Abstract

Malvi nirguṇ bhajans, songs once used primarily for spiritual contemplation, are now being performed onstage in a variety of new contexts. I argue that these contexts are more than commercial opportunities and provide performers the opportunity to engage in new processes of self-authorship that I term “aspirational subjectivities.” These subjectivities amalgamate spiritual frameworks of aspiration derived from mystical poetry, socioreligious frameworks of aspiration inspired by lower-caste activist movements, and socioeconomic frameworks of aspiration spurred by India's neoliberal zeitgeist. This article demonstrates how musicians negotiate spiritual, social, and economic aspirational subjectivities through performance practice to overcome long-internalized stigmas of caste discrimination.

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