ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

An Unwelcome Development: Interrogating the exclusion of sitar-making from the domain of Indian handicrafts


Kharod Aruna - The University of Texas at Austin, Musicology/Ethnomusicology, Austin, United States


09 – Making Artisans: Artisanal Lives and Production in South Asia


The National Register of Indian Handicrafts (2021) lists 177 government-funded craftsmanship traditions. Only one of these involves a musical instrument. Indian instrument-making traditions are hereditary craftsmanship traditions—but why are they not categorized or patronized as such? How have colonial and postcolonial Indian politics led to this exclusion and, thus, to the socioeconomic marginalization of subaltern instrument-making networks?Three intertwined processes, I argue, undergird this exclusion. 1) Erasing subaltern communities’ roles in creating Hindustani musical-material cultures enabled Hindu nationalists to classicize and co-opt Hindustani music (Katz 2012, 2014). 2) Decontextualized portrayals of craftsmen and musicians in colonial portraits and exhibitions (Woodfield 2003; Dewan 2004) widened rifts between musical labor and leisure. 3) Constructing handicrafts as a category of postcolonial economic development excluded instrument-making from its scope (Office of the Development Commissioner 2021).I draw upon fieldwork with hereditary Muslim and Dalit sitar makers, artisans, and suppliers in West Bengal and Maharashtra who produce globally-circulated sitars to argue that a lack of governmental recognition and support intensifies their vulnerabilities as members of targeted groups. My interdisciplinary analysis reveals how clashes of caste, craftsmanship, and economics in sitar-making embody historical tensions in colonial and postcolonial Indian politics.