The emergence of the santoor on the classical concert scene, as a full-fledged solo instrument, is a recent development. Yet it has come to signify a historic phase in the annals of India's centuries-old traditional music. Strange but true, the santoor had never been employed in Hindustani classical music, nor had it traveled outside the valley of Kashmir as late as till 1955. Santoor was associated with 'Sufiana Mausiqi'. Santoor's Sanskrit name was "Shatatantri Veena" (A lute of hundred strings). The name Santoor is attributed to the Persians. Then there appeared Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, his trapezium- shaped multi-string instrument, on the concert scene.
Initially, the music of the santoor had a mixed reaction from the music-lovers. This reaction was perhaps predictable, but young Shivkumar, endowed as he was with qualities of courage, vision and enterprise, was undaunted by these early experiences, and he addressed himself to the task of caring out a series of innovations and experimentation's and relentless research. Today's santoor, which has come to enjoy unprecedented popularity among all strata of music-lovers all over the world, is truly symbolic of his versatile genius.
Simply put, the santoor consists of a about a 100 strings of varying lengths. The strings are stretched over a wooden box, shaped like trapezium, as mentioned earlier. The instrument also resembles a horizontal harp. Similar Instruments are found all over the world like 'Santoor' in Iran, 'Yang Chin' in China, 'Cimbalom' in Hungary and Rumania, 'Santoori' in Greece, 'Hack Bret' in Germany, 'Hammered Dulcimer' in certain European Countries and America.
The most notable feature of its instrumentation is the manner of tone production, because, unlike other string instruments, the santoor is played with a pair of soft wooden tongs. Their gentle strokes on the strings afford a plentitude of delicate but lively tonal effects reminiscent of the piano or the harp. The tones of Shivkumarji's santoor - and also of the Santoors used by his disciple- reveals a shimmering grace of movement with a novelty and charm of their own.