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Kane, David Michael (2008) Puthi-Pora : 'Melodic reading' and its use in the Islamisation of Bengal. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis focuses on puthi-pora, a Bengali tradition of book and manuscript reading. It pursues two central aims. The first is ethnographic: to document and describe puthi-pora as it is performed today in Sylhet, Bangladesh. The second is historical: to shed light on a historical mystery-how Islam spread so rapidly and pervasively in Bengal from the sixteenth century. My hypothesis is that puthi-pora was used in this process. Cognitive schema theory is my overarching methodology. It has been applied in two ways. First, I use the schema concept to analyse a whole performance event, using, as primary data, the fieldnotes of two observers: mine as a cultural outsider, and those of my research assistant who is of Bengali descent. This provides a conceptual basis for describing the processes involved in constructing my ethnography, and generates a holistic and schematic framework of puthi-pora that is used for comparing the details of this, and other performance occasions. I also view each performance as a 'historical document', and consider, in the details of the emerging ethnography, what it is about puthi-pora that would have made it such a powerful vehicle for Islamisation. Second, I use the schema concept to analyse the two principal tune-types used in puthi-pora. This has resulted in the generation of a model for creating melodic schemas that demonstrates a way of representing the essence of a melody (and its variations) in a concise form, and illustrates the processes involved in their reconstruction. In conclusion, I present a new definition of puthi-pora and a prototypical description of the tradition as practised in Muslim Sylhet. I suggest that present-day performances can be used as historical documentation, as shown in the way that puthi-pora has shed light on the processes involved in the Islamisation of Bengal, thus, in part, helping to demystify the historical mystery.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:04

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