Confinement and authenticity push export of Indian classical instruments


New Delhi: As boredom resulting from the Covid-induced lockdown and restricted travel has taken hold over the past two years, people have picked up new hobbies like learning music or brushing up on old ones, inadvertently pushing exports of musical instruments up.

Locked in a foreign land and longing for home, online shopping has provided the Indian diaspora with an opportunity to get their hands on authentic instruments like the sitar, tanpura or tabla which has been one of the main reasons for the surge in sales, said exporters and musicologists. .

Minister of Trade and Industry Piyush Goyal tweeted on Oct. 26 that exports grew more than 3.5 times in the first six months of the current fiscal year compared to the same period in 2013.

Retweeting Goyal’s tweet the same day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the growth was encouraging. “With Indian music gaining worldwide popularity, there is a great opportunity to grow further in this sector,” he tweeted.

The increase, however, was significant from 2019-20, when India recorded the export of musical instruments worth Rs 195.52 crore, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce.

In the next two years of the pandemic, exports increased after a slight dip in 2020-21 with the sale of instruments worth Rs 187.14 crore.

The country in 2021-22, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, recorded a sale of musical instruments worth Rs 287.45 crore.

“There was certainly an increase in exports of Indian classical musical instruments after the pandemic. I think when people were forced to stay indoors, they started to choose new hobbies or wanted revive an old one, Ajay Rikhiram of Delhi-based Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument Mfg Co told PTI.

He added that while the import of Western instruments like a guitar was also increasing, more Indian instruments such as sitar, tanpura, harmonium and tabla were being exported.

Its use as an accompanying instrument makes the tanpura an essential part of almost any classical music performance, Rikhiram said.

The sitar, on the other hand, remains the most sought after instrument for its dominance in Indian classical music and its popularity due to artists such as Pandit Ravi Shankar and George Harrison of the Beatles, he said.

According to Rikhi Ram’s website, a sitar can cost between Rs 75,000 and Rs 3.5 lakh. Similarly, the price of a tanpura can also vary between Rs 25,000 and Rs 1.25 lakh.

He added that sales come mainly from the United States, while European countries come next.

Government data shows the US was the biggest importer of musical instruments, parts and accessories from India in 2021-22, representing a business worth $7.37 million dollars, or just over 60 crore rupees.

This year, from April to August, the United States imported equipment worth $3.42 million (about Rs. 28 crore) from India. Germany has been in second place for several years now.

In 2021-22, Germany imported musical instruments, parts and accessories worth USD 6.60 million or nearly Rs 54 crore, in 2021-22 it bought Indian instruments from worth USD 2.52 million, or nearly Rs 20 crore, from April to August this year.

Other major importers of Indian musical instruments are China, Malaysia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Ashish Dewani of Mumbai-based Haribhau Vishwanath Musical Industries said there had been an almost constant increase in exports over the past two or three years. According to him, the reason is travel restrictions.

It used to be that people bought instruments while traveling in India, but since there were restrictions for most of the last couple of years, people preferred to buy them online. Online music lessons also helped drive sales, Dewani said.

But what is it about instruments made in India that makes them so unique in their quality that people are willing to pay exorbitant international shipping prices?

Anupam Mahajan, former director and dean of the faculty of music and fine arts at the University of Delhi, said it is the oral tradition of this craft passed down from generation to generation that is intrinsic to India.

Nowhere in the world will you find karigar (craftsmen) capable of making Indian instruments. Because it is an oral tradition and transmitted to the sons by their fathers and so on. It’s generational knowledge, Mahajan told PTI.

She added that the true craftsmen who make musical instruments have been in the craft for generations and each part of an instrument is made by a different craftsman.

The novelty of an Indian instrument is that the type of wood used, the type of polish and other materials can only be found in India. On top of that, the measures are so inherently Indian that it would be hard to find a match elsewhere, she said.

Rikhiram explained that it would be nearly impossible to make a sitar that would have the same tone and texture as one made in India.

The main reason is the five season availability in India which treats the wood for four to five years like nowhere else. Then the pumpkin squash that is used in making the veena family of instruments, including the sitar, is imported from the coastal states where it is molded in a specific type of mud that makes it suitable for a sitar, a-t -he declares.

It is the little things like these that make Indian classical musical instruments unique in nature and also sought after by enthusiasts all over the world, he added.

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