Accepted Paper:

Sounding the invisible: a musical pantheon in Bastar, India.  


Nicolas Prevot (University Paris Ouest Nanterre)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will first compare the natures and roles of music and alcohol in the specific context of ritual possession in Bastar and then show that the musical interpretation of the pantheon is the ultimate way to evaluate and to interpret the uncertain states of possession and drunkenness.

Paper long abstract:

In Bastar (Middle India), ritual music allows -owing to well chosen aesthetic features- to diffuse sonic beings into space and time and to fill the environment with their energy and varying nature in order to invade, influence and transform some of its surrounding elements. In this paper, music will be compared with alcohol in a ritual context and presented as an ontological substance materializing the invisible world, as a transformative agent in a universe made of fluid and contagious elements organised in porous categories.

Like the pantheon it serves, music takes shape and is experienced in the very moment of the ritual which is made of continuous interactions between the musicians and the mediums possessed by deities: acting and reacting to the "play of the gods", the musicians play different tunes which presentify the numerous deities as sonic forms. The musical structure is all but fixed, on the contrary very flexible. The truthfulness of possession is never completely certain, constantly commented and discussed by the audience.

In spite of a law social status, by choosing all along the ritual the tunes and the way to play them, the leading musician play a main part in the musically-expressed-judgment of who is Who: who is really possessed by a god or who is only a pretender or actually a drunkard intoxicated by any ancestor. Indeed to interpret the musical repertoire means first to interpret the nature of possession (which sometimes includes drunkenness) in order to be able to interpret the pantheon.

Panel W049
Sonic beings? The ontologies of musical agency