W ith more than 5,000 entries by around 100 scholars aided by more than 250 musicians, the Sangit Mahabarati is a magnificent tome — actually three tomes that has everything that is worth knowing about Indian music — classical and folk, Hindustani and Carnatic.
The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India in three volumes, is a must-have for those seriously interested in any aspect of music. At Rs. 9,950, it does not come cheap, but chronicling a more than 2000-year-old tradition is not easy.
The range of entries is breathtaking. The famous musicians of the past and many of the present are there, sometimes dancers too, the different ragas, instruments and styles are also there as are important texts, places and organisations associated with music in India and her neighbouring countries.
Most entries are a pithy 100-200 words, some longer and all of them are factual, easy to read for the layperson and steer clear of idealising the artistes (where applicable) though on occasion, one wishes the entry to have what critics felt about the style of singing the artist employed. The entries on the various ragas of Carnatic and Hindustani music are very valuable. The placement of the notes is given as are their relationships to other ragas. On occasion, important historical information is also provided.
Most entries for Carnatic music seem to be primarily from the writings of Prof. Sambamoorthy. It is surprising to see an omission of T. Brinda while T. Mukta is covered. The logic for including certain musicians living and excluding others is also not apparent. Also some rare temple music instruments such as the Pushkaram could have been included since publications on such instruments are available in the vernacular. The southern States, Tamil Nadu in particular, have several inscriptions from the 6th century on music; Sangam literature has older references. These entries would make the work more balanced. While most of the texts are mentioned, the inscriptions give us details of the names, castes, privileges accorded to musicians in the Chola and Pandya times and will give researchers useful pointers.
Particularly fascinating are the several entries on the instruments, dances and music of the north east. Famous vocalists across centuries find mention and along with the profiles of some of them are archival photographs that capture the pomp and grandeur that was associated with music and musicians as well. If the notes of the individuals are a little dry, it's just as well since they are mostly facts.
The contributors and supporters of this effort deserve praise and we also hope that they will soon have an easier to use electronic version that is also lighter on the purse.
You keep it up now, undeastrnd? Really good to know.