Sharan Rani Backliwal

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Sharan Rani Backliwal
Sharan Rani.jpg
Sharan Rani
Background information
Birth name Sharan Rani Mathur
Born (1929-04-09)April 9, 1929
Died April 8, 2008(2008-04-08) (aged 78)
Occupation(s) classical musician, music scholar
Instruments sarod

Sharan Rani Backliwal (née Mathur) (9 April 1929 – 8 April 2008) was an Indian classical instrumentalist and music scholar, best known for her expertise with the sarod.[1][2]

Her private collection of 370 musical instruments ranging from the 15th to the 19th century are now part of the "Sharan Rani Backliwal Gallery of Musical Instruments" at the National Museum, New Delhi.[3][4]

Early life and training[edit]

She was born Sharan Rani Mathur in Walled city of Old Delhi to a conservative Hindu family of well-known businessmen and educationists.[3] As a young girl, Sharan Rani learned to play the sarod from the master musicians Allauddin Khan and his son Ali Akbar Khan.

Sharan Rani began her musical career in spite of immense familial opposition. During this period in Indian history, a career as a musician was seen as something for gharanas (families where music was a hereditary profession) or was the profession of nautch girls or baijis, not something appropriate for the daughter of a respectable, non-musician family. She also learned the Kathak form of classical Indian dance from Achhan Maharaj and Manipuri dance from Nabha Kumar Sinha.[5] In 1953, she did her M.A from Delhi University, and studied at Indraprastha College for Women.

Musical career[edit]

From the late 1930s, Sharan Rani presented her sarod recitals on the concert stage in India for over seven decades, receiving unprecedented critical acclaim. Since the 1950s she presented her sarod recitals abroad becoming the very first musician from India to go to many countries in all the continents. She played a vital role in introducing and popularising Indian classical music abroad. She was one of the very first to record for UNESCO and to release musical recordings with major record companies in the United States, Britain and France.

On the concert stage for over seven decades, many of her sarod recitals were graced by Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings and Queens, and Heads of State of many countries. She performed at major music halls around the world and in many major music conferences in India. She gave many lecture demonstrations in India and abroad. She had a special fondness for children and young adults and always took out time to give special concerts and lec-dems, free of charge for them. She never turned down a request for a laudable cause and gave many benefit performances for charitable and worthy causes. According to Jawaharlal Nehru, she was the "Cultural Ambassador of India" [6]

Concerned that the rich Dhrupad tradition was fading away, she was also the only artist keeping alive the tradition of playing Sarod with both Pakhawaj and Tabla. Hence, in many concerts, she also presented her solo recitals accompanied by both Tabla and Pakhawaj, besides her usual concerts wherein she was accompanied only by the Tabla.

Musical research and teaching[edit]

Sharan Rani also wrote a history of the sarod, titled The Divine Sarod: Its Origin, Antiquity and Development,[7] which was released in 1992, by Shri K.R. Narayanan, the then Vice President of India.[3] A second edition of The Divine Sarod was released in 2008 by Shri I.K. Gujral, former Prime Minister of India. She also wrote a number of articles on music.

Sharan Rani taught music through the Guru –Shishya parampara and never took any fees from her students. Many students also lived in her house as her resident-disciples for several years, free of charge. Many of her Indian and foreign students have gained repute in India and abroad.few names like, Rohit Anand, Vijit Singh (Rinku) and prabhat kumar etc.

The National Museum has a unique collection of old and rare musical instruments donated by Sharan Rani from her collection. In India, in the pre-independence period, there was no museum in Delhi. No systematic effort had been made to preserve the heritage of Indian musical instruments. With single minded determination, Sharan Rani took upon herself the onerous challenge of finding and acquiring old and rare musical instruments. Slowly and consistently over decades and without any outside aid, she built up an unparalleled collection of rare musical instruments. As a legacy for future generations, she gave the National Museum, New Delhi nearly 450 old and rare musical instruments spanning from the 15th century to the 20th century in three linked donations in 1980, 1982 and 2002.

Sharan Rani Backliwal Gallery at the National Museum

These instruments are housed in a permanent gallery, called the ‘Sharan Rani Backliwal Gallery of Musical Instruments’, in the National Museum, New Delhi, inaugurated and dedicated to the nation in 1980 by the then Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi, who called it a ‘collection of rare musical instruments of national importance.’ In 1982 and 2002, she again gave instruments to the National Museum to further enrich the existing Sharan Rani collections in the Museum. The Sharan Rani collections highlight almost all the types of instruments used in Indian classical music. Some folk and tribal instruments are also exhibited in the collections. She has also collected and given instruments formerly belonging to great maestros. One can also see western instruments which have been used for decades as Indian band instruments.

Due to her efforts, in 1998, Govt. of India’s Postal Department released the first ever set of four musical instruments (i.e. Sarod, Veena, Flute and Pakhawaj) and a first day cover based on four musical instruments from the "Sharan Rani Backliwal Gallery of Musical Instruments".

Sharan Rani being a master musician and ‘scholar artist’ collected and donated to the Museum, instruments that are not only masterpieces from an aesthetic point of view, but were also musically perfect specimens. She has with great care restored many old instruments before donating them. All the instruments were given in playing condition. The collections donated by her comprise also of varieties of instruments from different States of India, from different ‘Gharanas’ of music, covering different time periods, allowing for a methodical comparative and developmental study.

Sharan Rani actively participated in India’s struggle for freedom. Over the years, she silently helped many artists in need and helped many upcoming artists. Sharan Rani served as the Founder, President and Chairperson of leading music, cultural and educational institutions and organisations. Sharan Rani was one of the earliest artists of All India Radio and Doordarshan.

Musical Instruments Collection[edit]

Different types of musical instruments : From the Sharan Rani Backliwal Collection

The collection includes instruments that represent various gharanas and regions spanning from the 15th to the 19th century. These are as follows: [8]

  • Mayuri Sitar (1850) acquired from a royal family in Rajasthan
  • Tiger Head Rabab from Kashmir
  • Durbari Sitar (1850)
  • Vina (1825)

Personal life[edit]

Sharan Rani playing the Sarod at a concert in Tehran

In 1960, she married Shri Sultan Singh Backliwal who belonged to a prominent Digamber Jain business family of Delhi. In 1974, they had a daughter, Radhika Narain.[3] After battling cancer for a few years, she died on 8 April 2008, a day before her 79th birthday.

Awards and honours[edit]

In 2004, the government of India honoured select artists by conferring upon them the title of 'National Artiste'. Sharan Rani was the only woman instrumentalist to receive this title. Titles such as ˜Sangeet Saraswati'; ˜Sarod Rani'; ‘Kala Murti'; ‘Abhinav Sangeet Sharda'; 'Kala Ratna'; 'Sarod Shri', ‘Sangeet Ratna'; 'Bharat Gaurav', were conferred upon her by various organizations. Sharan Rani also received honorary doctorates in music from universities India and the United States.

Other awards and honours she received include:

  • Vishnu Digambar Parithoshik (1953)
  • Padma Shri (1968) [9]
  • Sahitya Kala Parishad Award (1974)[10]
  • 'Acharya' and ‘Tantri Vilas' (1979)
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1986) [11]
  • Rajiv Gandhi award for Vocational Excellence (1993)
  • Distinguished Alumni award by Delhi University (1997)
  • National Excellence award (1999)
  • Padma Bhushan (2000)[9]
  • Lifetime Achievement award (2000)
  • Maharana Mewar Foundation award (2004)
  • Kala Parishad award from Bhopal (2005)


External links[edit]