A Musical Treasure Trove
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At first glance, the champakadi Danda looks more like a wizard's magic wand. Six-feet long with tassels of dried seeds tied round it, the danda rattles when shaken. It is, however, no magician's accessory but an extinct Indian folk musical instrument and one of the 700-odd instruments housed in the Gallery of Musical Instruments at the Sangeet Natak Akademi.
Started in 1964 by renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin, this is the only museum of its kind in the country. It reminds one of not only India's rich musical history, but also its dying folk legacy.
Most instruments in the place seem alien-antiques from a different world you never would have laid your eyes on. The names are equally obscure. Gawri Kalam sounds more like a pen but is actually a trumpet. The Saitar isn't Sitar spelt wrong but a tribal chordophone.
"Music in this country was not born in royal courts or scientific laboratories, but in countless villages and hamlets. An average Indian music fan knows about 10 Indian musical instruments at the most. It's sad that we know nothing about our own music," says museum curator Jayant Choudhary who has been taking care of the rare collection for more than 15 years.
The desolate gallery stands as a testament to this musical ignorance. "Visitors are few. People come to the academy all the time, but very few actually care to step into the gallery," he adds. This is surprising since the museum stands right in the heart of the capital on the bustling Feroz Shah Road.
Housing various instruments from towns and villages, the museum is undoubtedly a musician's dream come true. From popular instruments like the rudra veena to unknown ones like Tenkaya Burra (a string instrument) and even the ones that are now extinct such as Makara Yazh, the museum has them all.