Dr. Sharan Rani was the first woman instrumentalist to take up the sarod which was described as a 'man's instrument’. Sharan Rani was born on 9 April 1929 in a cultured Mathur family of Old Delhi. She was educated and married—to Sultan Singh Backliwal—in Delhi where she lived and taught music until she passed away on 8 April 2008. She learnt from eminent masters like Ali Akbar Khan and Alauddin Khan. Popularly known as ‘Sarod Rani’ after Pandit Omkarnath Thakur named her so, she presented sarod concerts for seven decades in India and abroad, winning unprecedented critical acclaim. She cut several gramophone records, among them an album issued by UNESCO. Sharan Rani was a guru to many students in India and abroad, whom she taught for free.
Called the 'Cultural Ambassador of India' by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, she was a pioneer with many firsts to her credit. To preserve and promote India's musical heritage, Sharan Rani spent decades collecting old and rare classical musical instruments. From her personal collection, she gifted nearly 450 such musical instruments—musically perfect specimens and aesthetic masterpieces—to the National Museum, New Delhi. This entire collection was builtup singlehandedly without government or institutional aid. These instruments are exhibited in the 'Sharan Rani Backliwal Gallery of Musical Instruments' inaugurated and dedicated to the nation in 1980 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who described it as "an unparalleled collection of rare classical music instruments of national importance". This is the first and largest collection of its kind in the world, till date.
In 1998 the Department of Posts, Government of India, released the first set of four postage stamps (along with a first day cover and brochure), based on four Indian musical instruments, from the Sharan Rani Backliwal Gallery of Musical Instruments. Sharan Rani was the author of the Divine Sarod—a book on the origin, antiquity and development of the sarod released in 1992 by President K.R. Narayanan, followed by its second edition, released by former Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral in April 2008.
She was the first woman instrumentalist to be honoured with the Padma Shri in 1968. She received several prestigious awards and honours like the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1986), Padma Bhushan (2000), and National Artiste by the Government of India (2004).
Her house in the Capital was a 'mecca of music' graced by legends from around the world. Her sangeet sadhana and her contributions are an inspiration to future generations. To honour her pioneering contributions, the government of Delhi recently named a road after her--the Sharan Rani Backliwal Marg--near her residence in Defence Colony—a befitting recognition to the sarod maestro.
Her daughter Radhika Backliwal Narain, who has made a documentary on her mother, is the Honorary Director of the Sharan Rani Foundation.