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Know Your City: Pune’s Borkar family and their gifts to the world of music: Surtarang & E-sarod

A passion for Indian classical music and a love for experimentation saw sarod maestro Pandit Shekhar Borkar and his son Praashekh invent two new musical instruments.

Shekhar Bhorkar (Express)

For a long time, Pune-based renowned sarod player Pandit Shekhar Borkar cherished an ambition – to stand out among his contemporaries. In the mid-90s, he achieved this ambition when his quest to enhance the musical capabilities of the sarod came to fruition and he invented the ‘Surtarang’.

Later, in the 2000s, Borkar’s elder son, Praashekh, a sarod player himself, observed that in a fusion performance, the delicate sound of the sarod was killed and overpowered by other instruments. This inspired him, after several trials and tribulations, to design the E-Sarod, an instrument which heightens the sound of the sarod and is distinct in fusion performances.

 

While the E-Sarod, a modified version of the sarod, has attracted several youngsters towards Indian classical music, the sarod, as Borkar puts it, found a consort instrument in the Surtarang.

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The Surtarang, a companion to the sarod

“Since my initial days of playing the sarod, I wanted to experiment with the sound of the instrument. I always had the innate urge to work towards it. By the mid-90s, I felt compelled to stray away from the traditional and to start working towards my ambition of standing out. That is something every artist aspires to be, to stand out among the crowd,” said 71-year-old Borkar, a musician with a profound enthusiasm for Indian classical music.

To bring his idea to fruition, Borkar began designing the new instrument, cleverly and carefully. To begin with, the skin parchment, a particular component found in the sarod, was replaced with a hollowed wooden tabli, which gave the instrument a distinguishable sound. The structure of the finger plate stayed, like the sarod, with five melody strings. The strings were made thicker than those of the sarod, and when played, created a divine sound with ample resonance.

The Surtarang (Express)

“I was very fortunate to have been friends with the renowned instrument maker Yusuf Mirajkar. When I had approached him with my idea, he was immediately on board. It was not an easy task. He made several prototypes for me but many did not work out. There were times when apprehensions over the project began to overwhelm me. After several experiments, we had the instrument named the Surtarang,” said Borkar.

The ‘Surtarang’ is a combination of three distinct words, mainly ‘sur’, ‘tar’ and ‘ang’. The word ‘sur’ comes from ‘surodh’ as the modern sarod was called then and it also means a musical note. ‘Tar’ comes from the second half of the word ‘sitar’, and finally, the word ‘ang’ means a part or body. Hence, Surtarang is the love child of the sarod and the sitar as the bodies of two instruments are merged into one. Incidentally, the word ‘tarang’ also means waves and the Surtarang also represents ‘musical waves’.

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“It is played just like the sarod but the resultant sound it produced was quite different, nearest to the sound of that of the veena…I noticed that every prevalent instrument had a consort among themselves like the sitar has the surbahar, the violin has the viola and even the tablas come in pairs. The sarod found its consort in the Surtarang,” said Borkar.

Borkar’s dream of creating a new instrument was met with both applause and criticism, he shared. “It was going to happen and I was prepared for it in some ways. In my belief, while I followed the traditional pursuits of the sarod, I wanted to expand my creative endeavours. When I came up with the Surtarang, several sarod players appreciated it, and at the same time, it was also compared with the Mohan Veena. I did not let it deter me and the overall vision I had for the instrument,” he said.

Borkar, who owes allegiance to the Maihar Gharana, has already given a new dimension to traditional sarod-playing. He introduced the presentation of the ‘Badaa khayal’ on the sarod where instead of the customary stroke-oriented phrases with the right hand, a continuous flow of sliding taans was introduced and the new style was called ‘Tarankaar Baaz’. Borkar envisions that the Surtarang paired with the sarod can elevate musical experiences. “Due to the sound it produces, the Surtarang fits perfectly for executing the Alap-Jor-Jhala and be followed by the sarod in performances,” he said.

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Abhishek Borkar, a sarod player and Borkar’s youngest son, said that while the Surtarang is an instrument which holds a barrel full of potential and scope of improvisations, the instrument is currently well suited for acoustics and controlled recordings. “We have to work out how to present the instrument in terms of amplification without destroying it. It is a difficult instrument to play in itself. But diligent work is being put in to have the instrument come out to the public,” he said.

Shekhar Borkar and Abhishek Borkar (Express)

Necessity, the mother of invention – the birth of the E-Sarod

“I must have been 16 or 17 when I observed that when the sarod played alongside instruments such as the drums, the sound of the classical instrument gets engulfed. Even with the microphones, it did not give the required sound and it also had difficulties in terms of feedback. It was this need that made me want to make the E-Sarod,” said Praashekh.

Praashekh with the E-Sarod

Praashekh said he modified an old sarod by building a solid top, altering the body and adding the amplification that the traditional sarod lacked.

“Several prototypes failed and it was around 2003-05 when the E-Sarod started to take shape and the desired sound and amplification were achieved. I have played the E-Sarod for several of my recordings and albums,” he said.

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Currently working extensively on the E-Sarod as well as plans of staging it alongside a traditional sarod, Praashekh believes that the instrument has changed people’s perspective towards Indian classical music.

“An advantage that the E-Sarod presented was to convert the old mindset among the young that Indian classical music is boring and dull. In fact, many got interested to pick up a classical instrument themselves. As for those who are keen to learn the E-Sarod, just as in the guitar, they have to get well versed with the acoustic version before playing the electric version,” he said.

First published on: 03-12-2022 at 12:27 IST
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