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A portrait of khayal exponent Ustad Mushtaq Husain Khan from S.K. Chaubey’s book. Photo: Digital Library of India
A portrait of khayal exponent Ustad Mushtaq Husain Khan from S.K. Chaubey’s book. Photo: Digital Library of India

A digital success story

The Digital Library of India makes access easy to rare books on literature, science, art, culture and music

In early 2000, the Union government initiated a unique project to establish the Digital Library of India (DLI). Its vision was to create a digital collection of rare books sourced from libraries in different parts of the country and make them accessible as a free online resource for research, study and, of course, archiving and documenting. As a first step towards creating the DLI, a collection of one million books on a variety of subjects, including literature, science, art, culture and music, were to be digitized and listed in a searchable catalogue.

Initiated by the office of the principal scientific adviser to the government, the project later passed into the hands of the ministry of communications and information technology, or MCIT. The DLI (www.dli.ernet.in) houses several rare books and publications on music in many Indian languages, including Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali. Researchers and collectors can access these at their convenience and even download and store for future reference.

Among the music-related treasures stored on DLI servers is a digital scan of Part 3 of the Maarifunngamat compiled by Muhammad Nawab Ali Khan, published in 1927 by the famous Naval Kishore Press in Lucknow in an edition comprising 1,000 copies. This is a notated compilation of dhamar and dhrupad compositions in ragas such as Bhupali, Kamod, Miyan Malhar and Jait Kalyan, with the author duly acknowledging in the preface that he had acquired many of the published compositions from the veteran musician Ustad Muhammad Ali Khan, shortly before his death.

There is also the special Madras Jubilee Gayan Samaj volume published by the Poona Gayan Samaj in 1887, titled Hindu Music And The Gayan Samaj. Along with several articles on music, it contains fascinating reports filed by correspondents of leading publications. A report that appeared in the Bombay Times on 9 October 1883 describes the then recently held annual music programme of the Samaj at the Town Hall, Heerabagh. It mentions, among other details, the repertoire presented on the occasion. The programme, in two parts, consisted of a first segment featuring presentations of instrumental music by members of the Samaj, followed by a second segment of vocal music rendered by schoolchildren. Featured instruments included the satar (sitar), taus, bina and pakhawaj. The vocalists presented a variety of vocal forms, including dhrupad, Ashtapadi tarana, and tarana in a variety of ragas such as Chhayanat, Bihag, Bageshri and Multani. The programme concluded with the Commemoration Anthem and the guests “dispersed after the usual distribution of flower garlands and rose water".

The DLI also contains a scan of Musicians I Have Met by S.K. Chaubey, published in 1958 by the publications division of Uttar Pradesh’s information department, consisting of “pen portraits" of “some of the outstanding names in the world of Hindustani classical music".

Till recently, these and thousands of other rare books could be accessed only if an intrepid researcher was willing to crawl into dusty libraries, sometimes fenced in by all manner of often unreasonable rules and red tape. Free access to the DLI makes it easier and welcoming for readers and researchers.

Shubha Mudgal tweets at @smudgal and posts on Instagram as shubhamudgal.

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