Today a legendary sitarshop has ceased to exist. Hari Chand, now 77 years old, brother of the founder of this Paharganj based shop, late Kartar Chand Sharma, finaly has definitively closed down the shop. After 50 years, an almost everyday dedicated handicraft in professional sitarmaking came to an end forever. So be it. There is no way back, there are no successors…
This natural plain brown surbahar was made by Hari Chand and presented to my wife Tine in 1999. This exclusive instrument is a reduced, female sized, copy from the original surbahar which Hari Chand’s brother, late Kartar Chand, has made for Pt. Balaram Pathak in the 70’s. The pictures were recently made by Luc De Gezelle.
This surbahar is completely made out of selected and well-seasoned tun wood. The very simple decoration and clear polish accentuates the natural wood structure and gives this sober instrument a unique touch. There are 11 taravs and 19 hand made cast bronze pardas. Scale length is 928mm and the neck is 103mm wide. The tabli’s diameter is 378mm. So, it is an overall 6% reduced in scale copy of a regular male size surbahar.
In 1940, young Rikhi Ram Sharma was making harmoniums in Kartar Music House in Lahore.
One day a casual customer gets Rikhi Ram Sharma interested in a sitar. He finds and opens a simple 7 string sitar to find out how it is made and starts learning making sitars from Sher Mohammad & his son Mohammed Maksud Ali (Usef Mohammed Ali) who are running another music shop “Sher Mohammad Sitar Makers” in Bansanwala Bazaar, Lahore. They make and play sitars since many years.
There he also meets Mohan Singh (31 years old).
In 1943 two young boys from Himachal Pradesh, Kartar Chand Sharma (18 years) & Hansraj Sharma (14 years), both clever and handy carpenters, join their uncle Rikhi Ram Sharma and Mohan Singh at Sher Mohammad’s shop in Lahore. They also learn how to make sitars and together they form a kind of basic sitar production line until 1947.
In 1947, partition split the country.
Mohan Singh initially went to Amritsar and then moved to Jalandhar (Punjab) where he started the Mohan Singh Shop. In 1959 his son (nephew ??) Gurdial Singh takes over the shop and later changes the name into Gurdial Singh & Sons.
Rikhi Ram Sharma, Kartar Chand Sharma & Hansraj Sharma moved to Delhi and started the Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument Mfg.Co. Their first workshop was initially planted in Paharganj but this is now completely demolished. The showroom of their music shop was build in Connought Place, where at present, the original shop is still there, now run by grandson Ajay Sharma.
They keep on working together until 1959.
In 1959 they get separated. Kartarchand starts his own workshop in Paharganj while in 1962 Hansraj founded Raj Musicals and got settled in a new location near Patel Nagar. The original Rikhi Ram workshop in Paharganj closes down and Rikhi Ram Sharma, together with his son Bishan Das Sharma, start a new workshop at another spot. They also attract new labour men.
Meanwhile, Kartar Chands brother Hari Chand arrives in Delhi in 1954. He gets married one year later and starts working as a mecanic craftsman at TW Carriage & Wagons workshop from the Northern Railway in Delhi. In 1962 he quits this job to join his brother in Paharganj, Together they start making sitars in the Kartar Chand Hari Chand shop at 9050/1 Multani Dhanda, Paharganj, New Delhi 110055.
In 1974 they adopt young (14 years) and tiny Kartar (Kaku) Chand Dhiman as a fixed helper. Kaku’s uncle was at that time working in the Rikhi Ram Sharma’s sitarshop and had asked to Kartar Chand Sharma to teach his nephew how to make sitars. They continuesly built highest quality professional sitars, surbahars & tanpuras. Occasionally also sarods and dilrubas. They also specialise in repair and maintenance and do frequently repair work for Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument Mfg.Co.
In januari 1993, Kartar Chand Sharma (69 years old) unfortunately passes away and Hari Chand Sharma continues the Paharganj Shop alone, regulary assisted by Kartar Chand Dhiman who himself worked out a “mobile” sitar maintenance and repair service in New Delhi for himself.
Today, Hari Chand Sharma aged 77, is getting retired. The Paharganj sitarshop will cease to exist soon. Kartar Chand Dhiman continues his flourishing mobile sitarwork in and around Delhi. He’s now busy constructing a new house in Dashrathpuri. It ‘ll have an extra room so that he’ll be able to do more sitarwork at home.
At the time of writing of this article, Hansraj Sharma is old (82 years) and sick and struggles for his life at home. His 2 sons Suman & Sanju keep on running the shop. They are specialised in Sikh musical instruments like saranda, sikh rabab, dilruba, taus, and sikh pakhawaj which were almost lost in history.
Some interesting economical info:
In 1960, the price of a 100% handmade Kartar Chand Sharma sitar was starting from Rs85 for a simple “student model” up to Rs150 for a professional and fully decorated version. Every now and then the price was raised per Rs5 only….
