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Brahmans Beyond Nationalism, Muslims Beyond Dominance: A Hidden History of North Indian Classical Music's Hinduization


This dissertation challenges two key assumptions that structure nearly all historical accounts of modern North Indian classical music: (1) that Muslim musicians imposed a "secretive" and "jealously guarded" monopoly over the field from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries and (2) that upper-caste Hindus eventually penetrated this monopoly only by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries under the protective umbrella of a nationalist musical reform movement. Both assumptions attempt to explain a demographic shift among musicians from a Muslim to a Hindu majority over the twentieth century. Though recent scholarship has begun to suggest a more complex reality, most accounts still presume a neat sequence of two consecutive "dominances" characterized by intrinsic cultural essences: the first, (intransigent, insular and pre-modern) Muslim; and the second, (nationalistic, communalistic and modern) Hindu. Nearly all of this research, moreover, is based on a limited set of data generally dated no earlier than the 1870s and thus within the nationalist period of musical reform.

My research, reaching a full century earlier to a period that set the stage for a later Hindu-led reform, reveals a rather different picture. Specifically, I highlight the role of several overlooked factors that led Brahmans to take up music much earlier than is commonly recognized during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and that may have continued to inform Brahman participation well into the twentieth. These include: the British colonial policy of indirect rule (Chapter One); the legacy of pre-colonial traditions of Mughal patronage (Chapter Two); the persistence of the claim to continuities within the musical theoretical treatise tradition (Chapter Three); and--contrary to the stereotype--the pedagogical generosity of Muslim musicians (Chapters, Four, Five and Six). All of these factors are illustrated by a historical study of a prominent Brahman family from the central Indian city of Ujjain, the Ashtewales, who first entered music as patrons and apprentices of Muslim hereditary professionals in the early nineteenth century, but who eventually became hereditary professionals themselves in the mid-twentieth century. Their example suggests a need to reconfigure commonly held understandings of the roots of contemporary communal realities in music.

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