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Aural Serialization: The Music of Hindi Dharmic TV-Serials

Associated Project I

This project analyzes the serial narrativity of the music of the two Indian "dharmic" TV serials Ramayan (1987-1988) and Mahabharat (1988-1990). It explores the role of music within the serial dynamics of cultural positioning, the imagining of communities and the medialization of religion. The serials, TV-version of religious South Asian epics of the same name, were among the earliest Indian fictional TV formats. Especially with regard to processes of reception, it is critical to contextualize early Indian TV within the popularization of a radical Hindu nationalism geared towards the masses. Integrating religious narration and serial television, these programs constitute a hybrid form of narration: they are simultaneously epics and soap operas, self-contained and to-be-continued, religious and popular, traditional and modern. Politically, they both mobilize and polarize which makes (musically mediated) dynamics of communitization a priority of the project. The integration of age-old epic stories and the modern medium of television suggests to conceptualize the serials as instances of what Partha Chatterjee (1999, 2004) calls a specific heterogeneous Indian modernity. In this, understanding the serials’ music as a mediating element between epic and television serial: In the serials' music, a special form of serial narration manifests itself. At times, the serials’ music aurally breaks open the overall narrative; at other times, it affirms and manipulates it. Thus, music continuously and serially shapes the overall narrative. The project's central hypotheses, therefore, coalesce around a cluster of questions: How does the music work as a narrating agency, essentially contributing to the seriality of the shows? How do Ramayan’s and Mahabharat’s music relate to the discursive space of Indian modernity as it is negotiated by the dharmic serials in their staging of a mythological past? How does the music contribute to the integration of the modern TV-serial format into age-old traditions of the epics’ transmission? And finally, how does music negotiate the interstice between the religious connotations of the stories and the markedly heterogeneous Indian audience?

The project is funded by the German Studienstiftung , as well as the Graduate School of Humanities, Göttingen.

Research Associate: Britta Lesniak, Cultural Musicology / Ethnomusicology, University of Göttingen, advisor: Birgit Abels.