Molly Kaushal
Associate Professor, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, India

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) was set up to fulfil late Smt. Indira Gandhi’s (former Prime Minister of India) idea of restoring the integral quality of a human being, fragmented by his diverse roles in cities, classes, ethnic groups, religions, traditions, and nationalities, to reconcile one’s material and spiritual needs, and enable one to be at peace with oneself and with society. The center was visualized as encompassing the study and experience of all the arts—each form with its own integrity, yet within a dimension of mutual interdependence, interrelated with nature, social structure, and cosmology.

IGNCA was set up in 1987 with Shri Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India at the time, as its first president. Ms. Sonia Gandhi became the next president, and the current president is Mr. Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, the former Under-Secretary General to the United Nations Organisation.

IGNCA is based in New Delhi, situated on twelve hectares of prime land while the center itself houses one of the finest libraries in the country, a media production division, a cultural information center, an exhibition division, conference halls and twenty-four guest rooms. Regional centers are in Bangalore (South India), Varanasi (North India), and Guwahati (the Northeast India). The center has collaborative program with numerous national and international institutions and universities and its faculty is internationally trained.

IGNCA adopts a broad-based definition of arts to include in its purview every aspect of creativity from architecture, sculpture, pottery, puppetry, weaving, painting, and graphics, to general material culture such as literature, photography and film as well as the performing arts of music, dance and theater. The center’s agenda is to explore, study and revive dialogue between India and her neighbors within South and Southeast Asia in the context of the arts.

The uniqueness of IGNCA’s approach to the arts lies in the fact that it does not segregate between types of forms, whether folk and classic, oral, and aural, written and spoken, or old and modern. Here the emphasis is on the connectivity and the continuity between the various fields that ultimately relate human to human, and human to nature. The IGNCA manifests it’s academic and research work in its publications, national and international seminars, conferences, exhibitions, and lecture series. The schools and other education institutions fall under the umbrella of IGNCA’s outreach program. IGNCA is also a nodal body for the ICH program of the Government of India. It has been responsible for preparing nomination dossiers for Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity such as Ramlila and Vedic Chanting. It was responsible for the nomination of Ramman to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for the 2008-2009 cycle.

Janapada Sampada, one of the main research divisions of the center is fully devoted to the study, documentation, and dissemination of India’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. It studies both the intangible and tangible aspects of culture as interconnected and intertwined parts of a unified whole. Some of the important studies under the division have been in rock art, ethnomusicology, lifestyle studies, oral narratives, rituals, myths, fairs and festivals, traditional knowledge systems and resource management, expressions in arts and crafts traditions, oral history and sacred centers and landscapes.

Apart from the Janapada Sampada, the center has four more divisions. Each of these divisions is autonomous in structure but linked through programming. The Kala Nidhi division comprises a conservation laboratory, a multimedia unit, cultural archive, and a multimedia reference library which includes printed books, slides, microfilm, photographs and audio-visual material. The Kala Kosha division is focused on research and investigates intellectual traditions in their multi-layered and multi-disciplinary dimensions. The Kala Darshana division provides a forum for inter-disciplinary seminars, exhibitions and performances on unified themes and concepts.

The center has a well-developed Cultural Informatics Laboratory, which acts as a focal point for digitization of rare manuscripts, books, photographs, slides, and audio-video collections not only for IGNCA but also for the other organizations working with the Department of Culture. IGNCA also houses the National Manuscripts Mission, a project that seeks to preserve, document, and disseminate knowledge about the vast manuscript wealth of India. The Sutradhara division provides administrative, managerial, and organizational support and services to all the other divisions. IGNCA has 26,000 hours of audio-video material, 28,000 hours of audio recordings, 200,000 still images, and 4,000 ethnographic objects from all over the world in its collection. It has organized more than 100 exhibitions and 150 national and international events. It has published over 200 publications on a wide range of subjects ranging from visual and performing arts to cultural and ethnographic studies. In addition, IGNCA also provides a valuable resource through its website (, which receives 1.5 million hits a month.