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Singh, Kirit James (2023) Sikh Patronage of Hindustani Music and Śabad Kīrtan in Colonial Punjab, 1857-1947. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Despite cohabiting overlapping social spheres, north India’s music traditions are too often studied in isolation from one another, negating their inherent interrelatedness. Adopting a more inclusive approach with regard to two major traditions of north India, in this study I explore how both Hindustani music and śabad kīrtan, the sacred music of the Sikhs, enjoyed patronage under the prolific network of Sikh patrons that comprised an important aspect of colonial Punjab’s sociocultural landscape. The distinct influence of aspects of Punjabi society and culture, the unique circumstances surrounding the rise of Sikh patronage, combined with the prominent place of rāg music in Sikh religious tradition, gave rise to an unparalleled environment of music patronage that challenges many modern assumptions about the nature of Hindustani music and its social context during the colonial period. Attending to the Sikh courtly sphere, my study highlights how the developments of Hindustani music in colonial Punjab relate to the broader geopolitics surrounding the 1857 rebellion, harbouring critical insights in relation to the emergence of modern Punjabiyat. Exploring the circulation of Gurmukhi manuscripts on musicology in the Sikh religious sphere up until the late nineteenth century, I highlight a localised tradition of Hindustani musicology, its multivalent character, and links to local music practice. In response to the radical political and discursive shifts wrought by colonialism, I show how in the early twentieth century, through the novel medium of print, the musicological literary output of the Sikhs was co-opted under the new label of gurmat saṅgīt, functioning as a form of symbolic capital in process of Sikh identity formation. Finally, drawing on ethnographic as well as archival research on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, I highlight the multidimensional role of the rabābīs within Sikh religious tradition historically, thus challenging modern musicology-centric understandings of the śabad kīrtan tradition in the process. Attempting to transcend postcolonial discourse and boundaries, this thesis offers a lens through which we might better understand the significant intersection between music traditions in a region like Punjab whilst also offering an alternative perspective on prevailing conceptions of Punjabiyat.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Arts > Department of Music
SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Richard Williams
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 11 Sep 2023 12:35

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