Singing a Hindu Nation: Marathi Devotional Performance and Nationalism.

Author:Keune, Jon
Position:Book review
 
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Singing a Hindu Nation: Marathi Devotional Performance and Nationalism. By Anna C. SCHULTZ. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xii + 231. $21.95.

This book analyzes how a Marathi tradition of singing and exposition (kirtan, in its nationalist or rastriya form) was developed in the twentieth century to be an instrument for expressing and evoking a sense of nationalist devotion. Schultz highlights rastriya kirtan as a vernacular resource that was used by traditional intellectuals (mostly brahmans) on the regional level to envision the nation. The book thus presents the development of rastriya kirtan as a counter-example to Partha Chatterjee's influential argument about British-educated Indian elites who, having been divested of power in the "outside" sphere of politics and government, exercised their independence by turning to the "inside" sphere of spirituality and culture. This inside/outside dichotomy does little to illuminate the performers of rastriya kirtan, which is not surprising, since these kirtan performers typically came from more provincial backgrounds. The set of cultural resources available to them was quite different from those of the cosmopolitan elites in Chatterjee's analysis; yet they were nonetheless quite active in pursuing anti-colonial and nationalist projects.

Bringing together tools from ethnomusicology, political history, semiotics, and religious studies, Singing a Hindu Nation is an empirically dense, theoretically rich, yet pleasantly readable study of a tradition that has gone mostly overlooked by scholars. The book explores rastriya kirtan and its major promoters through the course of three well-constructed sections. First, Schultz reviews the gradual, contested ways in which nationalist rhetoric was infused into kirtan performance styles from the late nineteenth century up to Independence. Then she analyzes the adjustments that rastriya kirtan underwent after Independence and the violence of Partition, by which it came to espouse more overtly Hindutva, anti-Muslim messages....

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