Delhi girl earned global accolades as Sarod player
Post Independence, while many classical Indian musicians and artistes were coming from all over the country and settling down in Delhi, Sharan Rani Backliwal, a Delhi girl, earned global accolades as a sarod player.
Born in the Walled City to a family of businessman in 1929, Rani broke the glass ceiling to become the first internationally renowned woman instrumentalist in the country.
In the 1950s, she performed all over the world, and was called the Cultural Ambassador of India by Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. "Those days, music in the city was dominated by gharanas or baijis. It was unheard of for a girl from a respectable family to take up music as a career. Rani faced fierce opposition from her family when she decided to take up music," says SS Bacliwal, her husband.
Rani also built an unparalleled collection of rare classical musical instruments - from the 15 to 20 century - which she donated to the National Museum.
Today they are housed in the museum's The Sharan Rani Backliwal Gallery of Musical Instruments, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She was the first woman instrumentalist in Hindustani classical music to first receive the Padma Shri in 1968 and then the Padma Bhushan.
City women triggered the arts movement
Women played a key role in shaping the city's cultural scene in the early years after Independence.
Sumitra Charat Ram established the Shri Ram Bhartiya Kala Kendra (SBKK) in 1952. The biggest names from across the country came to teach here. In 1957, under her stewardship, SBKK started the Ram Lila.
This cultural czarina of the city patronised some of the biggest names of Indian classical music and dance. This included Siddeshwari Devi, Uday Shankar, Hafiz Ali Khan, Baba Allaudin Khan, Shambhu Maharaj, Sunder Prasad, Birju Maharaj, Durga Lal and Aminuddin Dagar.
Kamla Lal, founded The Natya Ballet Centre, while Sundari Shridharani, who was a student at Uday Shankar's dance school, started Triveni Kala Sangam in 1951 in one room above a coffee house in Connaught place.
CP: Cultural hub of yore
Most people knew Connaught Place as the city's fashionable shopping centre. Very few knew of it as the Capital's cultural hub too.
In fact, CP was where many reputed cultural institutions were founded. Among the first cultural institutions to be started in CP was Hindustani School of Music and Dancing (now Sangeet Bharti), which was founded by Yogeshwar Dayal in 1936.
This institute organised several 'music conferences' in the 1930s and 40s. The venues usually were Ferozshah Kotla grounds, the lawns of Qutab Minar, and also in cinemas halls of the Walled City such as Ritz and Jubilee. Many renowned artists taught at the institutes in CP.
Besides, Sangeet Natak Akademy was started in Regal building, Gandharva Mahavidyalaya was opened in C block of Connaught Place, and Triveni Kala Sangam was founded in 1951 in a room above a coffee house in Connaught Place.
When The Beatles bought sitars from Connaught Place
The Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument shop in CP has been the favourite haunt of the country's top musicians such as Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pt Ravi Shankar and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Their photographs adorn the walls of the shop, which was set up in 1948 by Rikhi Ram, a musician, and his son Pt Bishen Das Sharma.
The duo came to Delhi from Lahore after the Partition. Since then, the shop has been an integral part of the city's classical music scene. It earned global fame when, in July 1966, The Beatles came to the shop to buy sitars. "There was a huge crowd outside when the famous four spent about an hour in our shop. It was my father who gave George Harrison his first lesson in the sitar, before Ravi Shankar took over," says Ajay Sharma, 44, the grandson of Rikhi Ram, who now runs the shop.
Sharma says that though by the 1960s, Indian classical music had regained a lot of lost ground in the Capital, The Beatles' visit to the shop made Indian classical music instruments hugely popular among youngsters. "After The Beatles used a sitar in their performance, the demand for Indian musical instruments, especially the sitar, went up both in India and abroad. We found it hard to meet the demand. People were even willing to buy defected sitars," says Sharma.
Post Independence, the shop also supplied classical music instruments to various centres of the All India Radio across the country. "Those were the heady days of cultural renaissance in the Capital. My father supplied instruments to various artistes who flocked to the city and also to universities and colleges across the country that were now introducing courses in classical music," he says.