Strings of Joy – Pandit Ulhas Bapat

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Ulhas – meaning joy and exhilaration. And true to his name, Pandit Ulhas Bapat gave us the joy and the exhilaration of listening to the songs where he played the santoor. Those songs still give the joy of listening. Those strings which he played so deftly, bring glee to the heart. Though into music, he had never planned to become a santoor player. It was in the early 70s while in a music instrument shop that he saw santoor and was intrigued by it and followed his heart to move ahead as a santoor player. Born on 31st August 1950, Pandit Ulhas Bapat started learning tabla, at the age of 5, to get the acquainted with the sense of rhythm followed by some vocal training and finally the santoor under the able guidance of Zarine Daruwala Sharma, Pandit K G Shinde and Pandit Waman Sadolikar. He learnt tabla from none other than Pandit Ramakant Mhapsekar. His apprised approach towards santoor made him a champion of mezrab (mallets). With path breaking innovative style, Ulhas Bapat brought a kind of revolution in the way santoor was played.

He tuned the santoor in a chromatic pattern by keyboards or harmonium. This helps the musician not to retune the santoor if the raga is changed. Only a minor tuning is done. Chromatic tuning helps the arranger to get the santoor in sync with the full score of music. He made changes in striking the mallets called The Kalams and incorporated a metal string on the striking side of the kalam, making the sound more vibrant. The metal effect on his kalams later helped him to play the meend on santoor.

Making his debut at a private mehfil in 1975 with a chamber concert for Sancharini, an organization by Pandit Ravi Shankar in Bombay. After that there was no looking back. His film career began with Jait Re Jait (1977). He continued playing santoor at various music events. It was after he met R D Burman and Manohari Singh that he got a breakthrough in Hindi films with the background score of Ghar (1978).

After recording the background score of Ghar, Ulhas Bapat became a part of the Pancham team. His first solo being Tere liye palkon ki jhalar….from Harjaee (1981).

Creative, perfectionist and dedicated. This is how we describe Pandit Ulhas Bapat. His discography also includes some international projects like In Custody (1994), Monsoon Wedding (2001), Water (2005), The Namesake (2006) and Life of Pi (2012). Ulhas Bapat has also worked extensively with some new age music composers other than R D Burman.

Madan Mohan – Veer Zara (2004)

Ravindra Jain – Vivah (2006)

Jatin Lalit – Fanaa (2006)

Vishal Shekhar – Om Shanti Om (2007)

Kaushal Inamdar – Marathi Ghazal

Soft spoken with an uncanny sense of humour, Pandit Ulhas Bapat remained loyal to his mentor (in film career), R D Burman so much so that he chose the same date (4th January) to pass on from this world. A humble down to earth person, he remained so even after the recognition he got all over the world. Just as he said – It is better to be a Maestro in performance and student in attitude!!

Avid music lover and Dev Anand fan


  1. Subu Vaikuntam

    August 31, 2021 at 11:57 am

    Excellent article on a top class artist with lots of good information

    • Deepa

      September 11, 2021 at 8:26 pm

      Thanks a lot 🙂

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