“Music is a god form. A raga is like the soul and each note is like a flower in bloom, an offering to Heaven.” – Pandit Ajit Singh
The virtuoso from the ancient holy city of Varanasi (Benares) has been studying classical sitar since he was a child, following a long family tradition which, over countless generations, has produced many great masters (pandits, in Hindi) of Indian stringed instruments. His first musical guru, in fact, was his highly celebrated grandfather, the late Thakur Mahadev Singh, known in his time as Sitaria Baba, “the Saint of Sitar”. Later, he came under the guidance of his father, Ranjit Singh, who gained equal fame as master of the sarod (which is, unlike the sitar, a fretless instrument plucked with a coconut shell). And finally, before embarking on his own illustrious career, he attended the master classes of his eminent uncle, the late Dr. Rajbhan Singh, former dean and head of the music department of Benares Hindu University, and one of India’s greatest virtuosos of the sitar and surbahar, a larger, more sonorous version of the sitar.
The Raga and Indian Musical Traditions
In simple musical terms, a Raga is an organized combination of notes played in an improvisatory fashion according to a system of rules that have evolved over millennia of Indian musical history. Ajit Singh plays these ragas in the tradition of Gwalior Gharana, the oldest school of Indian classical music, as well as Benares Gharana, another ancient traditional school that includes light classical and folk music. Though accomplished in many musical styles, his work is grounded in Drupadang, an instrumental style popularized by world-renowned master Ravi Shankar, a close personal friend of Ajit’s family who, as a frequent visitor to his home in Benares, was a source of great inspiration to the young Ajit in his formative years. However, in contrast to Pandit Shankar, his acknowledged idol, Ajit has enriched his repertoire to include a method known as Sitar Khani Baj, which incorporates an even wider range of intricate fingering techniques.
Concerts, Compositions and Creations
Ajit’s impressive list of concert appearances throughout India and Europe, along with his musicality and talent has led the Fine Arts Society in Cochin (Kerala) to honour him with the prestigious title of “Pandit.” As the lead performer at a unique concert held at New Delhi’s Bal Bhawan - a landmark institution for the enhancement of youth education established by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru - Ajit played to a record audience of 15,000 people. A subsequent concert for the "Himalayan Music Festival» saw him play for more then 12,000 eager listeners. As a reviewer wrote after one of Ajit’s concerts, "His music soars to the heavens on the zephyr-like strings of his sitar." Along with performing, and teaching, he has also composed film soundtracks and theatre scores. At present Ajit lives in France where he plays with artists from diverse musical backgrounds, enhancing his repertoire by musical exploration and experimentation. He continues to tour internationally, and frequently gives concerts to promote Indian music to students and yoga practitioners.
“The sitar in the hands of Pandit Ajit Singh…has an uncanny ability to evoke intense feeling…and to nourish the soul of the listener.” Tanya Abraham, The Hindu, 2004
“Intoxicating. Each note breaks the silence of the starlit night as it strikes a chord in your heart. Pandit Anit Singh took the audience to great heights with his beautiful pieces on the sitar.” K. Surekha, The New Indian Express, 2007
“Ajit flies my heart and soul on a journey to many musical moods where technical excellence meets musical poetry. Ajit is an example of the kind of expertise and uniqueness in music that keeps me writing these reviews each month…It doesn’t get any better than this.”
JJ Rocks, the Spotlight Zone, 2008
“Pandit Ajit Singh not only is a master of the sitar but also a master of reading the audience’s emotions and intensifying those feelings through his playing…at the end of the concert, there was an extended silence, a few people wept and everyone was visibly moved. I left his concert feeling inordinately peaceful and elated.” Brian of “Blurry Travel”, 2011