A consummate artist, Begum Akhtar (1914–1974) was a torchbearer of several traditions: the syncretic Hindustani culture of Awadh, the idiom of Hindustani classical music bound by the guru–shishya parampara, and the legacy of talented independent women musicians who, after the advent of the recording technology, became new icons of feminism. She made her stage debut at the age of seven, and subsequently had her training in Hindustani classical music with Ustad Ata Mohammad Khan of the Patiala gharana and Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan of the Kirana gharana. Begum Akhtar was well known for her singing of thumri-dadra, in which she combined both the Purab and the Punjab styles with a characteristic flavour that was her own and got reflected in her rendering of ghazals. Begum Akhtar lent her voice to many Hindi films including Roti, Panna Dai, Dana Pani and Ehsaan, and also acted in several films such as Mumtaz Begum, Ameena, Naseeb Ka Chakkar Anaar Bala and Jalsaghar. For her eminence in the field of music and her contribution to its enrichment, Begum Akhtar received the Padma Shri, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Padma Bhushan.
The Begum Akhtar Centenary Commemoration Project was conceptualized and implemented by NaadSaagar Archives and Documentation Society for South Asian Music and the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) for the commemoration, celebration & consolidation of the rich legacy of Begum Akhtar on the occasion of her birth centenary year. It was supported by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India under its scheme of commemorating eminent personalities.
The project consisted of the following components:
Digitization & dissemination
The tangible legacy of Begum Akhtar in several collections spread across the country including audio–video recordings, photographs, newspaper clippings, handwritten material and other memorabilia have been collated and digitized under this project. In addition, the Project Team has also been able to consolidate material from various institutional collections such as the Doordarshan and Sangeet Natak Akademi, as well as the individual collections of Vidushi Shanti Hiranand, Prof. Saleem Kidwai and others who have been closely connected with Begum Akhtar. The consolidated material has been disseminated using the following:
The web portal on Begum Akhtar was put together with a view to utilize all the material digitized and documented along with complete audio–video recordings of the three festivals under the aegis of the Project. NaadSaagar Archives & Documentation Society for South Asian Music has designed the portal, while technical expertise in terms of hosting and integrating has been extended by the IGNCA. It comprises a biographical section, a collection of archival recordings and photographs, and, most importantly, Begum Akhtar’s poetic, musical and pedagogical legacy by including authoritative contributions from scholars, disciples and close associates.
The material collated from digitization and documentation has been creatively used to curate an exhibition a part of which was open to the public at the Bhopal festival and a more detailed version was showcased at the Lucknow festival. In addition, the exhibition is also available for view digitally through the web portal.
Given the rich and diverse legacy associated with Begum Akhtar, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and NaadSaagar Archives & Documentation Society for South Asian Music has hosted festivals in a manner that does justice to the various musical genres Begum Akhtar was associated with as well as the places where she earned critical acclaim and connoisseurship. These travelling festivals were held in collaboration with cultural organizations in the cities of Hyderabad, Bhopal and Lucknow. The festivals included performances, audiovisual presentations, exhibitions, poetry readings, film screenings and symposia.