Heritage Indian instruments retrieved from obscurity

Updated: Dec 19, 2010, 10:12 AM IST

New Delhi: The National Museum in Delhi has retrieved nearly 400 years of India`s classical music legacy from the ravages of time by reopening a gallery that the country`s lone woman sarod maestro had donated to it in 1980.

`Sangeet Saraswati` Sharan Rani Backliwal had collected the antique musical instruments over a period spanning 40 years in a chronological sequence tracing the development of each instrument over the centuries.

The gallery had been shut since the late 1990s.

The collection boasts of 450 instruments dating between the 16th and 20th century.

The highlights include a veena played by eminent 19th century musicologist `Raja` Surendra Mohan Tagore, a string instrument played by Jodu Bhatt, poet Rabindranath Tgaore`s music instructor, a `pakhawaj` (percussion instrument) played by famous exponent Ayodhya Prasad and the instruments played by the legendary Laxmi Prasad Mishra of Varanasi.

But only 125 instruments have been put out for the public. The complete collection will be ready for display in 60 days.

The reopening of the gallery is part of an agenda that National Museum has chalked for itself in its 50th year during 2010-2011.

The country`s premier archive has embarked upon a 100-day programme to implement the 14-point agenda set by the ministry of culture to revive the glory of the museum, administrator C.V. Ananda Bose said.

"Two galleries of wood carving will be reopened in the middle of next month," he said.

The historic musical instrument gallery, inaugurated by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1980, had to be shut down along with seven other galleries for several years due to lack of care and absence of effective leadership in the archive.

"The museum has been through a bad phase. One of the reasons for the lean patch was that it had no leadership for nearly 15 years. We had appointed two interim directors but the issue had raked up emotions. The prime minister has been looking after the portfolio," Jawhar Sircar, secretary of culture said in his address at the reopening of the gallery Saturday.

"The government is looking for a full-time director-general both in India and abroad," he said.

"As an interim solution, we had to put an administrator for the first time. We have also created two post of additional director-generals and have advertised for good people who can come out of the confines of their universities, preferably professors, to help us," Sircar said.

He said the additional director generals will be appointed through a "transparent national selection process".

Sircar said that in the last year alone, the culture ministry had committed Rs.109 crore to 36 private museums to effectively conserve their collections under the regional and local museums scheme.

"We want more museums to come under our fold, set up trusts or societies and apply for grants. A committee of experts will look into their projects and fund their project report," Sircar said.

The ministry was also upgrading the audio-visual archives, he said.

The reopening of the gallery was accompanied by a sarod recital by maestro Amjad Ali Khan, who paid tributes to Sharan Rani through his music.

He hailed the move as a "good beginning".

"The national museum has finally started something for music, musicians and instruments. We too have our own music museum, Sarod Ghar, in Gwalior which is home to instruments that my forefathers played, I played in my childhood and several procured from the great masters," Amjad Ali Khan said.

Recalling the making of the collection, Sharan Rani`s husband Sultan Singh Backliwal said: "The sarod maestro, who was conferred a Padmashri for her musical skill, built the collection single-handedly without any governmental or institutional aid."

Sharan Rani donated her collection that "she tended like her children" in three phases in 1980, 1982 and 2002, her daughter Radhika said.

"She even lost an unborn child on her way to collect a rare musical instrument from its owner, who lived atop a hill. She travelled far and wide to collect her instruments," Sultan Singh said.

Sharan Rani was one of the early pioneers of Indian string music who took sarod to the world along with artistes like Ravi Shankar. Though she played only the sarod, she was concerned about the plight of the numerous traditional Indian classical instruments which were being neglected.

"She wanted to bring them under one roof," her daughter said.

A research scholar, Sharan Rani also authored the book "The Divine Sarod" that traced the evolution of the instrument from the 2nd century BC, her husband said.

Sharan Rani died in 2008.

IANS