Gandhi’s singing India

Title – Gandhi’s singing India, music and sonic nationalism

Book cover

Publisher – Roli Books
Author – Lakshmi Subramanian
Publication date – 9 Jan 2020
Language – English
length – 240 pages

Blurb –

Here is the first ever and only detailed account of Gandhi and music in India. How politics and music interspersed with each other has been paid scanty, if not any, attention, let alone Gandhi’s role in it. Looking at prayer as politics, singing Gandhi’s India traces Gandhi’s relationship with music and nationalism. Uncovering his writings on music, ashram Bhajan practice, the Vande Mataram debate, Subramanian makes a case for a closer scrutiny of Gandhian oeuvre to map sonic politics in twentieth century India.

About the author –

Authors picture


Lakshmi Subramanian is an Indian historian with a long and distinguished teaching and research career, having taught history in India and elsewhere. Her work in the fields of maritime history and the social history of Indian music is widely recognized. Post her tenure as Professor of History at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, she has been researching with the Godrej Archives in Mumbai. Currently, she is Professor at the Humanities and Social Sciences Department, BITS Pilani (Goa), and also Associate Member at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Nantes, France.

My views –

Picture from my Instagram of the book

“sound is ubiquitous in the Indian landscape. Almost every public event – political or religious – is accompanied by amplified sounds of one or the other forms of auditory articulation; for instance weddings, blood donation camps , public adresses are invariably accompanied by diverse form of music that, notwithstanding the variations, are distinctly and indentifiably Indian.

This book discovers the answer to the questions – What is it about music and it’s properties that enable it to play a social role? How did music enter public life in modern India ?

Well known historian Lakshmi Subramanian emaculately chalks out Gandhi’s view of music not as a form of entertainment but as a serious, committed a spiritual activity.

By the time Gandhi ji entered active politics there was no doubt in capability of music to evoke mass emotions although being a man of religion he was more drawn towards ‘bhajans’ and they were a part of daily routine in the Sabarmati Ashram. Like Tagore, Gandhi too, found the idea of extreme nationalism unappealing and when he was moved by song and melody, it was either the stirring content or its devotional potential that he valued.

Tagore and Gandhi

In Gandhi jis letter to Rabindranath Tagore ,22 Dec 1945

” I have a suspicion that perhaps there is more of music than warranted by life or I will put the thought in another way. The music of life if in danger of being lost in the music of the voice. Why not the music of the walk , of the march, of every movement, of ours and every activity”

The book also sheds light on the intriguing topic of the salient role music played in political and religious mobilization, not just in Gandhi’s life and his well-know prayer meets at Sabarmati but also the life of a regular Indian.

Picture from Gandhi’s prayer meet

Be it the Hindustani classical music that bought the Hindu pupils and their Islamic Ustaads together or the song ‘Vande matram’ that still gives me goosebumps today, which was translated in many Indian languages during the independence struggle to appeal to the masses and mobilize them towards the independence struggle. Music produced a language that Gandhi could use to speak and convey his ideas of freedom and swaraj.

Gandhi ji addressing the masses

In a public adresses, Ahmedabad, 1926, Gandhi ji said

“To know music is to transfer it to life. The prevalent discord of today is an indication of out sad plight. There can be no swaraj where there is no harmony no music”

The amount of hard-work and research that would have went in to this kind of book is very evident and commendable. I was alittle apprehensive before picking this book up, ( one more book about Gandhi ji) but I would say it’s more about music and the role it played in the time period rather than just a person and I loved that. It makes you think about he role of art forms in he movements be it political or religious and even in he present times we see artist using their platforms to to spread the word and ultimately influencing the masses.

A young lady performing at a fest in support of equal rights for all

If you are into history and / or music this book is a well written, compact yet powerful, & beautifully edited piece of literature that is a must read. Be sure to check it out.

Singing Gandhi’s India is a powerful and beautifully crafted book that looks in to the answer for : why are we truly moved by music?

Published by drficticity

A twenty something girl who loves to read and talk about books & Stories and ideas

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