Healing hearts & minds: Rishab Rikhiram Sharma's unique journey with music

Recently, amidst his India tour, Sharma graced district150 with his ‘Sitar for Mental Health’ music series, infusing the atmosphere with its healing melodies.
Rishab Rikhiram Sharma.
Rishab Rikhiram Sharma.Express.

HYDERABAD: Rishab Rikhiram Sharma stands apart from his peers not just as an entertainer but as a healer wielding his sitar. At 26, he carries the weighty mantle of being the youngest disciple of the legendary Pt Ravi Shankar, passionately dedicated to preserving his guru’s illustrious legacy. Recently, amidst his India tour, he graced district150 with his ‘Sitar for Mental Health’ music series, infusing the atmosphere with its healing melodies.

Hailing from a family of luthiers, Rishab Rikhiram Sharma was always fond of the sitar, but his father never really let him try it due to multiple reasons. “My dad had extreme respect for instruments. One day, a sitar returned from Switzerland broken during shipping, but he fixed it. And I was like, ‘this is already broken. How much more can I break it? So please let me try it.’ And he was in a good mood that day, so he agreed. The moment I held the sitar, within a few minutes, I could play songs on it automatically within the right notes, everything. My dad was very surprised. That was my first sitar experience,” reminisces Rishab Rikhiram Sharma.

Soon after that he took lessons from Pt Ravi Shankar for four years and remained in history as the youngest disciple of Pt Ravi Shankar. Sharing a few memories with his guru and how he feels being the youngest disciple of Pt Ravi Shankar, he said, “It’s a blessing. And I won’t say it’s a curse, but there’s a lot of pressure because I have to not only carry my guru’s legacy but also my family’s legacy since I come from a family of musical instrument makers.

Rishab Rikhiram Sharma
Rishab Rikhiram SharmaExpress.

Often, guruji used to say, ‘You’re the last one of the batch,’ so he would naturally get a little frustrated, like, ‘just take everything from me as soon as possible because I’m not going to live forever.’ So, the 13-year-old me was trying his best to grasp all this information as quickly as I could. He was a very poetic, thoughtful person, and a strict teacher. But after classes, he was the sweetest person on the planet, the funniest. I think I picked up a lot of his humour too. It was a wonderful experience, and the memories are so vivid that I feel like I’ve lived my best life right now.”

Talking about the show ‘Sitar for Mental Health’, he explained the association between music and mental health, “So music and mental health have had an association for thousands of years. People use ragas to heal others, and it’s not a new thing. I’m just bringing it into more relevant terms and supplying all the knowledge that my guru taught me in the most traditional sense. I went through my own struggles with mental health when my grandfather died, and music healed me. So, I want people to try it out. For some people, it could be like taking a walk, running, painting, drawing something. For me, it was music. So, I invite people to come and experience it once and see if it works for them.” Additionally, he said they chose to perform at district150 for its nice cosy ambiance with a limited audience instead of going for big auditoriums.

Before his India tour, the New York-based music composer has performed in the US and Canada. In India, he has covered almost all major cities like Jaipur, Goa, Chennai, etc. When asked about the diversity in the audience, he said, “The audience difference is obvious; Indians understand the nuances of the music much more than Western audiences. But I will say the West follows. For example if I want them to experience something a certain way, they will follow. Like, when I do audience interaction — talk to a stranger in India. People get up and go to the bathroom. This is another point of the exercise. So I have to tell them, ‘This is not a bathroom break. You have to sit and socialise.’ So, you have to be a teacher sometimes as well.”

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