An Ethnomusicology Treasure Trove in Gurgaon


A review of the Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology at the American Institute of Indian Studies, Gurgaon, Haryana, India.

My current research focuses on the Imdad Khan gharana, a prominent Hindustani (North Indian classical) instrumental lineage. In addition, I am examining Hindustani music’s historical development from the 13th century to the present through Persian and Urdu manuscripts, recordings, and ethnographic methods. The Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology (ARCE) has been important for my research because of its extensive and unique collections of audio-visual recordings and field notes (over 32,000), its extensive catalogue of books and periodicals, and for providing an excellent environment for research and writing. Many private collections have been voluntarily donated by scholars from around the world, allowing access to a wide array of materials in a single location. I have worked in the archive on several occasions—first during my MA fieldwork in the summer of 2004, and during subsequent visits in 2005, 2006, and 2008. During each of these visits I spent between three to seven days working at the archive.

The Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE) was established in 1982. It is one of the two main research centers of the University of Chicago-based American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS), and is supported through a consortium of 52 major U.S. universities. The archive is housed in a state-of-the-art facility approximately one hour from the New Delhi train station, located at 22, Sector-32, Institutional Area, Gurgaon-122001, Haryana, India. The institution is located directly off Gurgaon-Delhi highway road. It is not difficult to find once you know the location, but unless you are familiar with the area I would highly recommend taking advantage of the free transport offered by the archive—at least for your first few visits. In order to arrange transport contact the main office, located at D-31, Defense Colony, New Delhi-110 024 (email: This can be done in person or through these phone numbers: 91-11-2469 8930/ 91-11-4155-1562. If one plans to work at the archive for an extended period, accommodations are available at the AIIS Guest House, at C-31, Defense Colony, New Delhi-110 024.

The ARCE adheres to a strict schedule, open between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday (except during national holidays). The institute has an in-house cafeteria and kitchen. Complimentary tea/coffee breaks occur from 10 to 10.15 am and 3 to 3.15 pm. The lunch break is held between 1 and 1:30 pm, and a vegetarian meal is available for twenty-five rupees (approximately fifty cents). Unlike many other archives in India, the staff is available throughout the day, except during tea/coffee breaks and lunch. During the breaks I recommend joining the staff and any other scholars that may be on site, as access to collections are limited during these times. You may also want to walk around the grounds during break times. However, depending on the time of year the heat can be extreme.

There is no formal registration required for use of the archive, but I highly recommend contacting the director Dr. Shubha Chaudhuri at to streamline your visit. I have found Dr. Chaudhuri very helpful regarding the availability of materials, transport, and her knowledge of particular collections that could be relevant for your research. One can begin requesting documents upon entry. However, the government of India has recently introduced legislation regarding the formal registration of foreign scholars—check current requirements with your regional Consulate of India prior to conducting research in India.

The following methods are available for locating materials from the ARCE database: 1. All text-based materials in the library can be searched through electronic keyword using title, author name, subject, genre, etc., or in the card catalogue; 2. Audio-visual items are searchable in the ARCE database by keyword searches on collection number, artists name, genres, etc. The main catalogue for fieldwork and audio-visual collections is in card catalogue format, and I recommend utilizing both electronic and card catalogue searches for research. All requests for copies of texts or recordings are submitted in person using a paper form, which is only available on-site.

The formal procedures for requesting copies are as follows: at least 24 hours notice for requesting photocopies from published materials (book, journals, articles, newspaper clippings; at least 24 hours notice to use listening and viewing laboratory; at least 24 to 72 hours for requesting A/V recording copies (only allowed for research purposes). If you intend to procure audio/visual recordings and printed copies of photographs, you should bring an official letter from your university or institution indicating both your institutional affiliation and the nature of your research. In my experience, it is often possible to receive photocopies of books and periodicals same day. Certain private collections have stipulations that require approval of the donator, and this can take longer than the official 24-72 hour period. The time required for A/V recordings also depends on whether or not the recording has been digitized. If not, the particular item must be transferred from its original format (e.g. video tape, DAT, or cassette) into a digital format. Currently, a number of periodicals are digitized, but most other printed materials are not. The process to consolidate all resources into a single, searchable digital archive is currently ongoing.

There are no formal page limitations for copies of periodicals, field notes, or A/V recordings (if approved), but books have a length-based limitation, which varies between items (it is not possible to copy entire books). All copies are marked with a unique archival code. I recommend making an index for audio recordings, as the only information provided is the catalogue number. All copies are available for a nominal, quantity-based fee. There is no limit to hand- or type-copying of information, but laptops are not permitted in the listening laboratory.

In my experience, the AIIS archive is one of the finest in India, providing tremendous resources, a knowledgeable staff, and a comfortable and clean working environment. The study carrels are a great place to work, and are comfortable, clean, and quiet (and air-conditioned). The only drawback is its distance from the city center, and the expense of arranging personal transportation to and from the institution. If you plan to spend time at the ARCE, I recommend planning a minimum of three days, or returning at a later date to pick up copies of material. If you are planning on conducting research in India, it is a great place to start, as its collections allow you to peruse the work of many scholars—an invaluable resource for graduate students beginning their own research. The AIIS also holds lectures and seminars that provide a forum to meet other scholars. In my experience, the archive serves as a centralized location in which to conduct research, and I have found it beneficial to revisit the collections after working at different archives and ethnographic sites throughout India. If you plan on working at the AIIS/ARCE archive, you should also look into the AIIS research scholarships for funding and logistical support. If you are new to research in India, this facility is a great place to start, without the bureaucratic and logistical challenges prevalent in other Indian archives.

Hans Utter

Image: Photo by Hans Utter.

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