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Music as the Sound of the Secular

  • Janaki Bakhle (a1)

Few debates have maintained as persistent and passionate a level of interest and international scope—whether in the United States, France, or Turkey—as that around secularism. A cursory glance at the titles alone of books and articles on the subject tells us that this is a debate in which serious personal and political stakes are invested. At the very least the debate has been generated by the recognition that a new language of politics is needed to understand the role of religious self-expression in the public sphere. The received wisdom about distinctions between the putatively mutually exclusive domains of public and private, or sacred and secular, simply does not hold water any more. The secularism debate also raises issues of fundamental significance to the very “personality of the state,” as Talal Asad has characterized it. In France, the laicite debate has highlighted how the claim of a minority population to don items of clothing (a right denied by the secular government in Turkey with a majority Muslim population), which it sees as fundamental to its religious self-expression, has challenged the state's own image as a secular republic. In the United States, controversy has been ignited by challenges to the boundary line between private religious practice and the public domain of the state, whether it relates to school prayer or the ongoing battles between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists.

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1 Connolly's, William book title, Why I Am Not a Secularist, is just one example (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

2 See Asad, Talal, Trying to Understand French Secularism, in, Vries, Hent de and Sullivan, Lawrence E., eds., Political Theologies: Public Religions In A Post-Secular World. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006).

3 For discussion about the legal decision, see Shah Bano and the Muslim Women Act a Decade On: The Right of the Divorced Muslim Women to Mataa, Lucy Carroll, ed. (Bombay: WLUML, co-published by WRAG-WLUML, 1998). See also Pathak, Zakia and Rajan, Rajeshwari SunderShah Bano Signs 14, 3 (1989): 558–82; and Khory, Kavita R., The Shah Bano Case: Some Political Implications, in, Deva, Indra, ed., Sociology of Law (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005). For the Ameena case, see Rajan, Rajeshwari Sundar, The Scandal of the State: Women, Law, and Citizenship in Postcolonial (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003).

4 This similarity of argument between leftwing and rightwing critiques of secularism was noted by Sarkar, Tanika in introductory remarks to, Sarkar, Tanika and Butalia, Urvashi, eds., Women and the Hindu Right: A Collection of Essays (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1995), 2.

5 Bilgrami, Akeel, Occidentalism, the Very Idea: An Essay on Enlightenment and Enchantment, Critical Inquiry 32, 3 (Spring 2006): 411.

6 See Jacob, Margaret C., The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons, and Republicans (London: Allen and Unwin, 1981).

7 Talal Asad distinguishes between secularism as the ideology that enables a modern capitalist nation state to transcend the particular differences of its population in order to turn them into exemplary secular citizens, and the concept of the “secular,” which he finds available as an object of inquiry about which a complex and complicated historical genealogy is possible. While one cannot think of secularism without engaging the question of the state, and I will unavoidably invite the charge that I am sliding between the “secular” as concept and “secularism” as state ideology, I am interested in the history of an alternative Indian understanding of the “secular” as it was imagined in the context of music. See Asad, Talal, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

8 See Bakhle, Janaki, Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition (New York: Oxford, 2005).

9 This ritual prostration is called a saashtang namaskar and is usually done as a gesture of extreme reverence.

10 Steinberg, Michael has raised this question in the context of Western classical music. See his Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Century Music (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004).

11 For a similar argument about Indian dance, see O'shea's, Janet Rukmini Devi: Rethinking the Classical, in, Meduri, Avanti, ed., Rukmini Devi Arundale: A Visionary Architect of Indian Culture and the Performing Arts (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 2005). See also “Traditional Indian Dance and the Making of Interpretive Communities,” Asian Theatre Journal 15, 1 (1998): 45–63.

12 Weber demonstrates Western classical music's mathematical perfection at some length, in The Rational and Social Foundations of Music, Don Martindate and Johannes Riedel, eds. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958).

