Founded in 1990 by Bhai Baldeep Singh – the conservatory has been through many avatars; Vidysar Trust, Center of Archives and Research, Indus Valley Conservatory before being called as ANĀD Conservatory around 2004-5. Initially, the focus of its first student, as Bhai Baldeep Singh calls himself, was to engage in the recovery of the intangible wealth of the tradition and what fruit it bore; instruments were handcrafted back, their playing techniques were recovered, hundreds of hours of documentation conducted and so on. When Bhai Baldeep Singh with eight other associates got together and formed the ANĀD Foundation in March 2008, the ANĀD Conservatory was brought under the foundation’s umbrella.
ANĀD CONSERVATORY: An Institute of Arts, Aesthetics, Cultural Traditions and Development Studies
The ANĀD Foundation’s vision is rooted in the belief that our planet earth is a perennial fount of learning. All regions, irrespective of belief, custom, caste, creed, gender or race, have produced extraordinary people who have left us a legacy that we call our heritage. South Asia, with its history and achievements over thousands of years, has contributed some of the most important religions, philosophical thought, literature, culture, art and music to the world but has not done enough to preserve its heritage.
A singular aspect of this heritage is the idea of unity in diversity, a concept evolved and matured over millennia, which continues to adapt itself to contemporary realities. A diversity of beliefs from the Vaishnav, Sakat, Shaiva to Jain, Buddhist, Sufi, Islamic, Sikh and Christian, all added and contributed to the uniquely rich tapestry of South Asia. Sadly, this tapestry, once the very fabric that held our civilization together, is now slowly decaying through neglect and ignorance.
The ANĀD Foundation’s vision is to vitalize the preservation and perpetuation of this tangible and intangible heritage through its most humanistic vision of universal man.
Hence the powerful concept of the ANĀD Conservatory: An Institute of Arts, Aesthetics, Cultural Traditions and Development Studies. Hence too the choice of its location —Sultānpur Lodhi in Punjab. An ancient town, Sultānpur Lodhi is located north of the confluence of the Beas and the Sutlej. Its two thousand-year history of religious and cultural thought and tradition is a palimpsest of Hindu Vedic-Upanishadic thought layered with Buddhism, Islam and, most recently, Sikhism.
The Project: Sultanpur Lodhi
The inspiration for the ANĀD Conservatory — and indeed for the ANĀD Foundation itself —stems from the gurbāni and the vision of Guru Nānak, and other great sages and reformers who have together enriched and influenced human values and conduct, particularly in South Asia. Gurbāni, the collected wisdom of thirty-six enlightened souls, drawn from various corners of South Asia, at once connects us with semantics, reforms, criticism, compassion, love for humanity, acceptance of diversity, music, universality and power of the spirit through language.
The historical importance of Sultānpur Lodhi is well known. Apart from the sacred connection with Guru Nanak, Sultānpur Lodhi used to be an important centre of learning and has a long tradition of spiritual discourse, hence its ancient name of Sarwamanpur. It symbolizes the spiritual, philosophical, aesthetic and musical quest that started from the land of the five rivers.
The town has many associations with Guru Nanak who lived here for fourteen years. Here is where he was given the Revelation of the Mool Mantra and the Japji, and then devoted his life to preaching his belief in the equality of humanity; from here began the tradition of Gurbani Kirtan as Bhai Mardana struck the first chord on the rabab. And it is from Sultānpur Lodhi that he began his udasis, the epic journeys that took him as far west as Iraq, north into Tibet, east to the present day Assam and south to what is today Andhra Pradesh. The regeneration spearheaded by Guru Nanak spread far and wide in its cultural reach.
Sultānpur Lodhi has a heritage of important historical structures, including the fortified Qila Sarai, Shahi Bridge and Hadira. Its sacred terrain includes several ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh shrines; this spiritual tradition and the history of the town need to be preserved for future generations……
The Idea: The Anad Conservatory
…..but preserved how? Surely not as a mere museum piece, rather as a glowing, living field of tangible and intangible heritage, revitalized through creative and adaptive re-use of its ancient structures, a centre of activity for the revival of traditional wisdoms, and for explorations in the quest for social, cultural, religious and economic equality.
