Beyond the Ruralized Punjab
Pushpita Mitra
MUSIC IN COLONIAL PUNJAB: COURTESANS, BARDS, AND CONNOISSEURS 1800-1947 by By Radha Kapuria Oxford University Press, 2023, 410 pp., INR 1795.00
July 2024, volume 48, No 7

Radha Kapuria’s Music in Colonial Punjab: Courtesans, Bards, and Connoisseurs, 1800-1947 is an indispensable investigation of undivided Punjab’s social history of ragdari musical trajectory that developed as the Hindustani classical music of India in the colonial and postcolonial decades. This project was motivated by an intent to dismantle stereotypical notions associated with contemporary Punjabi music as a mere representation of ‘bucolic conviviality’ or a ‘rural idyll’. The author has attempted to historically foreground an alternative notion of Punjabi music having strong links to the artistic musical tradition that got tampered with and manipulated during colonialization and modernization.

The necessity of this work emerges from Punjab’s absence in the existing historiographical works on art-music that have primarily taken interest in the Deccan regions, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, and south India. Kapuria alternatively discovered not only a rich, lesser-known cultural history of Punjab but also highlighted its role in sustaining the ragdari lineage at a time when the Mughal patronage was decaying due to jarring encounters with British imperialists.

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