Queering Indian Classical Music: An Exploration of Sexuality and Desire

Abstract

This article explores representations of gendered power structures and the notions of sexuality in Indian Classical Music. Hindustani music has evolved over the past eight centuries, from folk music, through the medieval courts, into wider public acclaim in modern times. This tradition of art has been conferred an almost ‘sanctimonious’ status, owing to the pedantic nature of its development and structuring by male artists, the ustads and pandits, purists who followed strict standards and specifications to maintain the conventions of the music form. Following the structure of the ragas as melodies, and the bandish for lyrics, Hindustani music has maintained a puritanical approach to desire and sexuality. Ironically, the subject and discourse of this classical art form have predominantly been themes of passion, pathos and pining, from a feminine perspective. The Feminine is portrayed as insufficient and incomplete, while the Masculine and masculinity are characterised as absolute and the supreme subject of desire. The article examines traditional and historical compositions, the bandish, situating them within the customs and manners of the time and the art form, to suggest the queer characteristics of Hindustani music, the art and the tradition. Pursuing contemporary discourses on ‘Queering’ and applying them to reinterpret Indian Classical Music, illuminates and questions hetero-normative cisgendered conventions in creative expressions, in an art form, which has largely been promoted, performed and accorded patronage by men. This article demystifies notions of sexuality and desire, within an unquestioned domain of male hegemonies in artistic expression.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Barrow I. (2003), From Hindustan to India: Naming Change in Changing Names, South Asia, Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol. 26, Iss. 1, pp. 37–49.

  2. 2.

    Blake A. A. (1961–1962), Review of Textes des Purāṇas sur la Théorie musicale, I (= Publications de l'Institut français d'Indologie, 11) by Alain Danielou and N. R. Bhatt, 1959, p. 185.

  3. 3.

    ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Chronology 2500 BC–1500 BC, Available at: http://www.itcsra.org/cronology2500.

  4. 4.

    ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Chronology 1500 BC–500 BC, Available at: http://www.itcsra.org/cronology1500.

  5. 5.

    ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Chronology 1700 AD onwards, Available at: http://www.itcsra.org/cronology1700.

  6. 6.

    Hindustani music’s puritanical posturing, and its seeming sanctity/divinity is claimed to make the art form purely spiritual, agnostic of human desire. The analysis of this paper recognises that the understanding of carnality and ‘deviant’ identities are very contextual, and for the purpose of this paper, are understood through the subjectivity of the author, and could be a result of the author’s contemporary analytical bias.

  7. 7.

    Chatterji P. (1958), Indian Classical Music, East and West, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 360–370.

  8. 8.

    Oxford Dictionary, Note, Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/note.

  9. 9.

    Oxford Dictionary, Music, Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/music.

  10. 10.

    Ruckert G. and Widdles R. (1998), Hindustani Raga, in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, South Asia: The India Subcontinent, ed. Arnold A. et al., Taylor and Francis, pp. 64–65.

  11. 11.

    Ranade A.D. (2006), Musical Contexts, A Concise Dictionary of Hindustani Music, Promilla and Co. Publishers in association with Bibliophile South Asia, pp. 71–74.

  12. 12.

    Nettl B., Tala, Encyclopedia Britannica, Available at: https://www.britannica.com/art/tala.

  13. 13.

    Mukhopadhyay K. (2006), The Birth of Khayal, The Lost World of Hindustani Music, Penguin Books India, pp. 36–38.

  14. 14.

    Van der Meer W. (2012), Performing a Raga: Khayal, in Hindustani Music in the 20th Century, Martinus Nijhoff Publications, pp. 50–60.

  15. 15.

    Bradby B. (2003), Discourse Analysis, in Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Continuum, pp. 67–70.

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    Fairclough N. (2006), Analysing discourse: Textual analysis for social research, Routledge.

  17. 17.

    Aleshinskaya E. (2013), Key Components of Musical Discourse Analysis, Research in Language, Vol. 11 Iss. 4, pp. 423–444.

  18. 18.

    Tagg F. (2003) Analysing popular music: Theory, method and practice, Cambridge University Press, p. 74.

  19. 19.

    Reisigl M. and Wodak R. (2001), Discourse and Discrimination. Rhetorics of Racism and Antisemitism, Routledge, p. 298.

  20. 20.

    Wodak R. and Fairclough N. (1997), Critical Discourse Analysis, in Discourses as Social Interaction (ed. T.A. van Dijk), Sage, pp. 258–284.

  21. 21.

    Wodak R. and Meyer M. (2009), Chapter 1: Critical Discourse Analysis: History, Agenda, Theory, and Methodology, in Methods for Critical Discourse Analysis (2nd revised edition), Sage, p. 3.

  22. 22.