This is the holistic concept that the ANĀD Conservatory seeks to realize: and the choice of Sultānpur Lodhi is rooted in the town’s spiritual past and the belief that it could once again emerge as a cultural centre of world repute; that it could form an important centre for development of inter-religious and philosophical thought for South Asia and beyond, and indeed act as an exemplar for sustainable economic development.
This vastness of scope makes the ANĀD Conservatory much more than just a school of music. It weaves a very wide spectrum of cultural, social, economic and ecological concerns into a cohesive whole. The detailed plan envisions the creative re-use of heritage buildings and tangible assets to spread awareness and knowledge of our intangible heritage. This in turn will inspire a sense of history, pride and cultural dignity among students and faculty members. The fortress of Sultanpur Lodhi, thus, would become the new source of the cultural renaissance of the historical and the geographical Punjab.
In practical terms, the plan for the ANĀD Conservatory unfolds in programmed stages over an initial phase of three years to:
- Preserve the architectural values of the area. The Anad Conservatory will centre its activities in the centuries-old Qila Sarai after meticulous restoration of the now ruined structure.
This is a vision shared by the Government of Punjab, who have given their permission for this imaginative and adaptive re-use of Qila Sarai as the site for the Anad Conservatory.
Moreover, there is no cost for the land, which is being given free by the State Government.
- Set up, within the Qila —and spread over other restored heritage structures —a major project undertaking of the ANĀD Conservatory will be the ANĀD Faculty of Arts and Cultural Studies. Here, resident students will pursue education in the fields of music, literature, scriptures of the world, traditional arts and crafts under the guidance of a Faculty which draws heavily from traditional gurus and holders of knowledge.
Similar masters of traditional knowledge have been termed by UNESCO as “Living Treasures”, a title which honours their status as preservers of various forms of intangible heritage which are now in danger of dying out. The transmission of these forms to young students is not only vital, but a matter of urgency given the age of most masters.
Cultural events such as seminars, workshops, forums and festivals will form an integral part of both the students’ education as well as the town’s renaissance.
- Activate teaching programmes and training facilities in the fields of conservation and restoration: architecture and landscape conservation, restoration of musical instruments, ancient crafts, and other antiquities.
The logical outcome of teaching and engaging local youth in such skills is to make them the keepers of their own inheritance and to inspire a sense of ownership and pride in identity and heritage.
- Institute laboratories and training facilities for studying issues related to socio-economic aspects of sustainable development. Most pertinently: traditional and innovative forms of agriculture; practices related to water conservation and use; alternative sources of energy and its efficient use; innovative solutions for transportation and services.
This aspect would seek to involve another 100 acres of landholding for larger local participation and knowledge inputs.
- Develop an appropriate blue-print for the active promotion of foreign and Indian tourism. Visitors will be drawn as much for the restored heritage structures as for the proposed cultural events.
In short, this project envisages a resurgence and renaissance of Punjab with its centre at Sultanpur Lodhi. The immediate beneficiaries would be the local people, who would be essential participants in the sharing of traditional skills and the absorption of new learning, whether in the field of conservation, music or resource management.
Yet local is the wellspring for global; the approach of the Anad Conservatory will have a wider ripple effect. In keeping with the historical heritage of the site, the concept encourages exchanges between young people, scholars, specialists from across the world: offering a space for discourse and dialogue: always expanding beyond geography to recognize and embrace the sources and links with the whole of South Asia, with Arab culture, with Central Asia, China and Japan.
A project as vast, as visionary as this is dependent for its success on many elements. The two key elements are expertise and funds.
Bhai Baldeep Singh, Chairman and Founder, the ANĀD Foundation, has set up the ANĀD Scientific Advisory Committee (ASAC), see opposite page, a multi-disciplinary group of internationally recognized experts from different countries who have worked on similar projects. Their contribution towards the development and monitoring of progress of the Anad Conservatory project will be immense. All of them have accepted this responsibility and expressed their pleasure at being associated with the project.
The Committee’s distinguished Chairperson, Professor Paolo Ceccarelli, made a field trip to Sultanpur Lodhi, and writes:
“…a policy of conservation must be able to blend together traditional elements, new technologies, contemporary solutions, and anticipations of the future. I believe that Sultanpur Lodhi offers exceptional opportunities to do this. And this in turn will make it a model for many other places where knowledge is transferred”.