Ways of Love: Self-making and Repertoire Formation through the Musical Legacy of Shah Abdul Latif in Sindh, Pakistan
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CitationHuang, Pei-ling. 2021. Ways of Love: Self-making and Repertoire Formation through the Musical Legacy of Shah Abdul Latif in Sindh, Pakistan. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation explores the ways in which love and knowledge intersect for a community of Muslim devotees as they produce and remake their devotional repertoires, and in the process, form and reform themselves. Rāgī faqīrs sing a corpus of poetry set to melodic rules called Shah Jo Rāg (SJR) at the shrine of Sufi mystic Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (1689-1752) in Bhit Shah, Sindh, a renowned pilgrimage site in Pakistan. I argue that knowledge for performing SJR entails embodied and affective codes of conduct which aid rāgī faqīrs in ethical self-cultivation; the rāgī faqīrs’ self-making further includes redefining and selectively drawing on the repertoire of SJR as they navigate multiple subject positions that arise in relation to different forces in contemporary society.
Since the late-nineteenth century, a new class of Sindhis educated under colonial rule, drawing on Orientalist narratives, canonized Shah Latif’s poetic legacy as the epitome of Sindhi Sufism and literature. Elites and literati in the twentieth century built on these ideas to develop Bhit Shah into a center for reforming Sindhi culture, characterizing SJR as the apex of musical development in Sindh. Writing against bifurcated categories of Latif’s legacy as literature and music, I examine SJR as a musico-poetic system codified for practice within the Islamic “Way of Love,” which weaves together melodic contours for singing lines of verses. Its codification draws on traveling concepts shared among Indic courtly and devotional spheres across religious affiliations, including poetic tropes of pain in separation from the divine Beloved, and melody types (sur and rāg) with contextual associations that aesthetically intensify feelings of love. Becoming a rāgī faqīr involves performing this repertoire with the ethical stance of feeling love, pain, sorrow, and sacrifice.
Local and external changes over the last 150 years contributed to the expansion of devotional singing times at Latif’s shrine and introduced novel performance contexts for SJR in devotee circles and concert stages beyond Bhit Shah. These changes produced new subject positions for the male rāgī faqīrs and emerging female performers. I explore how these actors navigate among the positions of devotee, artisan, artist, and pious subject of Husain—the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, to maintain their commitments in multiple arenas of life. They direct intentionality toward different ethics through choices in musical form, emotional and gendered interpretations of the poetry, and changing understandings of high and low voicing techniques. Such selections create new sub-repertoires: rāgī faqīrs who emphasize aspects of SJR as a repertoire of mourning strengthen their identity in relation to Husain; female students negotiate their performance from a gendered subject position and are sometimes aided by the imagery of female protagonists in Shah Latif’s poetry in reaching new performance stages. Together, the chapters show how the textual, musical, and affective elements in the repertoire of SJR provide resources for its performers to flexibly cultivate ethical selves.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37370201
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