    Wodak R. and Meyer M. (2009), Chapter 1: Critical Discourse Analysis: History, Agenda, Theory, and Methodology, in Methods for Critical Discourse Analysis (2nd revised edition), Sage, p. 10.

  23. 23.

    Habermas J. (1967) p. 259, in Wodak R. and Meyer M. (2009), Chapter 1: Critical Discourse Analysis: History, Agenda, Theory, and Methodology, in Methods for Critical Discourse Analysis (2nd revised edition), Sage, p. 10.

  24. 24.

    Wodak R. and Meyer M. (2009), Chapter 1: Critical Discourse Analysis: History, Agenda, Theory, and Methodology, in Methods for Critical Discourse Analysis (2nd revised edition), Sage, p. 20.

  25. 25.

    Oxford Dictionary, Nayika, Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/nayika.

  26. 26.

    A bandish in Ahir Bhairav, Available at: http://quizfan.blogspot.in/2005/06/bandish-in-ahir-bhairav.html.

  27. 27.

    Available at: https://www.swarganga.org/bandish_details.php?id=2451.

  28. 28.

    Available at: https://www.swarganga.org/bandish_details.php?id=185.

  29. 29.

    Available at: https://www.swarganga.org/bandish_details.php?id=1952.

  30. 30.

    Available at: https://www.swarganga.org/bandish_details.php?id=1080.

  31. 31.

    Available at: https://www.swarganga.org/bandish_details.php?id=771.

  32. 32.

    Available at: https://www.swarganga.org/bandish_details.php?id=71.

  33. 33.

    Wikipedia, Sohni, Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sohni.

  34. 34.

    Available at: https://www.swarganga.org/bandish_details.php?id=609.

  35. 35.

    Tanarang, Raga Vibhas, Available at: http://www.tanarang.com/english/vibhas_eng.htm.

  36. 36.

    Available at: https://www.swarganga.org/bandish_details.php?id=3732.

  37. 37.

    Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCB6wkhLGl4.

  38. 38.

    Sharma M. (2006), Tradition of Hindustani Music, Kul Bhushan Nangia APH Publishing Corporation, p. 37.

  39. 39.

    Siddiqi J. (2010), Indian classical music for dummies, Mail and Guardian, Available at: https://mg.co.za/article/2010-02-05-indian-classical-music-for-dummies.

  40. 40.

    Coomaraswamy A. (1917), Indian Music, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 2 pp. 169–170.

  41. 41.

    Coomaraswamy A. (1917), Indian Music, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 2 p. 170.

  42. 42.

    Gadhre A. (2015), The Socio-Economic Status of Women in India: Ancient to Modern Era, Law Articles – India’s Most Authentic Free Legal Source Online, Available at: http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/article/the-socio-economic-status-of-women-in-india-ancient-to-modern-era-1867-1.html.

  43. 43.

    Post J.C. (1998), Women and Music, in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, South Asia: The India Subcontinent, ed. Arnold A. et al., Taylor and Francis, p. 408.

  44. 44.

    Courtney D., Kheyal (Khyal)—Indian Vocal Form, Available at: www.chandrakantha.com/articles/indian_music/kheyal.html.

  45. 45.

    Ranade G. H. (1967), Music in Maharashtra, Maharashtra Information Centre, pp. 56–57.

  46. 46.

    Post J. C. (1998), Women and Music, in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, South Asia: The India Subcontinent, ed. Arnold A. et al., Taylor and Francis, pp. 408–409.

  47. 47.

    Post J. C. (1998), Women and Music, in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, South Asia: The India Subcontinent, ed. Arnold A. et al., Taylor and Francis, pp. 409–410.

  48. 48.

    Doty A. (2002), Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon, Routledge, p. 7.

  49. 49.

    Pugh T. (2004), Queering Medieval Genres, Palgrave Macmillan US, p. 3.

  50. 50.

    Pugh T. (2004), Queering Medieval Genres, Palgrave Macmillan US, p. 5.

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    Panicker J. J. (2009), A Critique of the Psycho-sexual dimensions in select plays of Mahesh Dattani – A Queer Approach, Ph.D. Dissertation, Gandhigram Rural University, p. 171.

  52. 52.

    Bhairav and Bhairavi are two major ragas of Hindustani music. They are also the names of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati, and signify the duality of gender, and the balance between the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. Lord Shiva and Parvati also signify sexual desire and pleasures in Hindu mythology.

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Tandon, S. Queering Indian Classical Music: An Exploration of Sexuality and Desire. Sexuality & Culture 23, 154–174 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-018-9558-7

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Keywords

  • Sexuality and art
  • Indian classical music
  • Queering
  • Queer theory
  • Performative gender
  • Gender and art