13 Ibid., 41–42.

14 See Weber, Max, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), xxix.

15 See Bakhle, Two Men and Music, ch. 2.

16 Chatterjee, Partha, Fasting for Bin Laden, in, Scott, David and Hirschkind, Charles, eds., Powers of the Secular Modern: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 5774.

17 Casanova, Jose, A Reply to Talal Asad, in, Scott, David and Hirschkind, Charles, eds., Powers of the Secular Modern: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 18.

18 See Mahmood, Saba, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005).

19 Ibid.

20 Etymologically, khayal is claimed as deriving both from the Sanskrit khelapad (the lighter counterpart to the more serious and austere dhruvapad) as well as from Persian textual sources. For an alternative analysis of khayal as unrelated to khelapad, see Brown, Katherine Butler, The Origins of Khyal, in, Bor, J., Delvoye, F., and Te Nijenhuis, E., eds., The History of North Indian Music (New Delhi: Manohar, 2003). For a musicological description of the genre, see Wade, Bonnie, Khyal: Creativity within North India's Classical Music Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), ch. 1.

21 M. V. Dhond disputes such a claim, arguing that it was popular in Maharashtra in less elite circles than princely courts for well over a century before Balkrishnabua Ichalkaranjikar made it popular among the upper castes. Dhond argues that both Hindu and Muslim musicians nourished it as a form of music as early as the thirteenth century against opposition from their respective orthodoxies. Dhond also suggests that Muslim musicians who were more secular about their music addressed their singing to the audience, as opposed to Hindu musicians who sought constantly to propitiate the divine through their music. He wrote that “[t]he music of the Muslim musician is free and exuberant, while that of the Hindu is rigid and inhibited.... Most of the Hindu classical singers are Brahmins brought up in the traditions of Haridasas and hence their performance smells of camphor and aloe. The Hindu musician usually concludes his performance with a devotional song, while the Muslim does it with a thumri or a gazal” (p. 20). Dhond also concedes that though it is likely that Khayal is as old a form as is Dhrupad, and thereby “Hindu” in origin, he makes very little of origins per se. See his The Evolution of Khyal (New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi, 1982).

22 For an important work that views Gharanas as artisanal guilds, see Roy's, TirthankarMusic as Artisan Tradition, Contributions to Indian Sociology 32, 1 (1998): 2142.

23 Other areas were different. In Bengal, for instance, social reformers from Ram Mohun Roy to Rabindranath Tagore wrote songs based on dhrupad. I am grateful to Partho Datta for pointing this out to me.

24 Donald Lopez has commented on this problem from the perspective of Buddhist studies. As he writes “the problem that distinguishes Buddhist Studies flows from other, apparently parallel disciplines (such as Classics of Egyptology) which has been present from the outset, namely: how to deal with the native, who also lays claim to the text.” See Curators of the Buddha, Donald S. Lopez, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 3.

25 See, in particular, Bakhle, Two Men and Music, ch. 6.

26 There is, of course, a longer tradition in India in which the idea of a teacher as a guru can be found, but Paluskar's modern interpretation of this tradition removes the possibility of a critical, interrogative, pedagogical relationship while privileging only the devotional aspect.

27 In addition to guru purnima events, there are satkars, held yearly, in which students of the guru get together for an evening where the guru is honored.

28 See Bakhle, Two Men and Music (Ital), ch. 3.

29 Conversations with Meena Chauhan and Somika Karve (dance and music students) in Nov. 2005, New Delhi. I have changed the names of the music and dance students I talked to because they remain nervous about their identities being disclosed for fear that their teachers will no longer teach them.

30 Ibid. The student in question told me she could not even challenge the manner in which her music teacher spoke to her for fear that he would dismiss her as a student.

