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Meet Ghulam Mohammad Zaz: The last Santoor maker of Kashmir

Post by on Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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In Old City’s Zaina Kadal, a window of the three-story house overlooks a line of traditional houses and the famous historic Budshah tomb made by the then Sultan (ruler) of Kashmir, Zainul Abideen who ruled Kashmir in the 15th century. Ghulam Mohammad Zaz, the last Santoor maker of Kashmir sits quietly on the third floor of his house surrounded by the various tools used to make musical instruments.
Zaz sits near the window to work on his instruments and enjoys the view it offers. The blue kurta hangs down from his frail shoulders. He is the last and the 8th generation of the family who are known for making finest santoor in the valley over the past many decades.
He proudly says that he will continue to make finest Santoor as long as he is alive.  He recalled one of the events where a well-wisher of his family had predicted that the art of Santoor making in the Zaz family will last only for seven generations.
“I am the 8th generation. The legacy is trembling and it will end with me,” he said while adding that the instruments they make will not be found anywhere in India.
He shows the Santoor he had recently finished. It is a trapezoid shaped instrument. It is maroon colored with 87 strings and 28 bridges. Originally Kashmiri Santoor has 100 strings. When it came under Indian Classical Music, the numbers of strings were reduced. The strings are fixed with the bridges.
It is beautified with Shikargah designs (a design of trees and birds) made on the top of it and colorful paper mâché designs on every side.  At the top, it mentions Rehman Joo Zaz & Sons, manufacturers and dealers of all kinds of musical instruments.
He said, “I work very hard so that my customers should get good instruments from me. I have good customers by the grace of God, who patiently wait for their orders. I work when I am in the mood.”
Zaz has learnt the art of making Santoor from his grandfather, Rahman Joo and father, Abdul Ahad Zaz. “When I was a kid, I caught typhoid. I got weak and couldn’t continue my schooling. At that time, there was no treatment for typhoid. Then, one of the acquaintances suggested my grandfather to associate me with the work but it was not something that I needed to learn. It was in my blood so I picked up fast,” he said.
Apart from Kashmiri Santoor, Zaz family was famous for making other old musical instruments like Rabab, Kashmiri Sitar and Sarangi. “Sone Joo Zaz and Khaliq Joo Zaz are my elders.  They are our gurus. Such skillful artists will not be found today and also our great customers like Shiv Kumar Sharma and Bhajan Sopori who took the Kashmiri Santoor on an international platform. These people have value for art,” he said.
While talking about the making of Santoor, he said the kind of wood that is used in making is not available in the market.
“The almond forest wood is not available in the market. It was soundproof and would help in improving the tonal quality. It was seasoned for a long time and it was finished so that no insects will damage it. The kind of wood was preferred because in the forest it would have absorbed various tunes and sounds of nature,” he said.
He added, “Santoors are made in Iran and France also but God has given sweetness to the Kashmiri Santoor and if there was anything lacking in it, it was fulfilled by Shiv Kumar Sharma and Bhajan Sopori. The newness and the way it was played by them, nobody has played it like that.”
Zaz makes sure the Santoor that his customers play has to be good so that he can be appreciated for his talent. “The artists were passionate about the instruments: Santoor, Tabla, Saz e Kashmiri, Sitar etc. For them money was never an issue. They had good relations with our family. When people in the audience hear the instruments, they too want to buy one from us,” he said.
The Santoor was earlier used for Sufi music and for hymns. Zaz said that earlier people would assemble together and the Santoor was played in the remembrance of God. Later on, it found its way in classical music.
Talking about his interests, Zaz said that he never had any interests in music or movies. “We don’t need this knowledge in our skill. Neither do I listen to music to know about the tunes nor do I use scales for measurements. It’s in my heart, soul and mind,” he said.
For some time, Zaz is not able to work with such zeal and energy because of his ill health. He has also not visited his workshop. He has got all the essential tools at home and started working there.  
Zaz is survived by wife and three daughters. While asking about the dying art of Santoor making he felt a loss of words. Then he said that he has done his job. “A person should take care of both the worlds- here and hereafter. Money will come and go. I have earned a lot of money. God has given me respect. My daughters are settled.”
He continued, “I have to go anytime.” While looking at the view from the window, he said, “Yeten beith asha karan wechan nazaarai duniya. (I am sitting here, enjoying and watching the view). Look at the scene, yehi dekhna hai beta (This is what we have to see).”

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