Darshan Kumari
Super SitarText Indira Zuljevic
Even though one expects a lot of diverse people and activities inside a newly built, high-rise Amsterdam residential block, it is still pleasantly surprising to find that in a small apartment, on the corner of the sixth floor, throbs a nucleus of Indian culture in the Netherlands. This is the home of Darshan Kumari, well known sitar player and teacher.


There is a very appropriate Dutch term that comes to mind about Darshan: de stille kracht (the silent force). Her independent spirit and strength of character have been highly appreciated in the Netherlands. The soft spoken Indian lady is now in retirement but she was only in her early 20s when a Greek couple came to her music school in Delhi and heard her playing. Taken by her youth and knowledge of music, they invited her to come back with them to their country and play there. Darshan accepted the invitation and went to Greece with a family companion, who was with her for a few months. After a short period in the ancient Mediterranean land, she decided not to go back home but to go further. In 1972 she came to Amsterdam.

  Darshan in the midst of a music workshop

In 1970s’ Holland the interest in Indian culture and music was considerable. Darshan quickly settled in Amsterdam, playing sitar and giving solo concerts as well as performing with compfamous Indian musicians. Very soon, together with her teacher, she opened her own school of Indian music and dance in Amsterdam. Success came and her music took her all over Europe and USA, but she always came back to the Netherlands; she felt that in Amsterdam she could be free and live and work the way she wanted—in her words, “all for the love of music”.


Felix van Lamsweerde, conservator and ethnomusicologist of the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam (1956–1999) says that the Indian music he heard on All India Radio broadcasts 64 years ago resonated deep in his heart. He believes that Darshan Kumari has played an essential role in spreading knowledge and appreciation of North Indian classical music in the Netherlands. “She has been teaching students and promoting performances of Indian musicians, both on a private basis and with her involvement in several organisations like Tritantri Vidyapeeth, Stichting India Muziek, RIPA School of Indian Arts, the Royal Tropical Institute, and in recent years, Stichting NAAD. Thanks to her, Indian classical music is well grounded in the Netherlands,

with several institutions offering courses, especially the world music department of the Rotterdam Conservatory.

The Rotterdam Conservatory

Forty-four years after she settled in Holland, Darshan’s love for her music remains undiluted. “Indian classical music is deep rooted in Holland. It will always survive but it is difficult to say to what extent. We used to have many more sold-out concerts earlier. Besides us (Stichting NAAD or the NAAD Foundation established by her and tabla player Sandip Bhattacharya) many other teachers and organisations are also doing their best to promote Indian classical music.” NAAD has successfully organised many concerts in Holland, including an unforgettable performance by Zakir Hussain. More are in the offing by artists like Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Anoushka Shankar.

  Amsterdam's Royal Tropical Institute is a centre for the study of foreign cultures IMAGE GerardM/Wikimedia Commons


Has she experimented with bringing together Dutch and Indian music? “I have played several times with Dutch musicians. We will choose an easy scale which will not have difficult rules. All will follow a fixed composition in this particular scale and have freedom to improvise. It has turned out to be a great success.” She believes Indian music has had an impact on her students’ creative sensibilities. “I could clearly hear the influence of Indian music in some of the new pieces composed by students who studied sitar under me. Several Dutch students are learning Indian music;

sometimes they even go to India to study further. That makes me very happy."


How do the two musical forms compare? Paul de Swart, Darshan’s student and a choir singer of religious 16th century music, has found similarities in the old monastic compositions and Indian classical music. ”There are some very strict rules in both but Indian music is more individual. Somehow, Indian music evokes a kind of longing which I carry with me for a few days.” Monique Udo, experienced saxophone player, throws another perspective. ” I started learning sitar when I was stuck in Varanasi for a few weeks. The lessons were a perfect way to get more familiar with Indian music. For me the main difference between western and Indian classical music is that the latter lacks the feature of harmony. Western classical music, on the other hand, lacks allowance for improvisation. Indian classical music makes use of a limited pallet of colours (instruments) whereas western music uses many different instrumentations. Indian instruments, however, have a very rich pallet of tone colours compared to most western instruments.”

  Paul de Swart is an accomplished western musician, and an aficionado of Indian music


Darshan Kumari does not only offer sitar playing and Hindi classes but also broadens the understanding of Indian classical music and culture. Though music is the main topic of discussion, conversations between Darshan and her students often wander into yoga, spirituality, Indian food, ayurveda, language, etc. Most of her students are Dutch with previous experience in European music.

So the stille kracht in Darshan is the power of Indian classical music. But she would probably argue and say that the power lies in the love of music. And that is precisely what I felt in that small apartment on the corner of the sixth floor. As Remco, one of her students says, “In the end everybody who makes music sincerely tries to explore themselves in a certain way. It does not matter where on Earth she or he comes from.”