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Delhiwale: An ark of musical melodies from a bygone age

Over half a century old, this gallery at Rabindra Bhavan displays forgotten instruments from across the country.

delhi Updated: Sep 12, 2017 13:30 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Almost all the 500 exhibits are handmade, showcasing instruments from across India.
Almost all the 500 exhibits are handmade, showcasing instruments from across India.(Mayank Austen Soofi / HT Photo)

So much music is digitised nowadays.

But if you want to take a few steps back in time, walk into the aptly named Gallery of Musical Instruments.

Here, you’ll make friends with the Dama from Tripura, which looks like a tapering dholak (drum). And there’s the Sanitar, a kind of lute from Kashmir, with a hollow resonator resembling a pear.

Almost all the 500 exhibits are handmade, showcasing instruments from across India. Tucked away in central Delhi’s Rabindra Bhavan, the gallery was inaugurated in 1964 by virtuoso violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

Despite being such a fascinating place, there are no visitors in the gallery when we go there. It’s a shame because the people who set it up not only understood our musical traditions but also respected the fine aesthetics of woodwork.

The delicate stringed Dilruba, for instance, is so intricate and so old that we fear it might crumble at any moment. It was a family heirloom, gifted to the gallery by Archana Mukherji Kumar in “fond memory of her mother.” We also spot a foreign intruder — an old foot-operated piano donated by the German embassy.

Just gazing at these fine old artefacts from long ago can make you experience a portion of the thrill that the musicians who played them must have felt.

Here are some clicks from our visit to the gallery: