South Asia Seminar - Davesh Soneji "Tukaram in the Tamil Country: Marathi Kirtan, Multilingualism, and the Making of South Indian Musical Tradition"

Marathi Varkari and Ramdasi kirtan was brought to Tamil-speaking South India during the earliest phases of the establishment of Maratha power in Thanjavur at the end of the seventeenth century. These practices survived largely through institutions known as Ramdasimaths in Thanjavur city and nearby Mannargudi, which received patronage from Marathi-speaking desastha Brahmins in the region and also from the Thanjavur court itself. In this presentation, I consider the process by which Marathi kirtan was “indigenized” by the Tamil smarta Brahmin community in Thanjavur by focusing on the development of a uniquely cosmopolitan practice that today is known as “bhajana sampradaya.” e codication of this multilingual, hybrid musical practice was no doubt a mirroring of the Thanjavur court’s own culture of literary polyglossia. e poems of Namdev, Chokhamela, Tukaram, Janabai, Samarth Ramdas and others are brought into a world of not only uniquely “South Indian” ragas and singing-styles, but also into a the distinct ritual and mnemonic culture of Tamil Brahmins that includes life-cycle events, temple-style domestic puja, purity laws, and contemporary identity politics. Today, the memory of Marathi kirtan is put to the service of the public identity of segments of the Tamil Brahmin community, largely through one of the community’s most cherished expressive forms, namely “classical Karnatak” music, fully inected with all its nationalist socio-historical resonances. I argue that the making of modern Karnatak music and the caste-based aesthetic it engenders cannot be disassociated from its Marathi kirtan and bhajana roots. I propose a complex genealogy for Karnatak music that foregrounds the co-opting of Marathi musical and literary traditions and takes seriously the powers of polyglossia in the world of music.

Thursday, November 6, 2014 - 4:30pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)