I am a PhD student in Religion at Stirling University. I previously received my master’s degrees in Communication Studies from the University of Maine (2009) and the University of Madras (2006).
My research interests are Postcolonial Studies and Religion in India. In my current research, I look at how contemporary understanding of performance arts in India, specifically Karnatic Music and Bharatnatyam as ‘religious’ arts came about. Historically, music and dance were performed and patronized in royal courts and temples. In the early 20th century, increased nationalist activities led to a series of self-scrutiny on what represents ‘true’ Indian culture. By appropriating colonial discourses on religious/secular dichotomy, Karnatic Music was carefully constructed to represent a ‘pure’ Indian culture, specifically Hindu culture that was superior to the ‘materialistic’ Western culture. Importantly, the category ‘divine’ was re-constructed and distinguished from the ‘erotic.’ In doing so, performance arts in public sphere became gendered; feminity and masculinity were re-defined. Traditional performing communities were marginalized while newly defined music (and dance) was given to the Brahmin community who assumed the role of guardians of newly constructed Indian-Hindu identity, resulting in caste-based ‘ownership’ of performance arts. In my research, I attempt to question understanding of Karnatic Music and its status in contemporary Indian society by deconstructing the categories ‘religion’ and ‘secular’. This topic is personal to me: I was raised as a Vaishnavite-Brahmin and I am a trained Karnatic Music singer having performed along with my sister in India before moving abroad.
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