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La Trobe, Jyoshna (2010) Red earth song: Marai Kirtan of Rarh: Devotional singing and the performance of ecstasy in the Purulia District of Bengal, India. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Kirtan is devotional hymn singing, music and dance in praise of a deity usually performed by a group of devotees, as well as a literary tradition. Marai kirtan is a style of kirtan found in the rural area of West Bengal known as Rarh, particularly in the Purulia District (Manbhum) where the tradition exists in its most potent form of expression. It is performed inside the local temples by a variety of village based kirtan groups that are both egalitarian and competitive in nature. In Purulia, the term marai meaning "circular", but the inner meaning is "to grind", for "if you grind Hari nam, the name of god, like sugar cane in your heart, then it will also melt for god" (JM, 2006: Pers.comm.). Marai kirtan is considered the best way of worshipping god, of creating musical intensity and arousing devotion for god. It also has various utilitarian purposes such as the bringing of rain and auspiciousness to the village as well as a means of social protest. My research reveals that marai kirtan has a very distinctive performance structure consisting of various musical sections that generate musical/devotional intensity to reach a climax (katan matan). Elaborate melodic lines and complex rhythmic compositions are interwoven with improvisations and dance choreographies that produce ecstatic heights for prolonged periods with the use of only two words, Hari Bolo, highlighting the inherent creative musical dynamism within the marai kirtan performance. My methodology consists of ethnographic investigation built upon observation and interviews in the field, incorporating Rarhi terms and meanings, combined with an analysis of performances through a study of audio/visual recordings made on location. Due to the paucity of documentation on marai kirtan and lack of relevant literary material, my investigation concentrates on the collection of data at its source and a phenomenological perspective of the tradition. I have examined six different kirtan groups: the Brahmans, Mahatos, Rajwar, Karandhi villagers and the Vaisnavas with particular focus on the Mahato group from Kostuka village, whose lives have been transformed by marai kirtan.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:10

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