Documenting Musical Traditions and Balancing Music Genres: IGNCA-SRC’s Deepti Navaratna


IGNCA SRC Bengaluru

India is a land of rich culture and vibrant traditions is an oft-repeated clichéd statement. However, there is hardly any effort to document our musical traditions and art history. Almost all documentation is being done by foreign scholars from universities abroad, who take great pains to come down to India and study our traditions.

Fortunately, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts is one institution that is dedicated to the task of documenting our musical heritage both in classical music and folk music traditions. Particularly, the Southern Regional Centre of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA-SRC) is focused on establishing an audio-visual archival centre to showcase vanishing folk cultures and classical music traditions. Last year, when Dr. Deepti Navaratna, a neuroscientist from Boston, US, was appointed as the Executive Director for IGNCA-SRC, it raised eyebrows in the social circles of Bengaluru. We met with Deepti Navaratna to get an understanding of her association with music and IGNCA-SRC’s work:

Deepti Navaratna

Q: How did a neuro-scientist become connected to the world of music and become the head of an art institution like IGNCA-SRC?

A: I have always been an old Bangalore girl who grew up in an academically oriented family, which was culturally conscious as well. I grew up in Malleshwaram and Basavanagudi in an atmosphere filled with classical music. Later, I went abroad to study neurosciences and got a PhD in it and taught in Harvard. After a while, I got bored of neurosciences and left it to study masters in music. Earlier, when I was studying in Central College, Bengaluru, looking at my diverse interests my teachers used to say, “you can’t be both M S Subbulakshmi and Marie Curie, you need to focus on one thing”. Today years later, after studying the relation of music to the mind and brain, I am able to connect the dots between music and science. Great scientists like C V Raman, Raja Ramanna have also studied music and been great musicians as well. So why not?

Q: After working all your life in in America, was it difficult to fit into a government institution in India?

A: Yes, I spent all my adult life in America, working in premier scientific institutions. The work culture there was way different from India, so obviously it took time for me to fit into a bureaucratic government institution. But while cultures are different, ultimately human issues are the same – you need to learn to work within the system and be adamant about getting things done. Motivation and tenacity are the key elements for getting things done. Since I am capable of doing disconnected things at once, I am thoroughly enjoying the chaos here in India!

Painting Exhibition at IGNCA SRC

Q: What is IGNCA trying to achieve in the field of music and is it giving on emphasis on classical music over folk music?

A: IGNCA’s mandate is to be a premier research institution that facilitates the study of human mind and art, and man-nature interaction. Under this broad coverage of research, the Southern Regional Centre focuses on the scientific study of civilisation and facilitate research studies and cross-cultural exchanges in the field of art and culture of India in general and the south India in particular. We also provide outsourced research grants to create scholarly manuscripts and create archives for classical music and folk music and tribal traditions.

No, we are not giving an emphasis on any one music genre; rather we have a well-balanced focus on both classical music and folk music research. For example, we have provided outsourced grants on various temple traditions of India such as the ‘Temple Murals of South India’, an ongoing study to create manuscripts. Similarly, we have a large microfilm repository for archiving and documenting music of vanishing folk cultures as well.

Q: What is IGNCA-SRC trying to archive and what exactly is this ethnographic archive?

A: IGNCA-SRC has established an audio-visual archival centre to showcase about 1,000 hours of recording of Carnatic music, which was collected from various personal collections and painstakingly catalogued and digitized. Apart from classical music, IGNCA has archived audio-visuals of folk music and tribal traditions such as Kamsale Padhagalu of Male Mahadeshwara, Siddhi folk music, Yellamana Padagalu and Chowdaki Padagalu of Karnataka, Burrakatha of Andhra Pradesh and Krishnanattam of Kerala. These archives have become part of national archives and are open to public to study music and use them in research.

In this endeavour, IGNCA-SRC working towards creating India’s first ethnographic archive of vanishing folk cultures, tribal traditions of various religious and ethnic minorities. Once completed, it will provide nearly 25,000 hours of audio-visual material pertaining to the five south Indian states. We have identified over 30 specific traditions, including the Karaga tradition of Thigala community and the tribal origins of Draupadi worship in south India.

Music Archives – IGNCA SRC Bengaluru

Q: Since you are a musician yourself, what are your personal activities in this regard?

A: I have studied Carnatic music all my life so practising music is second nature. Particularly, being a global Indian, I am a big fan of M S Subbulakshmi, the greatest exponent of Carnatic classical music. Carnatic music is a vocabulary but a musician need not be restricted to one vocabulary. MSS was a cultural explorer who tried a variety of music genres. So as tribute to her 100th birth anniversary, I am conducting a concert at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan by beginning with a Gujarati bhajan. This event is part of our M S Subbulakshmi centenary in 2016-17, which is called “100 years, 100 days, 100 hours”. In association with Sangeeth Nritya Academy, we are touring across 12 districts of Karnataka to present the music of M S Subbulakshmi to wider audience.

To be continued…

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