ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

“Jageero’s Dhol”: The drumming women of “Punjab”, c1750-2020


Kapuria Radha - University of Sheffield, History, Sheffield, United Kingdom


13 – The Travelling Female Performer: Mobility and Agency in and beyond South Asia, c. 1760-1940


This paper traces the history of drumming women from 18th century “Punjab” and beyond to the 21st century. Scholars of Punjab’s disparate sounds have studied women’s connections to drumming, but only cursorily. (See Schreffler 2010, 2012, Nijhawan 2004; in particular). While female performers in South Asia are conventionally seen as specialising in vocal music and/or dancing, there is a host of visual evidence going back to at least the eighteenth century, that foregrounds women as percussionists, particularly from the Punjab. I begin with clues to women playing the tablā (in what are the first visual clues of the instrument, per Kippen 1999) in 18th century painting from the Punjab Hills, move to the continuing presence of female percussionists in nineteenth century Punjab, consider films featuring female ensembles like Dholak (1951) and end with a discussion of the female dhol players and their representation in contemporary Pakistan, India and Britain (dhamāl-player Arishma in Lahore, Pakistan; Jahaan Geet Singh in Chandigarh, India; and Parv Kaur leading the powerful all-girl ḍhol playing ensemble ‘Eternal Taal’ in Birmingham, respectively, among others). Through this broad chronological sweep, the paper aims to answer the questions: how, and when, did the percussive sounds of Punjab become so distinctly gendered? Further, how was the dhol used by female percussionists to exercise agency and power?