(Nowadays on e-bay seen $2500)
Kartar Chand Sharma, at their top, produced up to 10 sitars a month (non-decorated types = “student model” or VK model). According to the degree of decoration, the production time of a sitar easily doubles. The trio used to be assisted by a “polish” man and worked 7 days a week, from 7:00 hrs up to 19:00 hrs, many times up to 23:00 hrs. There was only one “holiday” per year, at Divali. That day they reserved for repairing their tools and sharpening the saws and chisels firmly, together with a profound clean-up of the shop.
Today, almost every sitar sold is made starting from a prefab sitarbody fabricated in Calcutta. Hardly anybody builds a sitar 100% handmade anymore. But nevertheless music business is booming. Musical instruments trade grows by 65% a year. (src Raj Musicals)
Raj Musical nowadays has +10 labour man in service at their workshop and 10 people employed in their expanding showroom(s).
Sources & info:
Hari Chand Sharma, interviewed by Klaas Janssens at his house in Dashrathpuri, New Delhi, 21/02/2012.
This time I returned from India with rather mixed feelings. My best friend, and sitarmaker – teacher Hari Chand is seriously considering to get retired. He is now nearly 77 years old and suffers from pain in his hands, his knees and other joints. The daily trip from his house in Dashrathpuri (near Dwarka sector) to the shop in Paharganj (easiliy 1 -1,5 hrs one way) takes more and more of his spare energy.
He’s built his last complete sitar in 2008. Since then he is slowing down and reducing his daily work. He was still doing some setting and assembling work on selected and checked Calcutta prefab sitarbodies but also this came to an end. Now only some basic sitar repair work remained. Also the frequency of his visits to his shop decreased to only a few days a week. Arriving in his shop sometimes at 11:00hrs only, the working day often doesn’t last long. From 16:00 / 17:00 hrs onwards he is getting ready to return back home. The visit to his shop becomes almost a time-pass picnic only…
The flourishing days of Kartar Chand & Hari Chand are now long gone. Both brothers were very dedicated in making first quality professional sitars and they are famous for their unrivalled repair work. They are very closely related to the other world famous New Delhis sitarmakers family Rikhi Ram. Late Kartar Chand Sharma has been learning the skill from his uncle Rikhi Ram Sharma and Sher Mohammad in Lahore, 1943.
This sitar was made in the “Sher Mohammad & Sons Sitar Makers”- shop in Bansanwala Bazaar, Lahore 1940 – 1950 by early sitarmaker Sher Mohammed. At that time, before the Partition, he taught sitar making to, amongst others, Rikhi Ram Sharma and Kartar Chand Sharma. At Partition time, both Rikhi Ram Sharma and Kartar Chand Sharma left Lahore and headed for Delhi where they both settled their own sitar shop (only 800 m. away from each other). Rikhi Ram’s shop became world famous due to Ravi Shankar and the Beatles. Kartar Chand, joined by his younger brother Hari Chand, remained low profile and continued making high quality professional sitars at Paharganj. They developed their own style of sitars and got specialised in repair work. Amongst their main customers was late Pt. Balaram Pathak, and his son Ashok Pathak. In januari 1993 Kartar Chand passed away, and thus leaving the shop to his brother Hari Chand.
This early 70’s original Kartar Chand sitar just left the restoration booth. Complete body check-up and new polish has been done by late Kartar’s brother Hari Chand in New Delhi in march 2009 while I was there on a visit. The celluloid mother of pearl imitation parda lanes have been renewed. My part of the job was to refurbish the original pardas and fit them again on the new lanes. I also made and fit new stagghorn jiwaris for main strings and taravs. The original tuning pegs were used again but some taravkuti-holes needed a new bushing.
Note the very fine finger grips on these taravkutis and also the remarkable cherry-round tumba-shape which is very typical on all Kartar Chand’s sitars.
This sitar sounds amazingly bright and has a vivid tarav response. The meends play very easy and the instrument is very light-weighted.
This ravishing red sitar was made by dearest friend Hari Chand for my lovely wife Tine in 1995. The pictures were recently made by Luc De Gezelle.
The sitar is fully decorated with a discreet hidden om sign in the upper celluloid plate design. There are 12 taravs and 21 vanadium chrome plated pardas. All 3 jiwaris are made out of stagg horn and there is one extra cikari installed. Hari Chand has been working almost one month to complete this unique and beautiful sitar. It is one of the last sitars of this kind, 100% handmade by the master himself.
As every year when I am in Delhi, our dear Swedish friend Hans (Hasse) came to visit me -and this time also my new sitar- in Hari Chands sitar shop. Hans is living half of the year in India and the other half in his house on Gotland. He plays sitar and guitar in many Indian and western bands. Amongst them is Parikrama, a famous rock band from New Delhi.
PlayListen to Hans playing raga Bairagi
at the entrance door of the shop.
It became a nice and realistic soundscape with live Paharganj streetnoise. For Hans it was the first time in months he touched a sitar. Considering this I think he is doing very well on a brandnew 24 parda sitar. The rich and warm sound and easy playability inspired him at once to improvise on Bairagi in the middle of the hectic New Delhi ambiance. Shame on us and sorry for you that we didn’t notice the laraj was a bit out of tune…