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Meet V.T. Sunil's Malayalam dictionary on music

What can you expect in a dictionary on music? V.T.Sunil, assistant professor in music, Sree Swathi Thirunal College of Music in Thiruvananthapuram, had little idea about what it involved when he started the project in 1997. After overcoming a lot of hurdles, his Malayalam dictionary, Sangeetha Nikhandu , has finally reached book shops. “It is the first such dictionary on music in any regional language. There has been an English dictionary on music that came out some three decades ago and it focussed more on South Indian music,” says Sunil.

This Malayalam dictionary, running into 827 pages, is just not an alphabetical arrangement of music-related terms. “I’ve covered raga (both Hindustani and Carnatic), tala, instruments, musicians, composers, musical terms (Hindustani, Carnatic and a few Western terms) and different music genres. The content can be divided into alphabetical as well as classified arrangements (for instance, under the term veena, he has included rudraveena and kachapi),” he explains.

A post-graduate rank holder with an M.Phil in music from Delhi University, Sunil got the inspiration to work on such an extensive project while working as a lecturer at the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady. “It was the late Nellikkal Muraleedharan, a professor in Malayalam there, who first put forward the suggestion. Till then I had never even thought about such a huge task. At first I prepared a 300-page synopsis on ragas and submitted it to the Kerala Bhasha Institute. They accepted my proposal as they were planning to bring out a similar work,” Sunil says. In 2001 he submitted the first manuscript and by 2004 it was ready to be published. But it again ran into rough weather. “I had to take the book from the Institute and in 2007 I approached DC Books. After another round of proof-reading and changes, finally the book has been published. It has been a long wait, but I’m happy that the book is getting noticed,” Sunil says. It was during his regular train journeys between Thiruvananthapuram and Kottayam (to his wife’s place) that he worked on the dictionary. “I made use of the time to refer books and prepare notes. I’ve received help and support from various quarters, such as Uma Maheswaran, correspondent of the Chennai-based Sruthi magazine, who provided me the names of many old musicians. The late Neyyattinkara Mohanachandran had also gone through the book before I gave it to DC,” he says.

Sunil admits that it has been a laborious task, but hopes that it would serve as a reference guide for music teachers, students and music lovers. “Only a few familiar terms related to Western music have been included in this book. I hope to include more such terms in the next edition of the dictionary,” says Sunil, who is doing his doctorate from the Mahatma Gandhi University on the theme, ‘Grihabhedam – new ragas through modal shift of tonic’. An alumni of Government College, Chittoor, Palakkad, Sunil is a performing musician as well.

Athira M.

This Malayalam dictionary

covers raga, tala, instruments, musicians, composers, musical terms and different music genres

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