Deepti Navaratna

Arts Research
2017-2018

Grant Period: One year and six months

Deepti Navaratna is a Bangalore-based neuroscientist and musician. She is currently serving as the Executive Director of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Bengaluru. As an accomplished South Indian classical musician, Deepti has presented her work at the Symphony Space and Asia Society, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Yale School of Music, New Haven; and Harvard Arts Museum, Cambridge among others, as well as at many spaces in India. She has contributed to many national and international journals and has participated in a number of conferences and seminars.

This grant will enable Deepti to study the history and evolution of the Royal Carnatic Orchestra of the Mysore Court. Now known as the Mysore Police Band, the Royal Orchestra is the site for the very first encounters between Western Classic music and the music of South India. From being a trendsetter, exploring new horizons at the intersections of Carnatic-crossovers, the Police Band today is excluded from mainstream Carnatic music practice and discourse. Its journey from the ‘exotic’ trailblazer to an ‘ignored’ colonial relic is a reflection on the socio-political and cultural transformations in South India, according to Deepti.

Deepti will explore the history of the presence of the Royal Carnatic Orchestra in the court of Mysore, as a symbol of both cultural syncretism and colonial identity. Its musical oeuvre embodied multiculturalism; its practitioners came from diverse class and caste backgrounds; and its royal patronage was open to experimentations between western and Indian music. These aspects, according to Deepti, illuminate nuances of the colonial identity in South India during that period. She will study how post-independence cultural history of Karnataka strategically left out the names of the European composers and local musicians in the Mysore Court to protect the culturally pristine image of Carnatic music. She will examine and critique the cultural amnesia which has deprived the Police Band its rightful space in the traditional musical realm of the region. Deepti will examine how this cultural ostracisation was carried out in an attempt to reverse the paths of the tradition which had moved away from the temple to the court. The upper castes re-wrote much of the notations in vernacular texts of the South Indian languages making it impossible for a cosmopolitan set of practitioners from diverse castes to access it. As a result of these formations, in the caste-homogenous Carnatic music sphere, the hybrid music of the Police Band and its practitioners, did not find a place. Deepti will analyse these aspects in the light of the formations of nationhood and statehood, as well as against the backdrop of the creation of the binaries of Carnatic music as a vocal tradition and Colonial traditions of instrumental music.

With regard to the cultural transactions, Deepti will study how theory and practice of Carnatic and Western music impacted each other. She will research the patronage system and its role in promoting music irrespective of the genres. She will also study the role of power structures in discrediting the Police Band music in later years.

Deepti will conduct in-depth interviews with the current and erstwhile musicians of the Police Band. She will also study the available biographies of musicians and simultaneously look at the records and documents related to the Band. She will access the notations of compositions, recordings from British Council, private recordings, and recordings from the Palace Archives. She will also procure the documents from the Mysore Palace and Karnataka State Archives. The Karnataka State Police Archives have detailed documentation and historical photographs of the orchestra performing during Mysore Dasara and other significant royal events. This material will also be accessed and studied by Deepti. She will document the older notations and recordings alongside current ones.

The outcome of this project will be a manuscript for a book. The Grantee’s deliverables to IFA with the final reports will be the manuscript, audio-visual footage of recordings and performances, and notations of the music of the Band. The budget is commensurate with the proposal.

This grant is made possible with support from Titan Company Limited