Music Instrument Specialist

SukhdevMusic Instrument Specialist

A music maker's
handiwork

The Jorasanko area of Kolkata, where Tagore’s home can be found, has been known for making Indian classical instruments for over a century and was earlier referred to as ‘Tabla Patti’. Sukdeb da recalls a time when around 17 shops along the street were making their best-selling instruments: the tabla, dhol and harmonium. As the popularity of classical music dwindled, so did the craft of making percussion instruments—so much so that out of a proud stretch of 17 shops, only three survive today.

One of these is Star Harmonium—co-owned by brothers Sukdeb and Basudeb Saha and founded by their grandfather, Binod Bihari, 117 years ago. Sukdeb da reminisces about the time their father, Piyari Mohan, made a fortune out of this very business. Many of the courtesans, their accompanists and tabla players were the Sahas’ customers. Eminent tabla player Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh would also frequently visit their shop. “At the shop owned by Kanaibabu, Vilayat Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar would get their sitars crafted,” said Sukdeb da.

Today, the most sought-after instruments however usually serve a religious purpose. Sukdeb da points to the rising sale of nagadas—an instrument played in Hindu temples. Similarly, Bengalis ask for the dhaak to be used on Dussehra, Saraswati and Kali puja. Bengalis and Odiyas often purchase srikhol, an instrument typically made out of mud which is used primarily during kirtan.

Over the past three years, however, an evolution in design has occurred. With the same design blueprint, the duo has switched materials—mud to brass and copper. “While the sound of the mud ‘srikhol’ is sweeter and more harmonious, travelling foreigners pay a premium for brass and copper, for mud is prone to breakage,” Sukdeb da explained, suggesting a clientele so global that innovation in design became inevitable.

The pakhawaj—a percussion instrument that can be traced back to the 14th century—is another speciality of his. However, the instrument has few buyers today. Made of mango wood, with sides of animal skin (mostly goat skin), the pakhawaj produces deeper bass sounds when played.

If you visit Sukdeb da in his shop, he will keenly demonstrate.

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