Hindustani classical music reform movement and the writing of history, 1900s to 1940s

Access full-text files




Kobayashi, Eriko

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation deals with the Hindustani music reform movement in the early twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, classical musicians in north India hailed from hereditary communities, which were mostly Muslim. Musical knowledge was seldom available to non-hereditary persons, and performances typically took place in aristocratic environments. The reform aimed at making Hindustani music accessible to the general public by organizing public concerts, establishing music schools, and publishing textbooks. Unlike hereditary musicians, reformers tended to have Hindu middle-class backgrounds. In particular, this dissertation deals with reformers who followed the movements of V. N. Bhatkhande and V. D. Paluskar. There are two types of historical accounts of the reform. One exalts the reform as a noble effort that liberated the music from its confinement in narrow aristocratic circles and saved it from morally corrupt professional artists. The second type of history, on the other hand, depicts the reform as a scheme of the Hindu elite to claim Hindustani classical music its own, overtaking its guardianship from Muslim hereditary musicians. This dissertation responds to these common historical accounts. The first type is problematic because it accepts reformers’ discourses to be the neutral representation of the reform’s history, while they were clearly ideologically motivated. The reformist discourses dichotomized Hindu educated classes and Muslim uneducated professionals and asserted the former’s authority over the latter. At the level of discourse, I concur with the second type of history. Yet, the dichotomous relationship was not the chief issue of reformist discourses. They were concerned more centrally with the notions of progress and civilization. Moreover, from the perspective of practice, the postulated dichotomy between reformers and hereditary musicians was not so clear-cut or antagonistic. Reform processes involved many more factors, such as region, caste, and teaching lineage—not only religion and social class. Additionally, for many reformers, the most significant aspects of their experience pertained to elements such as musicianship and personal relationships, not revitalizing the music or overtaking its guardianship from Muslim professionals. From the viewpoint of practice and micro-history, neither type of common historical accounts of the reform explains the reform’s concrete processes.