Story of Indian music in three volumes

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 12.01.11

A three-volume compendium on Indian music, spanning 2,000 years from Vedic chants to film songs and musical traditions of Kashmir to Kanyakumari as well as neighbours Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, was launched in Calcutta on Monday evening.

The 1472-page encyclopaedia, The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India, touches upon the evolution of ragas, old seats of music and musical content in dances. There are entries on less known instruments like the rabab and the music of traditional and folk theatre forms like Yakshagana, Kootiyattam, Jatra, Tamasha and Harikatha.

Biographical sketches of vocalists, composers and instrumentalists as well as patrons and teachers of music find a place in the volumes as does a list of archives and music academies in the country. The encyclopaedia also contains reference notes for musicians as well as connoisseurs, ranging from technical terms used in vocal and instrumental music to Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra, Kalidasa’s works and the Puranas.

Other topics include major forms of western music in India, like jazz, choir and orchestral music, and description of instruments like piano, violin, cello and guitar.

“This was a mammoth project that required a lot of patience,” said Manzar Khan, the managing director of Oxford University Press India after the launch at British Council. “It took off slowly. To ensure that it did not lose steam, which is what happens with a lot of large projects, we had appointed a special editor in Mumbai. The compendium was finally published after 12 years of extensive research,” he added.

Sarod exponent Buddhadev Das Gupta, who has an entry in the book and contributed to two of the volumes with notes on the sarod and rabab, unveiled the encyclopaedia.

The first-of-its-kind project, initiated by the late tabla maestro, Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, was completed by his music academy in Mumbai, Sangit Mahabharati, along with Oxford University Press.

Calcutta is the second city where the set was launched, after Chennai.

“What better way to celebrate 100 years of the Oxford University Press in 2011 than with a work that represents and honours the values of OUP,” said Khan.

Percussionist Bickram Ghosh, who took part in the panel discussion on the popularity and relevance of music books in India that followed the launch, said: “The Indian music tradition has always been predominantly oral but one can’t underestimate the relevance of written works on it. A lot of unknown aspects need to be delivered to people for a deeper understanding of our music, instead of flamboyant pictures of Tansen or a dancing Shiva to depict ragas and taans.”

The hardback volumes include more than 200 photographs from family albums and private collections alongside line drawings of rare instruments. Priced at Rs 9,950, the compendium will be available at major bookstores and online through Oxford University Press, US.