Centre for Internet & Society

A few years ago, Mumbai-based musician Neela Bhagwat realized that her old notebooks filled with lyrics and notations of age-old 'bandishes' were in tatters. Afraid that she might lose them forever, Bhagwat decided to make fresh copies.

The article by Sandhya Soman was published in the Times of India on January 20, 2015. T. Vishnu Vardhan gave his inputs.

Once she wrote it all down, Bhagwat handed over the notebooks to a team to upload her collection of around 330 bandishes of the Gwalior gharana to a free, online library.

"I was always keen on sharing the compositions with others. Digitization is the way to go as it can be accessed from anywhere," says Bhagwat. Based on her notebooks, around 337 bandishes have been converted to PDF format by student and music researcher Tejaswini Niranjana. "I will be uploading them soon to Wikisource, which is one of the platforms of Wikipedia," says Niranjana.

Bhagwat and a few other music-lovers like her are taking up digital archiving projects to preserve India's cultural heritage without any institutional support or grant. "I have about 337 bandishes, my guru had more than 1,000 and his guru would've had still more. So much has got lost now," says Bhagwat. Even if she is willing to teach, few are able to understand, internalize and work on these classical compositions. "No student of mine has learnt all of it. So I thought it best to keep them in the public domain," says Bhagwat.

Along with music students, scholars also find these projects helpful.

For example, Andhra Pradesh-based lexicographer Peddi Sambasiva Rao has created a master index of all the compositions of Annamacharya for Telugu Wikisource recently. Now, he is in the process of digitizing the lyrics of all the 15,000 songs of the 15th century composer along with a fellow enthusiast. "Carnatic music lovers find it difficult to locate individual songs as there are 29 volumes of Annamacharya's works. Instead of publishing the index as a book, I thought of approaching Wikipedia, which is known to everyone," says Rao.

As the index is in Unicode, the standard text encoding format, the Telugu kirtanas will soon come up on search engines, says T Vishnu Vardhan, programme director, Access to Knowledge, CIS, which helped host these projects. "By June, we hope to have the entire Annamacharya kirtanas at a single source and eventually do the same for the songs of the Gwalior Gharana. This is the only way to make our cultural heritage accessible to future generations," says Vardhan.

Bhagwat says cultural and educations institutions should take the lead in digital archiving as the benefits are multi-fold. Once the bandishes are online, Bhagwat's students abroad will have the text along with the DVDs that she has brought out. "By the second or third Skype lesson, they would've learnt it," says Bhagwat.