Accepted paper:

Local videshis: Westerners performing the role of music students in Varanasi, India


Mari Korpela (University of Tampere)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses how Westerners in Varanasi perform their role as music students. It discusses the significance of the performances to their self-identities and elaborates on the cultural negotiations that emerge with local people, tourists and the place - a holy city of Hinduism.

Paper long abstract:

A few hundred Westerners repeatedly spend their winters in Varanasi which is a holy city of Hinduism in northern India. Most of the Westerners study Indian classical music there. In this paper, I discuss how they perform their role as music students. Such performances take place in various ways in their everyday lives and the performances play an important role in the construction of the Westerners' identities, in addition to being crucial in defining them as members of the alternative community in the eyes of the other Westerners in Varanasi. In my paper, I illustrate the performances by several empirical examples arguing that being a Western music student in Varanasi requires constant performative acts. I discuss the significance of such performances. I argue that the Westerners create a particular, very exclusive, way of being 'local videshis (foreigners)' and it is a question of constant negotiation (sometimes also conflicts) with local cultures, tourists and the place (loaded with meanings as it is a holy city). Eventually, it is also very much a question of defining one's distinctive identity; yet, the place where these performances take place is not an arbitrary choice. The paper is based on extensive ethnographic research that I conducted for my PhD (Korpela 2009) in Varanasi.

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