Archiving has never been our strength. The lack of music archives can only be attributed to the inherent oral legacy of Indian classical music. Ardently guarded principles of a particular gharana or music school have been passed down the generations without any written record. Then there are the private collectors, who have never put their collection out in the public domain.
But a recent initiative by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) is an attempt to archive and document a slice of India. Celebrating 25 years, IGNCA holds an exhibition of audio visual recordings of famous artists such as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Zohar Bai of Agra, Ajay Chakrabarty, Girija Devi and Bismillah Khan, and rare interviews with other artistes. Apart from DVDs, two kiosks give a glimpse into these recordings, which people can listen to. “In the last decade, audio visual documentation was revolutionised. This was needed, not just to facilitate our own research but also for recording field documentation. Also, a lot of our performing arts are oral. It was important to document them,” says Gautam Chatterjee, curator of the exhibition. Also on display are obsolete video and audio equipment, over 179 files on dance, music, theatre, puppets and mask traditions, and interviews with kathak exponent Sitara Devi, and writer Bhisham Sahni, among others.
While cultural appreciation is there, the scope of the exhibition is limited. IGNCA has digitised some of its own recordings but has not made an effort to acquire recordings from other sources and collectors. “Places such as Sangeet Natak Academy and Lalit Kala Academy address culture in their own way but they do not share the recordings. IGNCA has an inter-disciplinary approach of documentation, so we have digitised whatever was available with us and whatever documentation had been done by us,”