ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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When Labour Meets Culture

Cultural Labour: Conceptualising the ‘Folk Performance’ in India by Brahma Prakash, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019; pp xvi+290, 1,195.

Brahma Prakash’s embodied app­roach to cultural production is a much-needed contribution, to offset the overriding understanding of Hindu upper-caste culture as the Indian default. This work grounds cultural production not in leisure activities of elites but in the labouring bodies of performers. Having spent the first 20 years of his life in Bihar, Prakash tells us that education instead of being a liberating force, led him to imbibe and perpetuate hegemonic values. Growing up, Prakash tells us he would consider the visit to the village shaman as unscientific even though an aarti of goddess Saraswati would be unhesitatingly attended by him. In the animistic folk world, crows were messengers, birds had castes, trees had figures, animals had names and brooms were deities. However, performances like bidesia, emerging from such a complex lifeworld would be bemoaned by his schoolteacher as obscene. The contradictory ways of being in a caste hier­archical society is captured by the reflexive authorial voice. The book emerges from a 15-month study that uses ethnographic material, archival material and personal memory. Prakash uses oral traditions and a close reading of movements of labouring bodies in performances as his method for engaging with ‘‘culture from below’’ (p 95).

The book is divided into six chapters. Five conceptual categories of landscape, materiality, visceriality, performativity and choreopolitics are used to engage with the cultural performances of bhuiyan puja, bidesia, dugola, play of Reshma–Chuharmal and performances by Gaddar and Jana Natya Mandali (JNM). Chapter 1, engages with the literature on folk performances since the colonial period. Prakash argues that issues of caste and labour have not been paid enough attention due to methodological and conceptual limitations. These gaps, he tells us, are also because of the social location of researchers. Chapter 2, focuses on bhuiyan puja (land worship)a ritual performance that involves land and ancestor worship. Prakash shows how the social and physical landscape are knit together through shamanic performances. The aim of observing this ritual is to get rid of ill omens, securing peace in relationships and finding closure to violent deaths. Memory and performances have a reciprocal relationship in the production of cultural labour. Prakash shows how through cultural labour ‘‘space is transformed into place, land into landscape and nature into culture’’ (p 96).

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Updated On : 5th Jan, 2021

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