Music

In the service of Carnatic music

Lakshman Ragde   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

My acquaintance with Lakshman Ragde started many years ago while searching the Internet for the lyrics of a rare kriti. Lakshman's name came up in different Carnatic music forums and online communities that I visited, enthusiastically responding to member requests, and fulfilling them.

Born in Chennai, Lakshman has travelled through several career paths before finding his calling in education. Currently a resident of Canada, he retired as a high school teacher after 28 years of service. Music has been a constant in his life, while growing up in a family of musicians and even while engaged in other career pursuits. His stay in Dalmianagar and Nepanagar exposed him to Hindustani music as well. He regularly attends concerts in both styles. Excerpts from an interview:

When did you conceive the idea of a composition bank? Was it a personal collection that expanded? What inspired you to share it with others?

It began informally in the 1960s when I started collecting whatever classical music I could find. We used spool tape recorders back then! Information on the ragas, composers and so on was hard to come by. I started looking for statistical information from friends and books and, later on, through the Internet. By 1986, I had enough data for a three-ring binder. The first edition of ‘Alphabetical Index of Karnatak songs' with 18,000 entries was privately published in 1993 after I bought my first computer and systematised the information.

Within a span of seven years, the collection grew to 34,000 entries. I also published a book of Tyagaraja's kritis with diatrical marks and notations. Sharing of the information and later on, of the lyrics, began when I was part of the now defunct sangeetham.com. Gradually more inquiries came in for the lyrics and the database also expanded. Today the file on lyrics has over 20,000 songs, and new songs are added on a regular basis. The collection covers over 200 composers including many unknown ones. There is a great demand for notations. I rely on my library of over 600 books for this purpose. The index has over 39,000 entries.

How do you add to the collection?

Mainly from the vast collection of audio clips available on the Internet and also from books. In many cases, friends and well-wishers also supply the lyrics and audio clips. Friends from rasikas.org have helped me immensely with the correct wording of many lyrics. I try to keep one step ahead and proactively search for new songs/lyrics from all available sources.

Where and how do you store the collection?

All the statistical information (Index) is stored and managed by the Microsoft Access programme. I also use MS Word and text formats for the lyrics, with a backup in a portable drive. The lyrics collection is in ITRANS format and stored as text and word files.

How do you remember where to look for a file – you are very prompt in your responses to requests?

Whenever a request comes along, I search the Access file to identify the composer's name. Then the lyrics are located from the appropriate composer file and sent to the person requesting it. There is a separate file for notations (over 1,100 songs). I also scan from books, when available.

Any problems?

Problems occur when the beginning words for the requested song are not correct. I do not collect lyrics for film songs and so have to apologise.

Many dance pieces are hard to come by. Most frustrating is the fact that, while I may have the source material for the song, I am unable to fulfil the request because the book is in Kannada, Telugu or Malayalam, which I cannot read!

Nowadays people also ask for lyrics of bhajans of Mirabhai, Kabirdas, and Surdas and also Marathi abhangs which I have started collecting. Viruthams and shlokas are also a problem because they are difficult to locate.

Do you have help with managing the collection? Any shishyas who follow your path?

No one has yet volunteered.

And the future

I look forward to trips to India so that I can collect any out of print/ unpublished compilations of songs and lyrics directly from composers or left with their disciples. I will also have to decide soon about what to do with this collection for future generations. I also regularly supply lyrics to sites like karnatik.com, rasikas.org, narthaki.com, indianheritage.com, edieval.org and so on. I have produced two CDs as well; an Index with the 33,400 entries of statistical information and a CD of lyrics with over 6,000 songs.

Above all, I derive personal satisfaction in helping others in their musical endeavours with my meagre contributions.

Contact Lakshman at luzchurch @hotmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 3:57:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/In-the-service-of-Carnatic-music/article13372208.ece

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