In a glass display case hangs a velvet robe in midnight blue, embellished with peacock feathers and satin gold ruffles on the shoulders. With bejewelled turbans and equally dazzling dance moves, Daler Mehndi’s music videos took ‘90s TV by storm—his tunes as sticky as his looks flamboyant. In the absence of the internet, MTV—and by extension Daler—was a big part of my childhood. His robe is an exhibit on the visual identity of Indian musicians, part of the Contemporary Expressions gallery at the Indian Music Experience in Bangalore.
The interactive music museum opened fully to visitors in November 2018, offering a hi-tech history lesson on India’s vast and varied music heritage. Eight galleries across four storeys document various facets of Indian music. As expected, there are elaborate and informative exhibits on Hindustani classical and folk music traditions from across India. I am pleasantly surprised to also find large sections devoted to the indie music scene and cross-cultural music traditions.
Museum staff recommends I start at the top floor and work my way down. I’m greeted by screens playing concert footage and interviews of Indian bands I religiously followed in my college years: Thermal and a Quarter, Pentagram, Indian Ocean. Exploring the gallery is a massive throwback to Delhi’s indie music circuit of the early 2000s. My first introduction to the “scene,” as a wide-eyed 15 year old with an 8 p.m. curfew, was at GIR (the Great Indian Rock festival) at Delhi’s grand but now sadly defunct Hamsadhwani Theatre. The exhibit on live music in the country sheds light on other iconic venues: Kolkata’s Park Street of the 1960s, Bombay’s Rang Bhavan and Razzberry Rhinoceros. From Bombay’s jazz age to the short-lived but seminal fusion band Shakti, from Shillong’s Lou Majaw to Carnatic folk rock band Agam, interactive displays through the gallery trace the journey of contemporary independent music across genres and regions.
Doused in nostalgia, I move on to the galleries on traditional Indian music. The Hindustani section is far superior to the others, holding a wealth of information on musicians, techniques, and history. At interactive exhibits, I hum off-key notes into a mic to find my shruti, and layer percussion, wind, and string instruments to create melodies.
Musical treasures from India’s far corners have been well researched and documented at the museum. With a floor-to-ceiling display of more than a 100 indigenous instruments, the Instruments Gallery is most impressive. I recognise the familiar veena and sarod, but there are intriguing metal horns and leather drums, stringed wooden creations and a variety of mouth harps.
The museum’s most unique feature is its ability to engage every kind of visitor, with exhibits you can experiment with. Sing karaoke-style in a mock recording studio, create tunes on touch-screen tablets, or explore the fascinating use of physics in the Sound Garden. The outdoor gallery is a fitting end to the museum’s circuit and among its biggest draws. Large sculptures such as the humming stone and tubular bells dot the space, inviting visitors to try their hand at creating their own sweet music.
www.indianmusicexperience.org; Open Tue-Sun 10 a.m-6p.m.; Entry adults Rs 250, children Rs 150, foreign nationals Rs 500.
Malavika Bhattacharya is a freelance journalist who writes about travel, culture, and food. She travels for the outdoors: to dive deep in the Indian Ocean, crawl through caves in Meghalaya, and hike through the Norwegian fjords.