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Community, Language and Music in Colonial Karnataka

Focusing on the relations between vachanas, Lingayats and Hindustani music in the early 20th century north Karnataka, as compared to the question of Kannada and music in south Karnataka, this comment is a response to Tejaswini Niranjana's "Music in the Balance: Language, Modernity and Hindustani Sangeet in Dharwad" (EPW, 12 January 2013).

Tejaswini Niranjana’s “Music in the Balance: Language, Modernity and Hindustani Sangeet in Dharwad” (EPW, 12 January 2013) addresses a series of questions. Caught between Kannada nationalism and dominance of Marathi, what was the role of Hindustani music in negotiating linguistic tension in this region? How did Hindustani music contribute in defining the identity of the Kannadigas? Did it define this identity conclusively? Was it inconsistent with the identity of the Karnataka unification movement? To address these questions, she maintains, the dichotomy of the “language-music conjuncture” that the cultural landscape of the Dharwad region presents. This needs to be probed into and is crucial for understanding the social choices and the aspirational horizon of the singers and advocates of Hindustani music.

Tracing the history of Hindustani music in the region, she argues that the growth of this “national” music in the region was unlike that in Maharashtra, which was dominated by the brahmins. Besides brahmins, Lingayats too competed for a place in the music world of Dharwad-Hubli. Here, she very briefly touches upon the social composition of the singers and practitioners but does not continue the line of thought. The overt social and linguistic aspect of the Kannadigas, she thinks, becomes displaced onto the music form and music question. This, she concludes, led to the work of suturing, of smoothing out contradictions in creating a coherent cultural identity via Kannada literature and Hindustani music.

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