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Sociology of a Bardic Genre

Bhai Baldeep Singh

By Michael Nijhawan
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2006, pp. 272, Rs. 545.00


Dhadhi parampara, according to Nijhawan, is ‘a tradition or genre of bardic performance that constitutes one of the extant forms of oral epic performance in South Asia. The contents of dhadhi song and narrative are mostly heroic tales of legendary and historical figures’. The title of this book, Dhadhi Darbar, would seem to denote a musicological probe; instead, it claims to be an anthropological study of the dhadhi response to socio-political persecution. The author actually seeks to find out how a tradition that entails a history of cultural and religious pluralism responds to situations of crisis and violence.   Apart from offering the first systematic analysis of the dhadhi tradition of song performance that has deep historical roots in the (geographical) Punjab, Dhadhi Darbar also claims to be a study of dhadhi traditions’ historiography and ethnography, tracing significant changes in generic form and ideological content. Nijhawan analyses select excerpts from various carefully chosen dhadhi texts, themes and ethnographic narratives ‘to demonstrate the relation of this genre to agendas of religious and political identity formation’. In this book, he also seeks to search for the strategies of cultural performers towards modern identity politics and the manner in which they negotiate their social status in the realm of society and religion.   The book focuses primarily on the 20th century dhadhi or troubadour, as Nijhawan calls them, though I wish he had delved briefly into the reasons that actually led to what I call a Sikh-ethnogenesis simply because religious and political identity assertions can only occur after the formation of a sovereign identity. As Sikh ethos is not a derivative of either the Hindu or Islamic traditions, although the Gurus placed the ardent followers of both the traditions in a unique crucible, the response of the Sikhs to situations of crisis and violence was naturally going to be unique.   A very engaging and informative second chapter, titled ‘Sikh Religious Aesthetics and the Gendered Dhadhi Voice’ that has continually attracted me, is bound to invite an interesting discussion. Nijhawan starts by speaking on ‘the distinctive features of Sikh religious practice as a variation between the meditative-mystical and heroic-passionate aesthetics, which in their mutual relationship lend themselves differently to process of political and social re-signification’. He argues that ‘the assignment of religious meaning to a performative genre is due to shifting discursive constructions and historical interpretations. But more than that, such resignifica-tions are the result of ...

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