As ennui arising from the Covid-induced lockdown and restricted travel settled in over the past two years, people picked up new hobbies like learning music or tearing up old ones, inevitably pushing the export of musical instruments upwards.
Under lockdown in a foreign country and longing for home, online shopping has provided an opportunity to the Indian diaspora to lay their hands on authentic instruments like the sitar, tanpura or tabla, which has been a major reason behind the uptick in sales, exporters and musicologists said. .
Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had tweeted on October 26 that exports have increased more than 3.5 times in the first six months of the current fiscal 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.
However, the increase was significant from 2019-2020, when India recorded exports of musical instruments worth Rs 195.52 crore, according to Commerce Department data. Over the next two years of the pandemic, exports increased after a slight dip in 2020-21 with sales of instruments worth Rs 187.14 crore.
The country in 2021-22 at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic registered a sale of Rs 287.45 crore worth of musical instruments. “There has definitely been an increase in the export of Indian classical musical instruments post-pandemic. I think when people were forced to stay indoors, they started choosing new hobbies, or wanted to revive an old one,” Ajay Rikhiram from Delhi- based Rikhi Ram Musical Instrument Mfg Co told PTI.
He added that while the import of western instruments like guitar has increased, more Indian instruments like sitar, tanpura, harmonium and tabla have been exported. Its use as an accompanying instrument makes tanpura an essential element for almost all classical music performances, Rikhiram said.
Sitar, on the other hand, remains the most sought-after instrument for its dominance in Indian classical music and popularity due to artists like Pandit Ravi Shankar and The Beatles’ George Harrison, he said. According to the Rikhi Ram website, a sitar can cost anywhere between Rs 75,000 and Rs 3.5 lakh. Similarly, the price of a tanpura can also vary between Rs 25,000 to Rs 1.25 lakh.
He added that sales mostly come from the United States, while European countries come next. Government data shows that the US was the largest importer of musical instruments, parts and accessories from India in 2021-2022, accounting for a business worth $7.37 million, a little over Rs 60 crore.
This year, from April to August, the US imported equipment worth USD 3.42 million (about Rs 28 crore) from India. Germany has been a close second for several years. In 2021-22, Germany imported musical instruments, parts and accessories worth USD 6.60 million, nearly Rs 54 crore, and in 2021-22, it purchased Indian instruments worth USD 2.52 million, nearly Rs 20 crore, from April to August this year.
Other major importers of Indian musical instruments are China, Malaysia, Indonesia, the UAE, France, Japan and the United Kingdom. Ashish Dewani of Mumbai-based Haribhau Vishwanath Musical Industries said there has been an almost constant uptick in exports over the past two-three years. The reason, he believes, is the travel restrictions.
“Earlier, people used to buy instruments on their trips to India, but since there were restrictions for most of the last two years, they preferred to buy them online. Online music classes also helped push sales,” said Dewani.
But what is it about Indian-made instruments that makes them so unique in their quality that people are willing to pay exorbitant international shipping rates? Anupam Mahajan, former head, and Dean, Faculty of Music and Fine Arts of Delhi University, said that it is the oral tradition of this craft, which has been passed down through the generations, which is intrinsic to India.
“Nowhere in the world you will find Karigar (craftsmen) who can make Indian instruments. Because it is an oral tradition and passed from their fathers to sons and so on. It is a generational knowledge,” Mahajan told PTI. She added that the genuine craftsmen who make musical instruments have been in this profession for generations and each part of an instrument is made by a different craftsman.
“The novelty of an Indian instrument lies in the fact that the type of wood used, the type of polishing and other materials are found only in India. In addition, the measurements are so intrinsically Indian that it is difficult to print would be a match to be found elsewhere,” she said. Rikhiram explained that it was almost impossible to make a sitar that had the same tone and texture as one made in India.
“The main reason is the availability of five seasons in India, which treats the wood for four-five years as is not possible anywhere else. , brought from the coastal states where it is molded in a specific type of mud that makes it suitable for a sitar,” he said. It is the little things like these that make Indian classical musical instruments unique in nature and also sought after by enthusiasts worldwide, he added.
(With PTI inputs)