ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012



Location Sankskrit Conference Room
Date and Start Time 04 April, 2012 at 17:00


Will Tuladhar-Douglas (University of Aberdeen) email
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Short Abstract

The cultivation of the sense of taste underpins the aesthetics of ingestion, its economies and privileges.

Long Abstract

Traditional Indic medical texts draw careful links between specific savours, such as bitter or salty, and the efficacy of foods or medicines. Yet the perception of taste is a product of cultural training- the number and character of taste categories varies widely from culture to culture. A key Sanskrit term for intense aesthetic experience- rasa- refers both to the immediacy of gustatory experience and the discipline of exceptional discrimination. Nowhere is this more apparent than among gustatory elites such as sommeliers or the wholesalers of medical plants, whose tongues decide the worth of substances upon which less sensitive lives and livelihoods depend. In this panel we invite contributions that link the disciplining of the taste buds, aesthetic evaluation of ingested substances, and the power that comes from expertise.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The cosmopolitan and the regional: understanding Bengali cuisine

Author: Utsa Ray  email

Short Abstract

Making a claim to a Bengali cuisine was integral to the project of self-fashioning of the middle-class in colonial Bengal. This paper argues that the lack of commercialization of ‘Bengali’ cuisine actually became a marker of its cultural capital that went into the making of the Bengali middle-class.

Long Abstract

The middle-class in colonial Bengal indigenized new culinary experiences, which were the products of colonial transformation of the relations of production. While enabling the middle class to soak in new culinary pleasures, this process of indigenization also made possible certain social practices, including the imagination of the act of cooking as a classic feminine act and the domestic kitchen as a sacred space. In these acts of imagination, there were important elements of continuity from the pre-colonial times, especially evidenced in the reinstitution of caste-based norms of gastronomy. The process of indigenizing new gastronomic practices was at the same time anti-colonial yet capitalist, cosmopolitan yet gendered and caste-based. Thus, the idea of a refined taste that was so integrally associated with the formation of the middle-class in colonial Bengal, became a marker of 'disgust for other tastes'. When the middle-class made critiques of the eateries, when they romanticized women's cooking or when they formulated a new discourse of nutrition, the Bengali Hindu middle-class was driven by an urge to define an entire world-view of cuisine, refined and restrained in its content, and embedded in the material culture of Bengal. However, although it never became widely commercialized and never came under the rubric of a standardized Indian cuisine, Bengali cuisine cannot be labeled as indigenist. The point was to cosmopolitanize the domestic and yet keep its tag of 'Bengaliness'. The resultant cuisine was hybrid, in many senses like its makers.

Remember the old masters: the musical and social practices of memory in Hindustani music milieu

Author: Ingrid Le Gargasson (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)  email

Short Abstract

Focusing on the context of Hindustani music tradition and its transmission, I propose to examine the relationship of music, memory and history.

Long Abstract

Becoming a musician in the North Indian Classical Music implies to have pass some years learning with a master and to have internalize a repertoire primarily attached to his gharana or stylistic school linked to a specific lineage or apprenticeship. Through the time passed at the feet of his guru, the disciple has learned more than music skills: he is the guardian of the oral history of his forefathers.

The anecdotes presented, out or during the classes, about the old masters, about their wonderful past performances and renditions of a raga, their dedication to the art tend to pass more than what it seems. These memories often embody the etiquette and the values shared by the community as well as discourses on the vocal or instrumental style and techniques. It is an informal way to convey knowledge and to incorporate the disciple in the line of transmission. Besides, these narratives about the past can concern the story of a composition, the context of its creation, giving social and emotional meaning to the music content.

Taking examples from my fieldwork, I would like to question the complex relationships between music, history and memory, and address the following questions: how these shared memories are part of the socio-musical identity of musicians? How music-making embodies the practice of memory? In which ways musical experience is related to personal and collective recollections?

Translating substances: brokering sensory agreement across boundaries.

Author: Will Tuladhar-Douglas (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

The Bania of Kathmandu are expert wholesalers of materia medica whose real skill is negotiating sensory agreement across cultural boundaries.

Long Abstract

The Bania, a small Newar subcaste, were the hub of a network for collecting and trading medicinal substances that, until 1950, extended from Madras to Beijing. Although only a few shops still remain, the remaining Banias are recognized as peerless wholesalers of materia medica. Their skill consists in much more than a knowledge of the correct sensory properties of the materials they buy and the medical qualities (guna) of the materials they sell; this, they say (and others agree) is something any competent middleman should know. Rather, they are experts in translating substances across social boundaries. In each business deal they are negotiating between local ecologies and literate canons, between highland and lowland, between dozens of locally particular sensory regimes that frame collectors, and the three or more medical systems (Āyurveda, Tibetan, Newar, and several informal systems) all of whose practitioners come to the Bania shops when the highest quality ingredients are necessary. They deal in trust and translation. By caste they are forbidden to make pilgrimages into the fertile mountains from which these substances come. Focussing on the 'dried' materials, the Banias remain able to generate both medical efficacy and profit through brokering cross-cultural sensory agreement.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.