31 See Bhaskar, Ira, Allegory, Nationalism and Cultural Change in Indian Cinema: Sant Tukaram, Literature and Theology 12, 1 (Mar. 1998): 5069. See also Agrawal, Purushottam, Kan Kan Mein Vyape Hein Ram: The Slogan as a Metaphor of Cultural Interrogation,” in, Ania Loomba and Suvir Kaul, eds., “On India: Writing History, Culture, Post-Coloniality, special issue of Oxford Literary Review 16, 1–2 (1994): 245–64.

32 See Sanderson, Alexis, Purity and Power among the Brahmins of Kashmir, in Carrithers, Michael, Collins, Steven, and Lukes, Steven, eds., Category of the Person (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 190216.

33 For the Dalit critique in Marathi, see the essays by the Marathi Indologist ‘Tarakateertha’ Lakshmanshastri Joshi, “Mahatma Phule” and “Jotinibandh,” in Tarkateertha Lakshmanshastri Joshi: Lekhasangraha: Khanda Pahila (Pune: Srividya Prakashan, 1994), 386–404, 405–14.

34 For B. R. Ambedkar's discussion of the “Upanayana” ceremony and Vedic rationality, see his Who Were the Shudras?, ch. 10, “The Degradation of the Sudras,” (1st ed. Bombay, 1946, repr., Bombay: Thackers, 1947, 1970), 177–213. For a discussion of Ambedkar on Brahminical rationality, see Rao, Anupama, The Caste Question: Untouchable Struggles for Rights and Recognition, ch. 3, Enfranchisement and Emancipation: Dalits as a Political Minority (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming 2008).

35 See Geertz, Clifford, Distinguished Lecture: Anti Anti-Relativism, American Anthropologist 86, 2 (June 1984): 263–78.

36 Ibid. See also Geertz's, Clifford Erasmus Lecture, Reason, Religion and Professor Gellner, in, anonymous, , ed., The Limits of Pluralism: Neoabsolutisms and Relativism; Erasmus Ascension Symposium (Amsterdam: Praemium Erasmianum Foundation, 1994), 162–72.

37 Sanjay Subrahmanyam has noted that Indian secularism is not mimetic but sui generis given that the Indian model of secularism does not fit either the United Kingdom or the United States, or most of Europe. The French Republican ideal of laicite is also not secular, according to him. See Nandy's, Ashis, A Billion Gandhis, Outlook (21 June 2004): 14; and Subrahmanyam's, Sanjay response, Our Only Colonial Thinker, Outlook (5 July 2004): 16.

38 See Nandy, Ashis, The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Toleration, in, Bhargava, Rajeev, ed., Secularism and Its Critics (Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 321–44.

39 Aijaz Ahmad, Radhika Desai, Sunil Khilnani, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, among others, have accused him variously of being rightwing indigenist, socially reactionary, historically inaccurate, and uncritically nostalgic. See Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, Our Only Colonial Thinker, Outlook (5 July 2004): 16; Desai, Radhika, Slouching Towards Ayodhya (Delhi: Three Essays, 2002), 56136; Ahmad, Aijaz, On Communalism and Globalization: Offensives of the Far Right (Delhi: Three Essays, 2004): 59, n. 17; Khilnani, Sunil, The Idea of India (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1997). For Nandy's, response see, Unclaimed Baggage: Closing the Debate on Secularism, The Little Magazine 3, 2 (2002): 1419.

40 See Mani, Lata, Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

41 Aamir Mufti has criticized Nandy's distinction between religion-as-ideology and religion-as-faith for rather different reasons than mine. See “Auerbach in Istanbul: Edward Said, Secular Criticism, and the Question of Minority Culture,” Critical Inquiry 25 (Autumn 1998): 95–125, and especially 114–17 for his disagreement with Nandy.

42 In Chatterjee's work on secularism one can read not the abandonment of secularism as much as a deep sense of disappointment with the manner in which it has been implemented and the turn to community as a last resort.

43 Chatterjee, , Secularism and Tolerance, in, Bhargava, Rajeev, ed., Secularism and Its Critics (New Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 377.

