Treasures from the Past
Sangeet Saraswati, Guru Sharan Rani was amongst the few greatest musicians of the 20th century. Born in Delhi, in 1929, in a non-musician Hindu family of well known businessmen and educationists, Sharan Rani became the first internationally renowned woman instrumentalist of India. Sarod became synonymous with her name and she was popularly called “Sarod Rani” i.e, the Queen of Sarod. A pioneer and a path maker, Guru Sharan Raniji was the first woman to take up the difficult Sarod which was always known as a ‘man’s instrument’. India for many centuries had great female vocalists but no woman instrumentalist of Hindustani classical music. Breaking this centuries old glass ceiling, Sharan Rani opened the doors of Hindustani instrumental music for women, by setting her own example. She took to classical music in the 1930’s when it was unheard of girls belonging to non musician families to take up music professionally. Music was basically the monopoly of male dominated Gharanas of music and ‘Baijis’. There were no institutions where one could learn music. A major setback came to her at a tender age, when she lost both her parents in her childhood. Sharan Rani epitomized the spirit of ‘Shakti’ in a woman. Her life was filled with many challenges, struggles and hardships, which she overcame with great inner strength and courage. Sharan Rani became an institution in herself. She contributed to India’s rich musical and cultural heritage in an unparalleled manner, as a ‘master musician,’ an important ‘cultural ambassador’ an extraordinary major collector and a visionary selfless donor of old and rare musical instruments, noted writer and research scholar, Guru and virtuoso composer.
Called the ‘Cultural Ambassador of India’ by Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sharan Rani actively performed on the concert stage for over seven decades, receiving unprecedented critical acclaim in India and abroad. She was the recipient of many awards, honours and titles, including the Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri (1968) central Sangeet Natak Academi award, Delhi state’s Sahitya Kala Parishad award , National Artiste award from the Govt. of India (other awardees being Pt. Ravi Shanker, Pt. Bismillah Khan. Smt. Subbulaxmi and Smt. Lata Mangeshkar), to name a few.
As an unparalleled contribution to promote and preserve our Indian musical heritage for future generations, Sharan Rani spent many decades collecting rare musical instruments. She donated (in 1980 and again in 2002) nearly 450 old and rare Hindustani and Carnatic music instruments, spanning the 15th to the 19th century, from her monumental personal collection to the National Museum, New Delhi. These instruments are permanently exhibited in the Sharan Rani Backliwal Gallery of Musical Instruments which was inaugurated and dedicated to the nation in 1980 by the then Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi who described it as
‘a collection of rare classical music instruments of national importance’. This is the first and the largest collection of its kind in the world, till date. In 1998 the Government of India’s postal department released the first ever set of four postage stamps, along with a first day cover and brochure, on Indian musical instruments, based on the Sharan Rani Backliwal Gallery of Musical Instruments.
Dr. Sharan Rani was also the author of the acclaimed book, ‘The Divine Sarod’, on the origin, antiquity and development of the Sarod since 2nd cent. B.C. This is the first book ever to be written on the origin and development of the Sarod and was released in 1992 by Shri K.R. Narayanan, the then Vice President of India.
Guru Sharan Rani taught her Indian and foreign students through the Guru-Shishya Parampara and did not take any fees from her students. Many of her students gained repute in India and abroad.
She served as the founder, President and Chairperson of prestigious cultural and educational institutions.
Sharan Rani was the resident disciple of the greatest Guru and musician, ‘Baba’ Ustad Allauddin Khan in Maihar and Sarod wizard, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. The musical genius of Sharan Rani was a brilliant combination of superb artistry and intense soul searching emotions. She played from within, as if in tune with the infinite, blissfully mesmerising her listeners to have a profoundly moving experience.
“Listen to excerpts of her performance, where she was accompanied by Pandit Chaturlal and Pandit Manik Popatkar on tabla respectively.”