SNA Museum and gallery of musical instruments with its amazing collection of rare instruments from all over the country needs to be celebrated and not hidden from the public

There is a huge possibility of a large section of Delhi’s populace not knowing about the existence of the museum of musical instruments in their city. An awfully unfortunate situation, but that’s how it is. Tucked away in a corner in the premises of Sangeet Natak Akademi (our premier national academy for dance, music and drama), SNA Museum and Gallery of Musical Instruments, Puppets and Masks commands a discreet presence. And the board signifying the space on both gates of SNA doesn’t help its case either. Deputy Curator Jayant R. Choudhary shares with us that the museum containing some prime specimens of musical instruments from all over the country receives 10-12 visitors every day.

The collection comprises 800 instruments out of which barely 250 are on display, and how is for anybody to see. As announced, the repository was to be housed in a new establishment in Chanakyapuri but the plan seems to have been stalled. Currently Kathak Kendra, the national academy of Kathak, is running from this new building.

A beautiful assortment such as this is indeed suffering from the lack of proper display but still it shouldn’t come in your way of visiting the museum and discovering some rare and vanishing instruments.

Though the gallery was inaugurated by the celebrated violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1964, the methodical collection began only in 1968 and kept growing with regular acquisitions. Of late, this process seems to have slowed down. The most recent and significant addition to the collection has been that of a sarod belonging to Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta, donated by him last year. It’s the maestro’s first sarod and made of superfine Burma teakwood by Gopal Mistry; this kind of sarod is hardly available today. But where is late Ustad Bismillah Khan’s last shehnai or late Pandit Ravi Shankar’s sitar, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s sarod or Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma’s santoor or Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia’s flute…the list is endless. Apparently SNA has given a proposal to the Government to acquire the instruments of eminent musicians but things haven’t really moved forward.

Coming back to what it has, which is also splendid, one is bound to be intrigued by the yazh, an arched harp with 48 strings, which is used as a melodic accompaniment in a vocal recital in South India. Believed to be the precursor of the veena, the instrument finds mention in several classical Tamil texts.

Different types of sarangi — Dhani sarangi, Jogi sarangi, Gujaratan sarangi, Sindhi sarangi, Saranga of Jammu and Kashmir — are another highlight of the collection. The different visual elements to beautify the instrument such as carvings, the inlay work one sees, is the handiwork of the individual folk musician himself, who would make his own sarangi.

Not to be missed is the pair of Pabuji ke mate. A pair of huge pitchers made of clay, with a short neck and wide opening, covered with parchment. They are played by the Thori and Nayak communities of Rajasthan while narrating the life of Pabuji, a local deity in Rajasthan. There are several such gems in that small gallery, about which some detail can be found on the touch screen kiosk installed right there.

In a most remarkable initiative, the collection of the instruments is completely digitised and available at just a click. And in some cases, for instance Buddhadev Dasgupta’s sarod, you can even hear the audio recordings.

The effort is on to provide an audio recording of all the instruments so that visitors don’t go back imagining their sound but actually hear it. “But the real obstacle is how to cull out its sound from the recording where a particular instrument is being played as an accompaniment, or how do we find out if the instrument playing is really the one we have chosen,” reveals Choudhary.

The masks and puppets gallery adjacent to it is a sheer disappointment.

Know before you go:

SNA Museum and gallery of musical instruments, Rabindra Bhawan, Mandi House

No entry ticket

Photography prohibited but SNA photo library does provide photos. One has to pay for it like we are supposed to and it may take some time.

Timing: 10.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. (Monday to Friday)