Before why comes what. For those of you who may have landed on this link, and are not yet acquainted - the Chandraveena is a modern string instrument, designed and built to play Indian Classical Music based on the guiding principles of Dhrupad, Indian Raga system and the philosophy of Maarga Sangeet. This instrument was designed by me and the first prototype was built by a hereditary instrument maker from Kolkata, the Late Mohan Lal Sharma. It has subsequently gone through changes based on my requirements, and recently it has been standardised with respect to its size, shape and style. After the demise of Mohan Lal Sharma, all further work on Chandraveena has been undertaken by another hereditary instrument maker, from Miraj, Majid Satarmaker.
Now, I have often been asked: “Why did you make Chandraveena?” or “What is its purpose?” or “Why not play Rudra Veena?”. These are indeed relevant questions!
I wasn’t always playing the Chandraveena! After early elementary training in Saraswati Veena in Carnatic music during my school days in Madurai, I moved to Mumbai for college education. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the sound of Sarod, though in Madurai I had never seen one. Imagine the pre-Internet era where I didn’t have the ability to “Google sarod”! Nevertheless, fascinated by the sound of the instrument, I was keen to learn it.
Being in Mumbai gave me that opportunity. One of my early mentors in my musical journey, late Chandu Kapadia went about finding a Sarod teacher for me. Though I had this dream of learning from Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Chandu felt that it would be better if I received basic training from a teacher based locally in Mumbai. Note that Ustad Amjad Ali Khan resided in Delhi at the time. It took a couple of years, but Chandu one day took me to meet Pandit Pradeep Barot who eventually became my only Sarod guru! And so started my journey of learning Sarod.
Being a student of St.Xaviers’ College had its immense benefits. In addition to being a great college of education, it also had many extra-curricular avenues. One such was a music library, then called the IMG1 Britannia Music Library. As a member of the library, and later as a committee member, I not only had access to hundreds of hours of music to listen to, but I also came into close contact with many great musicians like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Allah Rakha, and so on. These experiences and interactions laid the foundation for my later journey as a student of music, and as a performer.
While I was fumbling about, learning the basics of Sarod from Pandit Pradeep Barot, at college, I met Bahahuddin Dagar, son of late Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. This became a life changing event, for it brought me into contact with Ustad Z M Dagar, who was well and alive then. I instantly related to his music - the grand and sensitive exploration of a raga on an even grander instrument, the Rudra Veena. It was an instrument he had designed and it later went on to be called Dagar Veena. Here, for the first time, I heard the name Sursringar - a rare ancient instrument. Over many interactions, I fell in love with the music, and the man behind the music, and here I was, very sure this was the music I wanted to pursue! I had no idea what, how or when, but this much was clear in the deepest of my heart that I wanted to learn this great form of music from this great Ustad!
Destiny can be very powerful, affecting your life with unexpected twists and turns - some wonderful, but some cruel.
Just when there was happiness in my heart at having found the music of the soul, and the man behind the music, in a twist of fate, Ustad Z M Dagar suddenly passed away. While dealing with the shock of losing a great Ustad, and wondering about my own life and music, this twist of fate also brought me in touch with his illustrious brother, the vocalist, Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar. I have been fortunate to be associated with him through a journey lasting 23 beautiful years till his demise in 2013.
At the time, still unsure of my musical life, I continued my formal college education, and later took up corporate jobs, while being closely associated with music. I continued my training in Sarod, and in Dhrupad under Ustad Z F Dagar. At one point, we had this dream of my playing Sarod and Sursringar - a unique combination of two beautiful instruments in different styles. However, it was difficult to find a maker for the Sursringar. One maker even quoted what was equivalent to my annual household income at the time! I quickly backtracked from that idea, albeit temporarily, and continued my job, and training in Dhrupad, all along still dreaming of playing Sarod and Sursringar!
Then one day, while chatting with Ustad and Bahauddin, they were jointly of the opinion that I should explore the idea of playing Saraswati Veena all over again, and this time in Dhrupad style! And thus started my journey on “Why the Chandraveena”!
Read the making of Chandraveena to know how my journey went!