MSAS Seminar: Musical Citizens and Postcolonial Custodians: Inter-religious Dialogue in Post-Partition Punjab and Beyond

Speaker: Radha Kapuria (Durham)

Chair: Dr Anwesha Roy


This presentation will examine the role of music festival organisers as “postcolonial custodians” fostering communal amity through classical music in newly created India and Pakistan. Focused on musical life in the region of Punjab that saw the greatest volume of migration and cataclysm during the violent upheaval of Partition in 1947, I offer a new perspective on regional cultural activity during the 1950s and 1960s in South Asia. The space of the musical festival, I argue, created conditions for the emergence of a new kind of postcolonial musical public and audiences of ‘musical citizen-connoisseurs’, whose allegiances extended to notions of a broader cultural heritage beyond the nation-state. Offering case studies of figures like Ashwini Kumar in Jalandhar in Indian Punjab, and of Hayat Ahmad Khan and Raza Kazim in Lahore in Pakistani Punjab, as well as of a 'politics of joy' expressed by audiences, I reveal the curious life of musical exchange, and by extension of Hindu-Muslim dialogue, across one of the most militarised borders in the world.

Radha Kapuria is Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Durham University, and studies histories of gender and culture in South Asia. Between 2019-2022, she was Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in History at the University of Sheffield, where she researched the impact of the 1947 Partition on Punjab’s musicians. Her first book, Music in Colonial Punjab: Courtesans, Bards and Connoisseurs (Oxford University Press, early 2023), is based on her PhD at King’s College London, which was shortlisted for the Royal Asiatic Society’s Bayly Prize. Prior to her PhD, she pursued an MPhil degree in History at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a Master's from Delhi University. Her work straddles history, cultural studies, ethnomusicology, and gender studies. She is also a co-editor and collaborator on projects exploring the intersections of regional, sonic, and environmental histories of South Asia.


All are welcome


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