Patrons and Promoters
The Sangeet Natak Akademi is the apex public body in the field of performing arts established by the Government of India. It completes 60 years in January 2013.
Stamps on SNA
The Department of Posts issued a set of three 5-rupee stamps on 22 December 2003 to ommemorate the Silver Jubilee of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. The multi-colour stamps, perf. 13.5, were printed on matt chromo paper by photo offset process at Calcutta Security Printers. The stamps capture the vibrant spirit of the performing arts that they portray. A miniature sheet and a First Day Cover were also released, the cancellation mark indicates the occasion of 50 years.
In 1944 the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal sent a proposal to the Government of India recommending setting up of three national academies to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the country. India was under British rule then. The Government accepted the suggestion in principle, but did not take any further action.
After Independence the Government pursued the matter and convened a series of conferences to work out details. Consensus emerged in favour of establishing three national academies, one for Letter, another for Visual Arts and a third for Music, Dance and Drama. And thus came into being the three Akademis, namely, the Sahitya Akademi, the Lalit Kala Akademi and the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), housed in Rabindra Bhavan, New Delhi.
The SNA was set up with the objective of providing an institutionalized system of support and patronage to the performing arts. Dr. P.V. Rajamannar, Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, was appointed its first Chairman. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, inaugurated the Akademi on 28 January 1953 at a special function held in the Parliament House. The thought
behind the setting up of the Akademi is best expressed in the words of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, then Union Minister of Education, who was a connoisseur of music as well. In his opening address at the inauguration of the Akademi, he said: “India’s precious heritage of music, drama and dance is one which we must cherish and develop. We must do so not only for our own sake but also as our contribution to the cultural heritage of mankind. Nowhere is it truer than in the field of art, that to sustain means to create. Traditions cannot be preserved but can only be created afresh. It will be the aim of this Akademi to preserve our traditions by offering them an institutional form…. In a democratic regime, the arts can derive their sustenance only from the people, and the state, as the organized manifestation of the people’s will must, therefore, undertake maintenance and development of the arts as one of its first responsibilities.” In 1961 the Government reconstituted the Akademi as a society under the Societies Registration Act.
Activities of SNA
The Akademi’s principal objective is to preserve and promote the vast intangible heritage of India’s diverse culture expressed in the forms of music, dance and drama. It has opened new vistas for our art traditions, and fostered cultural contacts among the various regions in India and between India and the world.The Akademi has created a large archives comprising audio/video tapes, photographs and films. It also contains hundreds of musical instruments and dance costumes. It maintains a reference library containing, among others, rare unpublished manuscripts. It has also a gallery of more than 250 musical instruments.
Its documentation unit has a collection of recorded works of maestros in the fields of music, dance and theatre, which are of invaluable help to researchers in the field.
The Akademi gives grants-in-aid to cultural organisations engaged in imparting higher training in music, dance and drama. It also gives grants for projects, academic research and publication in performing arts.
Kendras of the Akademi
The Akademi has established two Kendras: (1) The Jawaharlal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy at Imphal to offer comprehensive courses on Manipuri dance, music and allied subjects, and (2) Kathak Kendra, also known as the National Institute of Kathak Dance, to train dancers who are committed to pursue Kathak as a profession. Located in New Delhi, it also imparts training in vocal music, tabla and pakhawaj.
In 2001 the Akademi launched a special project of Sattriya dance and theatre tradition of Assam, to support training programmes under different gurus. It has plans to establish a full-fledged Sattriya Kendra in Guwahati. Ravindra Rangshala, launched in the 1960s in Delhi as a part of the Rabindranath Tagore Centenary celebrations, is now under the management of the Akademi. The 8000-seat theatre is also wellequipped to hold workshops. (In 1959 the Akademi set up the National School of Drama, one of the foremost theatre training institutions in the world, as one of its constituent units. In 1975 it was registered as a Society and made an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.)
In the 1990s the Akademi undertook two national projects to rejuvenate Koodiyattam (the age-old theatre of India. It also formulated a scheme for setting up national centres for specialised training in these art forms. The Akademi’s decade long support programme yielded substantial results when the UNESCO, in 2001, declared Koodiyattam as “a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. The Koodiyattam Project was upgraded into a full-fledged Centre in 2006.
As a result of the Chhau dances project, a large number of artists and students have been trained and supported in Mayurbhanj, Seraikella and Purulia Chhau.
Fellowships and Awards
Of all the activities of the Akademi, the one that captures public attention is its conferment of Akademi Ratna (Fellowships) and Akademi Puraskar (Awards) every year. These awards have been recognised as the highest national honour one can aspire for in the area of performing arts. The Akademi Fellowship is conferred on artists of outstanding merit in the field of music, dance and theatre. It is also given to persons who have rendered outstanding service to the cause of these arts through their scholarship and research. It carries an honorarium of Rs. 3 lakhs, a citation, an angavastram and a tamrapatra. The Akademi Awards are conferred on eminent practitioners, gurus and scholars of music, dance and theatre. It carries an amount of Rs. 1 lakh, a citation, an angavastram and a tamrapatra. The Awards in Hindustani music and Carnatic music were instituted in 1951, before the Akademi was set up; and were then known as Presidential Awards. These were subsequently incorporated in the list of SNA Awards. The Akademi has honoured artists, scholars and experts in allied arts as well in all the three broad categories of performing arts – music, dance and drama.
The Sangeet Natak Akademi has completed sixty years of commendable service to the cause of performing arts. By extending institutionalised patronage, the Akademi has rejuvenated and helped sustain several forms ranging from the classical to folk to tribal, and helped them attain popularity and acclaim.
(Music philatelist and old time associate of Sruti)