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Mental Health

‘Sitar For Mental Health’: Rishab Rikhiram Sharma, One Of India’s Youngest Sitarist, Offers His Music As Aid For People

On World Mental Health Day, 24-year-old sitar maestro, Rishab Rikhiram Sharma discusses how he discovered the power of music in coping with grief during the COVID-19 pandemic

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New Delhi: Since the last two years, the coronavirus pandemic has brought along loss and grief for many of us, which continues to linger for several families. After losing their loved ones to the hands of the contagious disease, people have been looking for a healing path to take off from the rough patches in their lives. For many of them, music has been one such source of peace for their mental health. At a time when India was battling the second wave of COVID-19, Rishab Rikhiram Sharma’s music came to the rescue for many.

The 24-year-old is a sitarist, music producer, and composer born in Delhi to the renowned Rikhi Ram family of luthiers. He first started playing the sitar at the age of 10 and was immediately captivated by its magic.

‘Sitar For Mental Health’: Rishab Rikhiram Sharma, One Of India's Youngest Sitarist, Offers His Music As Aid For People

The 24-year-old has composed several melodies, such as Chanakya, Roslyn, Tandavam, Tilak kamod, among others

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His father, Master Luthier Sanjay Sharma, a national award-winning musical instrument maker, was his first Guru. Mr. Sharma’s father gave him access to some of the instruments when he saw his son’s keen interest in learning them.

What was funny was that he never let me use a proper sitar until I met my potential. At first, he gave me a broken sitar that had come back from a shipment. He fixed it up and gave it to me to play around with, Mr. Sharma narrated.

Within a few minutes of playing the instrument, he figured out the seven basic notes—swaras (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa), and started playing a few songs. At the time, he was already an intermediate guitar player.

My parents had hyped up the Sitar, as a sacred instrument that could only be touched occasionally. As a kid, I had stars in my eyes when I used to look at the instrument, he said.

Realising his son’s unwavering dedication and commitment to the instrument, Mr. Sharma’s father introduced him on stage to the world in the year 2011. His performance caught the attention of the legendary sitar maestro, Pt. Ravi Shankar, who blessed him by taking him under his tutelage.

An alumnus of Delhi Public School, Mr. Sharma is Maestro Shankar’s youngest and last disciple.

I received training from the best, Mr. Sharma said, thanking his father and Pandit Shankar.

Later, Mr. Sharma’s family moved to New York, where he pursued music production and economics at the City University, New York (Queens College Campus).

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A Sitarist’s Struggles With Mental Health

Music has been Mr. Sharma’s coping mechanism in any situation he has faced in his life. It was the pandemic that led him to experience depression, while he was already suffering from performance anxiety. At the time, the loss of his grandfather to COVID-19 impacted him deeply. At one point, he stopped playing his favourite instrument.

COVID-19 and losing my Nanaji was a breaking point in my life. My mental health was deteriorating; I felt I wasn’t myself anymore. My mental health affected the way I was talking to my parents, the way I was reacting to everything around me, Mr. Sharma said.

He started looking for therapists in his area.

You know, the mental health system in New York is so expensive if you do not have insurance. Even if you do, there is no assurance that you will receive the one you are looking for. I waited for nearly two months to simply get an appointment, Mr. Sharma said.

Later, he went on to visit a psychiatrist, who suggested he restart his musical journey.

Somehow, the psychiatrist figured that playing Sitar was the only way I could find peace of mind. He asked me to go back to my instrument, he said.

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Sitar For Mental Health For All

Getting back in the groove and playing Sitar was backbreaking, but Mr. Sharma found a way. He found orchestrating Sitar as a way of sharing his emotions and a road to healing. Mr. Sharma started conducting LIVE sessions on social media platforms like Clubhouse and Instagram, where he had a humble following of 3–4 people, which has now grown to thousands.

I was playing Sitar on social media for my peace and fighting my performance anxiety. I started sharing my grievances with the community that had evolved. I realised the impact of my music, when people started sharing their stories, loss of their beloved during the pandemic, and much more, Mr. Sharma said.

It was when people poured their hearts out during his sessions that Mr. Sharma termed his sessions as ‘Sitar for Mental Health’.

‘Sitar For Mental Health’: Rishab Rikhiram Sharma, One Of India's Youngest Sitarist, Offers His Music As Aid For People

Last year, Mr. Sharma conducting multiples session across various states of India

Mr. Sharma said that Indian traditional music had a significant impact on promoting positive mental health and was deeply rooted in meditation.

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Talking about the ‘Sitar For Mental Health ’ program, he said,

For my events, I, along with the audience, do a breathing exercise for 10-15 minutes, before beginning the show. Then I lead them onto the Jod and Alaap sections, which is purely classical music taught by my gurus, Mr. Sharma said.

People are realising that Sitar and other forms of Indian classical music can do wonders for an individual’s psyche, he added.

The Sitarist has conducted several sold-out sessions and musical get-togethers in India in the last two years.

I am no therapist. I am just using my music to heal people in all ways possible, Mr Sharma said.

Mr. Sharma has also been mentored by Pt. Parimal Sadaphal, one of the most senior disciples of Pt. Ravi Shankar. Besides, he has had the honour of learning from great exponents of music, including Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Rais Khan, Pt. Arun Bharatram and many more illustrious icons.

His notable achievements include being the only sitarist of his generation to have performed solo in front of a live audience of 60,000 and 500 million at-home live viewers. He has also appeared on major Indian reality TV shows and TV channels such as Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, Hindustan Ke Hunarbaaz, NDTV, Aaj Tak, Doordarshan India and many more.

He has also amassed quite a following on social media platforms like Clubhouse, Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.

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NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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