sarangi player and my grandson Harsh has already started accompanying me in professional concerts. My younger son Shiva is a tabla player and I am glad my family is following in my footsteps.

Why did your son Brij not take up the sarangi?
I had to go through a lot of struggle to popularise the sarangi, so I did not want him to go through the same ordeal. He always preferred the sarod as he felt it was more contemporary. Moreover, what is important is to serve classical music, the instrument is only a means to do so.

All India Radio normally plays sarangi music, whenever somebody expires. Why is that so?
That is ridiculous. Sarangi is Sau Rangi (100 colours) so it ultimately depends on how you treat the instrument and how you play it that matters.

Have you established any institute to propagate the sarangi?
Yes. I have established the Ram Narayan Foundation to propagate the sarangi in particular and classical music in general. We encourage poor and needy aspirants to learn free and I also insist that classical music should be taught in schools.

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