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Musicians lead Academic laureates

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Musicians lead Academic laureates

The Economic Times, November 29, 1987

As many as 14 musicians, including those from the Hindustani and Carnatic paddhatis, have figured in the list of performing artistes who have been selected for the 1987 Sangeet Natak Akademi awards.

Five of these are exponents of Hindustani music and, interestingly, all of them are based in Bombay. The recipients are Shobha Gurtu, C. R. Vyas and Jasraj, all vocalists, and Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan and Imrat Hussain Khan, both sitarists. The latter, incidentally, enjoys the distinction as a surbahar virtuoso as well.

The awardees, under the present arrangement, receive a cash presentation of Rs 10,000 each. This time, the honours will be presented by the President, R. Venkatraman, at a special ceremony in Calcutta on January 31.

What are now known as Sangeet Natak Akademi awards were first instituted as President’s awards for annual conferment in 1952. Since then they have been given to symbolise the government’s appreciation and recognition of the life-long and spontaneous devotion of eminent artistes to the cause of music, drama and dance.

As far as I can recall, each of the awards originally carried a purse of Rs 1000, a gold medal, a shawl and a scroll of honour. The recipients of those days enjoyed the privilege of receiving their distinctions from the hands of the President of India at a glittering function at Rashtrapati Bhavan. After the formal ceremony, it was also customary for the awardees to give brief performances in the presence of the large and distinguished assemblage of invitees.

A welcome feature of the award is that the cash value has, over the years, been increased from Rs. 1,000 to Rs 5,000 and now, to Rs 10,000. Paradoxically, a radical change also came over the event in the intervening years. Thus, in place of the President, it was the Vice-president who did the duty of conferring the awards. Later, the Union Education Minister was assigned the job. Still later, the Minister of State for Education was assigned to perform the ritual!

This did serve, in a way, to create a rather unsavoury impression–that one always associated with the covetable awards of national character. The significant augmentation in the value as well as the number of awards was a welcome step, though. Now, with the President himself again performing the investiture ceremony like in the early years, it can be said that the dignity and glamour which once went with the distinction stands restored.

For deciding the choice of recipients for these annual awards, it is learnt that nominations from members of the Akademi’s general council are invited and, according to knowledgeable sources, a consensus is resorted to in the event of lack of unanimity.

Many of the all-time greats have figured among the recipients of these awards, while others have not. It is also said that considerations other than those of eminence and merit have often influenced the conferment of these honours. There appears to be some truth in this, if one goes through the lists–even curosily–of names of the awardees during the last 35 years. To cite just a case or two, maestros like Sadiq Ali Khan Beenkar and Abdul Aziz Khan, who pioneered the vichitra veena, died in their old age without the Akademi recognition. The name of Vishnudas Shirali, one of the great pioneers of orchestration in raga music, also comes to mind in this context.

If eminence on the performing stage, as much as significance of contribution to the preservation and enrichment of traditional music, are to be taken as the criteria for the eligibility of conferment of these awards, it has to be said that opinions are apt to differ over the selection of the nominees for 1987 as well. At the same time, it is comforting to note that all the recipients are still performing on the stage, although the quality of performance of some of them may have understandably varied because of advancing age and other factors. This is no small consolation.

It is high time the decision-makers at the Sangeet Natak Akademi, no less than the membes of the general council, cared to compile uptodate information of all the performing artistes, covering their bio-data, achievements and contribution to their respective art. Such reference data, one hopes, should stand in good stead in the process of selection of annual awards strictly based on merit.

It sounds rather strange that a whole line-up of names in the field of music should remain either overlooked or ignored by the powers that be, regardless of the eminence of the artistes in various ways in their chosen field. They are all still living but, like all of us, advancing in age. To name only a few, tabla stalwarts like Shaikh Dawood of Hyderabad or the erudite vocalists like S. C. R Bhatt, K. G. Ginde and Dinkar Kaikini or, for that matter, Jitendra Abhisheki are the artistes long deserving of the prestigious recognition. Can any one deny their contribution?

The Akademi should also take steps to widen its awards scheme by including eminent teachers, researchers and musicologists like Mr Vamanrao Deshpande, Prof V. R. Athavale, Pandit Manikrao Thakurdas and Pandit Jaisukhlal Shah and many others for this coveted honour. The work done by them in their discipline is of inestimable value to the progress of the art as a whole.


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