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Collating Performance Traditions


Kavita Singh

PERFORMERS AND THEIR ARTS: FOLK, POPULAR AND CLASSICAL GENRES IN A CHANGING INDIA
Edited by Simon Charsley & L.N. Kadekar
Routledge, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 332, Rs. 650.00

THE EPIC OF PABUJI
By John D. Smith
Katha, Delhi, 2005, pp. 183, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 5 May 2007

Performers and their Arts is a collection of papers that derives from two conferences organized through a collaboration between the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Glasgow, and the Department of Sociology at the University of Hyderabad. While a conference volume of this sort can seldom serve as a reference work, Performers and their Arts certainly tries to cast its net wide and studies a range of performance traditions and phenomena. Given the paucity of literature in this field, the book becomes a useful volume to think with, even if one finds oneself disagreeing with some of its contributions.   The three sections of the book are, respectively, ‘Performing and Caste;’ ‘Performance beyond Caste,’ and ‘Classical Dance and its Successors.’ Despite the promise of the title, and the section introduction, the first section, alas, is the most conventional. The section introduction points out that the largest range of surviving performance traditions belong to group classfied as Scheduled Caste; and that many such traditions carry the irony of the valorization of the performance and the marginalization of the performer. In a sense, one may think of the lower castes as unwitting repositories of tradition because the opportunity to lose tradition by beco-ming modernized has not been available to them. The low-caste traditional performer becomes the pendant figure to the Indian woman in the na-tionalist period: the keeper of national tradition. One would expect that the studies done today of these caste-based traditions would look at them in the context of the highly charged political role of caste in India today. However, the papers in this section, which consist mostly of case studies of particular folk traditions, are cast in an old fashioned folklore studies mould. They tend to have long and literal descriptions of a performance, and some notes on the ‘meaning’ of performance with relation to social caste structure. The studies are primarily synchronic, which inherently is unsuitable for the study of social change. There is even a note of nostalgia for the past, when caste discrimination was stronger, as the subversions within these performance traditions had greater meaning!   Sandhya Naithani’s paper is unlike the others in that section in that it tries to trace the career of an idea of the ‘folk’ performer in postcolonial India. She discusses the way in which folk traditions were projected after Independence as the authentic culture of India that was able to ...


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