44 Bilgrami, , Secularism, Nationalism, and Modernity, in, Bhargava, Rajeev, ed., Secularism and Its Critics (New Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 385–91.

45 Ibid.

46 Jose Casanova has addressed precisely the issue of the hegemony of a very particular kind of understanding of religion in the public space. See “What is a Public Religion,” in, Hugh Heclo and Wilfred McClay, eds., Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).

47 See note 5.

48 See Mahmood, Saba, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005).

49 See Hobsbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terence, eds., The Invention of Tradition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992 [1983]).

50 Ibid.

51 See Khaki Shorts, Saffron Flags: A Critique of the Hindu Right, Tapan Basu et al., eds. (Delhi: Orient Longman, 1993). See also Kesavan, Mukul, Secular Commonsense (Delhi: Penguin, 2001), 32.

52 Sarkar, Tanika and Butalia, Urvashi write, We need to understand what we are faced with. For we do have before us a large-scale movement among women of the right who bring with them an informed consent and agency, a militant activism. If they are imbued with false consciousness then that is something that includes their men as well and if they are complicit with a movement that will ultimately constrain themselves as women, then history is replete with examples of women's movements that foreground issues other than or even antithetical to women's interests. Feminist convictions are not given or inherent in women, after all. See their Women and the Hindu Right: A Collection of Essays (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1995), 25.

53 See Mani, Lata, Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

54 See Sarkar, Tanika, The Prehistory of Rights: The Age of Consent in Colonial Bengal, Feminist Studies 26, 3: 601–22.

55 See Rajan, Rajeshwari Sundar, Ameena: Gender, Crisis, and National Identity,” in, Ania Loomba and Suvir Kaul, eds., “On India: Writing History, Culture, Post-Coloniality, special issue of The Oxford Literary Review 16, 1–2 (1994): 147–76.

56 Urvashi Butalia writes, “families, or indeed communities, have never been particularly supportive of women, nor are they going to begin now ... there are many lessons to be learnt here from women's movements the world over: for centuries women have faced oppression at the hands of men, but they have not taken to the streets and picked up any and every available weapon to start killing men (even though sometimes they may well have felt like doing so!). Instead, they have fought for change in every possible way within a legal and constitutional framework. They have spoken the language of law and struggle, rights and democracy, not of violence and community, not of hatred and intolerance.” While Butalia wrote this in the context of the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, I am using her comments here to emphasize that feminists have not viewed the turn to community with equanimity. “The Culture of Violence,” The Little Magazine 3, 2 (2002): 35.

57 I am indebted to Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak for her conversation with me about this topic. My argument draws directly from her insight.

58 Said, Edward W., The World, The Text, and the Critic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 26.

59 Akeel Bilgrami, “Occidentalism,” 411.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Aafat, 29 June 2006. I am grateful to Peter van der Veer for inviting me to present an early version of this argument at Utrecht University in October 2005. I would like to thank in particular two old friends, Ira Bhaskar and Samir Thukral, for their generosity during my stay in Delhi. For their comments on different drafts, corrections, and encouragement, I thank Lila Abu-Lughod, Gil Anidjar, Andrew Arato, Talal Asad, Mieke Bal, Ira Bhaskar, Akeel Bilgrami, Jose Casanova, Partha Chatterjee, Valentine Daniel, Prachi Deshpande, Nicholas Dirks, Keya Ganguly, Elliot Gorn, Stathis Gourgouris, Arjun Mahey, Mahmood Mamdani, Aamir Mufti, Anupama Rao, Sheldon Pollock, Lakshmi Subramaniam, Romila Thapar, Tom Trautmann, Ananya Vajpeyi, and Milind Wakankar. I would also like to thank CSSH's reviewers for their thoughtful and critical comments, and Mandy Guidry for her help with the copyedited typescript. I have tried to address all their questions.

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