Vignettes of History of musical instruments donated to the Indian Museum by Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore
Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore of the Pathuriaghata Raj family, an eminent scholar of musicology, had authored a number of books on music namely, Universal History of Music; Yantrakosha; Six Ragas and Thirty-six Raginis, Eight Principal Rams of the Hindus; Eight tunes; Fifty tunes; Hindu Music etc. In 1875 when His Royal Highness Prince of Wales (Edward VII) visited Calcutta, a Bengali band was formed using the collection of musical instruments of Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore and those instruments were donated next year (1876) to the Indian Museum. This collection includes a wide variety of string instruments namely Mahakachhapi Vina, Ranjani Vina, Shruti Vina, Mahati Vina, Bipanchi Vina, Nadeshara Vina, Mayuri ViILi etc. and percussion instruments like Huruk, Joraghayi, Dhak, Damaru etc, besides a variety of trumpets viz. Turi, Ranashinga etc and blowing instruments such as Conch shells.
On the occasion of the commemoration of the centenary of the Indian Museum Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore further donated a series of magnificent Japanese and Indian musical instruments along with a splendid Burmese violin in January 1914. The Japanese collection was a gift to Raja by His Imperial Majesty Mikado Japan and the collection consists a large drum with sticks; time beater; Kagura-flute; Koma-flute, flageoLates and reeds etc. The Burmese violin was presented to Raja by His Majesty the king Theebaw of Burma in year 1878. The Indian musical instruments were Alabu Sarangi, Tamburu Vina, Setar (Sitar), A1gok-flu. Kalama-flute etc.
A portrait in oil executed by the Italian artist Ferreti of Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore was presented by his son Shri Shyama Kumar Tagore to this museum after the demise of Raja in June 1914.
The creative response of the nineteenth century Bengal to the stimulus of western thought and culture has often been compared to the Italian Renaissance. The magical efflorescence of vernacular literature, arts and science in myriad forms and glory and the appearance of a host of remarkable individuals in different walks of life within the short span of the century had given strength to this claim. While most of these remarkable individuals came from the educated middle class and made money in government employ, some of them enjoyed independent means, the source of which, however, was Zamindari property. All of them had either a formal education in English medium or, like Ramohun or Rabindranath, taught themselves — no less well. Hailing from one great centre of Western education, the Hindu College of Calcutta, most of them developed certain tastes and affiliations which kept them firmly anchored to a particular cultural ideal. That ideal was neither Ciceronian humanitas which inspired Petrarch, nor classical Greek, which inspired the fifteenth and the sixteenth century humanists. It was the culture of the Hanoverian and Victorian England — rational and empirical, egalitarian and romantic, utilitarian and positivist, with a touch of Elizabethan glory. lmitatio of England, yes, but not of England only. The best minds of the nineteenth century were catholic enough to imbibe the legacy of ancient India, enshrined in Sanskrit.
Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore, the greatest of patrons of classical music that Bengal has produced within historical times, was one such remarkable individual. A direct descendent of Darpanarayan Tagore, Sourindro Mohun Tagore, whose learned investigations into the theory and efforts for the advancement of the art of Hindu music had secured him a worldwide reputation and an unprecedented number of honorary distinctions from the governments and from learned societies of almost every civilised country, was born in the year 1840 into the enlightened family of Pathuriaghata Thakurbari. Hurro Coomar Tagore’s second son, Sourindro Mohun Tagore entered the Hindu College at the age of nine, where he remained for nine years. While still a schoolboy, he displayed unusual literary talent, and at the age of fifteen wrote a concise outline of the history and geography of Europe, which was published in the year 1857, under the title of Bhugol o Itihasghatita Brittanto, while a year later he produced an original drama in the vernacular, entitled the Muktabali Natak, and sometime afterwards a translation into Bengali of the Malabikagnimitra of Kalidasa. At about the same age he commenced the study of the art to which the greater part of his subsequent leisure may be said to have been devoted, and after mastering its elements, took lessons under the well known teachers Ustad Lachmiprasad Misra, and Ustad Kshetra Mohan Goswami.
