A window into the wonderful world of All India Radio’s special Vadya Vrinda Units

A window into the wonderful world of All India Radio’s special Vadya Vrinda Units
Photo Credit: via YouTube.com
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Radio in India has gone through a long journey, its influence waxing and waning over the decades. Amateur attempts at broadcasting began in the country in the 1920s. But it was on July 23, 1927 that organised broadcasting kicked off with the inauguration of the first station of the Indian Broadcasting Company in Bombay.

Lionel Fielden, a senior BBC producer, took over as Controller of Broadcasting on August 30, 1935, and due to his efforts the broadcasting service got renamed as All India Radio when it came under the control of the Government of India in 1936. Keen to retain the services of regular ensembles for Indian music, Lionel Fielden noted in the “Report on the Progress of Broadcasting in India”:

“Three to four Indian musicians must be engaged everyday to provide a modicum of variety, their fees ranging from Rs.20 to Rs.300 per artist. A European orchestra which fills an hour or so, may cost anything from Rs.50 to Rs.150. Indian orchestras have to be maintained at all stations for accompaniments, rehearsals and for performance. Such orchestras consist of 8 to 15 instrumentalists and cost on the average Rs.500 to Rs.1,000 a month or Rs.17 to Rs.34 a day.”

This organisational structure was followed even after independence. In 1952, a special Vadya Vrinda Unit was started in Delhi with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar as its first director. According to the All India Radio website, “The Vadya Vrinda Units had a number of artistes playing on different instruments which not only was an effort towards keeping alive and show casing (sic) many rare instruments for posterity but also to provide job opportunities to many artistes.”

The website continues: “It is again a matter of pride that many eminent artistes have been part of the Vadya Vrinda Units at Delhi and Chennai and Vadya Vrinda compositions of Pt. Ravi Shankar, Pt. Panna Lal Ghosh, T.K. Jayaram Iyer, Anil Biswas, Emani Shankar Shastri, H.L. Sehgal, M.Y. Kamashastri and others have been preserved in the archives of All India Radio which stand as testimony to their creative excellence and mastery”.

These compositions and their presentations are not easily available on the internet. But here are a few tracks that give listeners an idea of the sound and scope of the Vadya Vrinda, then and now. Unfortunately, the number of staff artistes has declined over the years in all radio stations, obviously pointing to the lack of importance given to music broadcasts by successive governments.

Vanita Mandal
Dinkar Amembal

To begin with, here is a track played by the Vadya Vrinda from the Bombay station. Composed in raag Nayaki Kanada by flautist Dinkar Amembal, or D Amel, the piece is set to Teentaal, a cycle of sixteen matras or time units. It is played on the violin and flute with accompaniment provided by the tabla. It does not have separate parts written out for the members of the ensemble and the entire composition with the theme and the taans (quick melodic passages) and tihais (phrases structured in a manner that need the same phrase to be played thrice in order to coincide with the first matra or time unit of the time cycle) is played in unison on the violin and the flute.

Musical tribute to Ravi Shankar

This is a short video recording of a concert in tribute to Ravi Shankar. A short musical segment presented by the Akashvani Vadya Vrinda follows the two speeches. The melodic composition in raag Bairagi Bhairav exploits various metrical patterns.

Vadya Vrinda

This track is also a live performance by the Vadya Vrinda. Unlike the compositions in the previous tracks, this one incorporates separate parts for various instruments. It does not adhere to a raag but is a melodic composition in the popular mould set to Kaherva, a cycle of eight matras.

Vande Mataram

To conclude, here is a rendition of the national song by the Akashvani Vadya Vrinda.