Learn About Rare Indian Musical Instruments At This Exhibition

The exhibition explores a diverse range of musical instruments from different corners of India, with a special focus on Folk, Tribal, and Classical categories
A special feature during the VĀDYA exhibition is the release of a comprehensive book on musical instruments
A special feature during the VĀDYA exhibition is the release of a comprehensive book on musical instrumentsShutterstock

MATI, in collaboration with the National Crafts Museum and Hastkala Academy, Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, New Delhi, is set to showcase an exhibition titled 'VĀDYA: Folk, Tribal & Classical Musical Instruments.' The exhibition explores a diverse range of musical instruments from different corners of India, with a special focus on Folk, Tribal, and Classical categories.

The collaborative effort between MATI and the Crafts Museum brings forth a curated collection of aerophones, chordophones, membranophones, and idiophones, representing Hindustani Classical, Carnatic classical, and Folk & Tribal genres. The instruments hail from the North, East, West, and South zones of India, aiming to provide the audience with a brief insight into their characteristics, history, cultural significance, and range of sound.

MATI envisions a creative and interactive display, seeking to familiarise the audience with the rich musical heritage of India. The exhibition aims to highlight the significance of these instruments while fostering awareness about their preservation and promotion in the midst of rapid technological evolution.

A special feature during the VĀDYA exhibition is the release of a comprehensive book on musical instruments. The book, featuring over 200 pages of photographs and essays by scholars and art writers from across India, serves as a valuable resource, offering a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural context of these musical treasures.

Mayuri from Punjab
Mayuri from PunjabMATI team

Over the past two decades, MATI's founder, Siddhartha Tagore, has meticulously gathered a unique and rare collection of musical instruments. Among them, the exhibition showcases instruments like the Kinnari and Tuhila, classified under Folk & Tribal Instruments. The Kinnari, originating from Vizag, Andhra Pradesh, is a chordophone, while the Tuhila from Jharkhand is a bamboo-made chordophone used by the Munda people.

Other notable instruments include the Ghasiya Baja and Panchmukhi Baja, both membranophones from Surguja, Chhattisgarh, and the Buang, a chordophone from Hijoldoba, West Bengal, crafted with a dried gourd, bamboo, and hemp rope, originally used as a voice of rebellion. The Decca, a chordophone from Odisha, adds to the richness of the collection.

Large Nagara from Punjab
Large Nagara from PunjabMATI team

As a special honour, Padma Bhushan Shri Rajeev Sethi, a renowned South Asian designer celebrated for his innovative contributions to preserving and celebrating the subcontinent's rich cultural heritage, has been invited to grace the exhibition.

The 'VĀDYA' exhibition promises a melodic journey through India's musical heritage, providing a unique opportunity to appreciate and understand the cultural significance of these diverse musical instruments.

OT spoke to Siddhartha Tagore, Founder of The Management of Art Treasure of India-MATI, and Ms Nidhi, the curator of the exhibition and Deputy Director of National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy about the inspirations and motivations behind the exhibition. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Can you share the inspiration behind curating the exhibition and what motivated MATI to focus on these specific categories of instruments from diverse regions of India?

Nidhi: The inspiration behind the exhibition was to highlight the cosmic significance of music and musical instruments through the Indian ethos. We wanted to shed light on the lesser-known musical instruments as well as the delicate craftsmanship that went into their making. Our objective was to curate the gallery in an engaging way in the interest of all kinds of audiences in a seamless manner.

The instruments acquired by the MATI foundation over the last two decades, along with the reserve collection of the Crafts Museum, were put together for exhibition.

Given the rapid technological evolution, what challenges do you foresee in preserving and promoting traditional musical instruments, especially those from Folk and Tribal communities? How does this exhibition address those challenges?

Nidhi: The changing social and growing urban culture has transformed the imagery of music in the present milieu. This has pushed many tribal and folk instruments of the country into the background, with little knowledge or awareness among the public. It is even difficult for musicians, who, under economic strain, are leaving their traditional occupations and shifting to other professions to sustain themselves in this uncertain atmosphere.