No unbiased historian of the music of Bengal may afford to ignore the ideas and activities which engrossed a small body of intelligent artists under the leadership of Zamindar Sourindro Mohun Tagore of Calcutta. He spent the whole of his life and money for the cause of spread and advancement of refined classical music, and it is said the before he spent his last breath he expressed his one last desire viz, that his own Sitar be reverently laid alongside his dead body before its last and sacred surrender to the flames of the funeral pyre.
An efficient academy was started and established by Sourindro Mohun and his colleagues consisting of artists of classical song and of instrumental music such as Setar and the Vina, together with a body of Sanskrit scholars who gleaned the best ideas on music from treatises written in Sanskrit. The organisation principally conducted by Ostad Lachmiprasad Misra (Vinkar) and Kalimohan Banerji, all of them practical musicians, bespoke of the art of the pure music of the instruments such as the Vina, the Setar, etc., and also of the standardised music of Dhrubapada, Khyal, Tappa, and Tap Khyal forms. Within a decade, those academic workers were able to edit and publish books entitled Yantra-Kshetra Dipika, Sangita -Sara, Kantha-Kaumudi and also a book of musical notations of the songs of Geeta Gouvinda written by the famous poet Jayadeva. Sourindro Mohun also edited the books entitled The Six Ragas and The Universal History of Musicin English, and Gandharva-Kalpa-Vyakaranam (published in saka 1824, by Sasibhusan Kirtiratna at Girish Vidyaratna Press, Calcutta) in Sanskrit. His organisation was the first and foremost of its kind to constitute a code of musical notation and to publish elementary books of exemplified notation music. Sourindro Mohun, Kshetramohan and Kalimohan deserve the credit for making interested lovers of refined music in Bengal notation-minded and alive to the benefits of a simplified system and method of learning and teaching of such music. Sourindro Mohun took great pains to compile all the essays written by European scholars on Indian music and published them in the form of a compendium. Another noble venture was his compilation of Sanskrit treaties which he published under the title Sangita Sara Sangraha. Practically the whole of Sangit Ratnakar of Sarngadeva was incorporated in the volume. His Yantra-Kosha was a full account, in Bengali, of the construction of the musical instruments of various countries in ancient and modern times. (A chronological list of books published by Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore is annexed).
This intellectual renaissance concerning classical music happened at a time when no other patrons, artists or music lovers of other provinces had dreamt of the possibilities in that direction, Of course, the traditional and familial schools of artists springing from the time of Mia Tansen and a few other masters had their simple practical methods of teaching the pure music of raga on instruments. But those persons kept their codes as well-guarded intellectual properties for the benefit of their own families. Only a few little bits of information that percolated out of such reservoirs of utilisable knowledge gathered in the form of loose fluid currents of empirical and unreliable knowledge and were converted into erroneous practice prevailing among freelance or outsider artists of classical music. The canonical literature written in Sanskrit on subjects of music could not be of any help to the practical artists. Such conditions of empiricism mixed with half-truths and ignorance had persisted through the 16th, 17 and 18th centuries. And it was a phenomenon for Bengal as well as for India that a coterie of intelligent music-lovers took upon itself the duty of a general check-up about such matters in the latter half of the 19th century. Considered as a whole, the combined activities of the academy started by Sourindro Mohun was the prime moving force of a generalised intellectual movement which began with the publishing of vernacular texts on music, effective journals and thought-provoking articles concerning musical subjects generally, and classical music particularly, as early as the last quarter of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
Indian Museum is proud to have in its collections quite a substantial number of musical instruments donated by Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore, an outstanding patron of ancient Hindu music, in 1876 and 1914. The musical instruments displayed in the book would not only take us to our glorious past, they will also give us a glimpse of the evolution that has taken place through ages. We would also learn that the 19th century was conspicuous for giving effect to new outstanding movements in the progress of fine arts in Bengal, especially the art of pure music and song.
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