Geography of Hindustani music

This dissertation explores the influence of regional cultures and, more specifically, of regionally based and regionally determined aesthetic preferences, on the Hindustani classical music tradition. The period from the late 19th century up through the decades following independence in 1947 saw a great deal of change both in Indian society as a whole and, by extension, within the Hindustani tradition. One of these changes was a transition in the demographic profile of the average Hindustani performer from Muslim, essentially low-caste, and hereditary, to Hindu, middle-class, and largely high caste. The other aspect of this demographic transition, namely that there was also a shift in the regional origins of the average classical musician from those native to North India to those native to the two historical regions of Bengal and Maharashtra, has largely been neglected by scholars, including ethnomusicologists. The primary assumption informing this study, then, is that, as almost every aspect of Indian culture varies markedly from region to region (including language, food habits, etc.), the regional cultures of Maharashtra and Bengal must have impacted classical music as it migrated to these regions. I approach this issue in two ways, which I term as the “Inside View” and the “Outside View.” The first represents a combination of the most common approach favored by scholars of Hindustani music, a generally objectivist approach that focuses primarily on biographies of individual musicians and on description and analysis of specifically musical processes, along with the viewpoint of the average Hindustani performer. The answers provided by this approach are partial. I complement this view of modern Hindustani music with the “Outside View,” which examines change in the tradition through the lens of larger social processes, particularly the influence of the tastes or aesthetic preferences of audience members native to these two regions, as well as by other aspects of regional culture, including the impact of semi-classical music genres native to these regions. As such, I not only demonstrate that specifically regional factors have impacted the style of classical music practiced in each of these regions, but also attempt to quantify and describe these changes.

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