Officials said they were flummoxed by the decision to release only Ramcharitmanas, which many see as a political decision, when AIR is sitting on a treasure trove of music.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have decided to dedicate to the people digitally restored recordings of Ramcharitmanas from the collection of All India Radio on August 31, but two years ago, the Prasar Bharati Board had red-flagged such a move.

When the suggestion was forwarded to the Board chaired by Mrinal Pande, a majority of the members felt that All India Radio and Doordarshan should reflect the composite culture of the country. “You open the door for one and you will be flooded with many requests,” a former Board member said.

Officials said they were flummoxed by the decision to release only Ramcharitmanas, which many see as a political decision, when AIR is sitting on a treasure trove of music.

“We have a huge repository of devotional music and recitations of all faiths, which will be released in phases. The composition of Ramcharitmanas was AIR’s professional requirement and such decisions are taken by the organisation and not by the I&B Ministry,” a senior AIR official said.

Yet, it was the Ministry that finally gave the push to Project Ramcharitmanas, undertaken in the late 1970s under Bhopal station director Samar Bahadur Singh and later, director E.M. Joseph, who got AIR staff artists and folk artists to give music to Ramcharitmanas, and this was aired on radio stations in the North. It has taken more than 30 years to get all the work recorded and digitally restored when the process of digitisation started in Prasar Bharati in 2005.

True to the Board’s sentiments, AIR officials made a presentation to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry last September under the title “Release of premium AIR collections”. They included Ramcharitmanas: seven kands from Tulsi Ramayan; Shabad collection: Rendered by eminent Ragis; Islamic devotional set: Begum Akhtar, etc.; and Chorus Music: Church choirs from over India.

The wealth of music in the AIR archives has been digitally restored to make them available to the public. In rooms that are temperature-controlled lie the originals of these recordings. Hymns, qawwali, gurbani and bhajans have been made available from time to time.

For instance, on the 300th anniversary of the Guru Granth Sahib, AIR made available some rare recordings in its possession, making a statement about the composite culture that the organisation represents.

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