The exhibition, thus incorporating classical, folk, and tribal instruments together, projects a comprehensive picture of the heritage of Indian music for visitors. While the audience from different walks of life will find the exhibition informative, on the other end, the artisans will gain a medium for displaying their art. Hence, the exhibition addresses the dual challenges of awareness and vitality of culture.

The exhibition features unique instruments with fascinating stories, such as the Buang, known for its historical role as a voice of rebellion. Could you share more about the stories behind some of these instruments and their cultural significance?

Buang from Hijoldoba
Buang from HijoldobaMATI team

Siddhartha: Certainly! The Buang is an excellent example of an instrument linked to historical narratives of rebellion and resistance. Its cultural value originates from its ability to express response and unite communities during times of upheaval. It was never played by an individual but by a group of people who played and danced to accompany the sound of Buang. Other brass instruments and wooden sticks accompanied these instruments. Buang makes a loud humming sound. The sound is produced by beating the wooden stick to get the sound. It is not solely for entertainment purposes but for protest. Aside from Buang, I would like to shed some light on the musical instrument called Tuila. The Tuila instrument holds significant cultural and spiritual importance and is often believed to possess strong symbolic meanings or supernatural powers. Its design, sounds, and playing techniques were often passed down through generations and contributed to preserving its cultural heritage.

They were mainly played by the subcategory of the Munda tribe, who are nomadic travellers. They often travelled from one forest to another forest with this instrument. Tuila has been utilised for various activities, including religious rites, rituals, entertainment, and storytelling.

Furthermore, the Tuila instrument greatly influenced the musical traditions of their particular locations with its significant immersion in the communities to communicate emotions, tell stories, and commemorate significant societal events. Similarly, other instruments showcased in the exhibition have compelling stories, reflecting diverse cultural practices, social dynamics, and historical contexts. Exploring these narratives can provide valuable insights into the interplay between music, culture, and socio-political movements in various societies.

In the context of technological advancements, how does MATI balance the preservation of traditional art forms, like these musical instruments, with the need for innovation and adaptation to contemporary audiences?

Siddhartha: The Management of Art Treasure of India (MATI) uses numerous techniques to reconcile the preservation of traditional art forms, such as musical instruments, leather puppets, Bengal scrolls, and other Folk & Tribal arts, with the need for innovation and adaptation to current audiences. MATI works to document and preserve traditional art forms, such as musical instruments, through extensive research, books, cataloguing, and restoration initiatives. This ensures that the spirit of these art forms is preserved for subsequent generations.

Tulai from Jharkhand
Tulai from JharkhandMATI team

MATI has previously conducted educational programmes and outreach efforts to raise awareness of traditional art forms, their relevance, and the importance of preservation. MATI encourages innovation and adaptation by engaging modern audiences through workshops, exhibitions, and performances.

MATI works with artists, craftsmen, and scholars to develop new ways to preserve and promote traditional art forms. This collaborative endeavour promotes the interchange of knowledge and ideas, developing new techniques and interpretations that appeal to current audiences while preserving the spirit of traditional art forms.

The book accompanying the exhibition will feature photographs and essays. Could you provide insights into the selection process for contributors and how the book aims to deepen the audience's understanding of the historical and cultural context of these musical treasures?

Siddhartha: The selection procedure for contributors to the exhibition book most likely included identifying experts in a variety of subjects, including musical instrument history, cultural studies, photography, and essay writing. Contributors may have been chosen based on their subject matter expertise, previous research experience, and ability to provide incisive analysis and insights on the musical treasures featured.

The book aims to deepen the audience's understanding of these musical treasures' historical and cultural context by providing in-depth essays on the origins of musical instruments, their cultural significance, and zone-by-zone division from north to south, east to west. Furthermore, the images in the book are likely to visually improve the audience's experience while also providing a contextually rich depiction of the topic matter explored in the essay. Overall, the book aims to offer a comprehensive and immersive exploration of musical treasures, allowing the audience to gain a deeper appreciation of their historical and cultural significance.

The Information

Venue: National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi-110001

Duration of the exhibition: 18th January, 2024 - 28th February, 2024

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