It’s Sampradaya Unlimited

Do you want to listen to Tiger Varadacharaiyar? Do you need more information on Koodiattam? Are you a music student preparing for a competition? Is your research thesis on raga Manirangu? Or are you just a music buff wanting to immerse yourself in the world of South Indian music. Well! All you need to do is go to no. 1 Musiri Subramanya Iyer Road, Chennai-600004.

Sampradaya is one of the foremost archiving and research institutions in South Indian music traditions. It began when a German, Ludwig Pesch who was learning the flute in Chennai and an American, Michel Nixon who was learning the veena realised that there was a near absence of informal concerts (mikeless) that were well prepared and accessible to all those interested. Ludwig also discovered through his conversations with stalwarts like M. D. Ramanathan, Puducode Krishnamurthi and many others that all their observations; achievements, knowledge and their musical journeys were so incredible that it needed to be made available to all. As Ludwig puts it “since their opinions, experiences and expertise were so impressive and no individual could possibly absorb all of it in the available time, I thought: why don’t several people like me pool in the outcome of their research, conversations, and notes, go about in a more systematic and effective way, and share them with those interested in Carnatic music.” Thus was born Sampradaya in 1980. The organisation’s main objectives were
* To bring to light and help preserve those valuable areas of South Indian music traditions which have been overlooked or neglected by commercial music producers and concert organisers.
* To provide free access to these music traditions through documentation and archiving, recording interviews, books, journals and manuscripts.

How far have these been achieved? “I can say that for the past 20 years, Sampradaya has definitely moved in the right direction and has continuously worked with these aims and guidelines. Our projects and archiving have been milestones. We may not have achieved all our objectives but we have definitely worked towards that end and have been successful,” says Alleppey Venkatesan, President, Sampradaya. From the beginning, all of Sampradaya’s projects have been funded by the Ford Foundation. It has been project based funding for all these years. Due to the support from the Ford Foundation, it has been able to achieve success in the field of research and archiving.

Sampradaya has in their possession archival material on possibly every aspect of South Indian music. “There is a misconception that Sampradaya has concentrated only on the veena Dhanammal bani. This is not true. Our work has been wide-ranging and has covered many schools of music and music-related elements” says Director Geetha Rajagopal.

Interviews with musicians like Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, Dr. T. K. Murthy, Smt. M. L. Vasanthakumari, Dr. Semmangudi Srinivasier, Voleti Venkateshwarulu, Sheik Chinna Moulana, Harikatha exponent C. Banni Bai, Swaminatha Oduvar, seminars on abhyasa gana, workshops on the Dhanammal bani, thavil, recordings of Samaveda, gettuvadyam, field recordings of Kavadi Chindu on the Devadasi tradition of Thiruthanni and many more form part of the collection.

The audio section has 459 spool recordings, 86 loaned recordings, and 756 gramophone records. The library includes 1,190 books and 721 journals and periodicals. This is absolutely staggering to say the least. This facility has been and is being used regularly by musicians, students and discerning listeners.

When I entered the premises, I saw an old gentleman, whom I have seen at many concerts. Mr. Krishnaswamy puts it most succinctly. “This place is very user-friendly. More people should come here and improve their knowledge.”

A few hours later, four young women came in, put on the headphones and got totally lost in the world of music. I took the risk of receiving their wrath and interrupted their listening session with a few questions. “We have been coming here for the past one year. We are all music students and this is the only place where we get to hear the stalwarts of Carnatic music of more than seven generations,” says Zeenath. B. Gayathri, an M.Phil student of the University of Madras comes here to listen to music pertaining to her thesis – ‘the development of sangathis in krithis’.

In the early days, giants like Tanjore Shankara Iyer and Sandhyavandanam Srinivasa Rao spent hours listening to music. “Even today, you will find musicians says Bombay Jaishree listening to G.N.B., or Santhanagopalan listening to Tiger Varadachariyar and Nithyashree referring to books and notation,” says Govindan who has been with Sampradaya for 20 years. “I used to spend almost the entire day here. I heard G.N.B for the first time in Sampradaya,” says Bombay Jaishree. Bharath who was working in Sampradaya feels that this is the only place where a full three-hour concert of many great artistes can be experienced by all. This makes Sampradaya special.

What is in store for the future? Allepey Venkatesan believes that Sampradaya needs to do more in dissemination of material. He hopes to create a website, which will help more people to access the material available here. This, he feels should be the focus for the future though more archiving will also be taken up. “We are trying to get into video documentation on a large scale. We also plan to hold listening sessions for the public. Being the 20th year, there will be a series of thematic concerts. We need to increase our visibility and make the public aware of this organisation. This is an institution that every music student, researcher, musician, historian, rasika and all those interested in South Indian arts and music need to be part of”, says Geetha Rajagopal. Anybody can come and use the library at a nominal fee of Rs. 5 per day. You can also become an annual member for Rs. 150 or a life member for Rs. 2,000.

There are a few features that strikes one when we visit this organisation. Though its work and achievements are many, the intrinsic quality of our culture of giving personal attention and of quality rather than quantity oriented service are intact. As it is a select group of people involved in its activities and who are deeply motivated and committed to the cause. Even Sampradaya’s office and location bear the stamp of South India and have a old world charm.

Originally written for The Hindu

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