Radha Kapuria

Radha Kapuria


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Personal profile

Biographical details

A student of history since my undergraduate days in Delhi University at the Lady Shri Ram College for Women, I completed my Masters from St. Stephen’s College. My MPhil dissertation (at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University), was a micro-history of the oldest Hindustani music festival of north India, the Harballabh Fair of Jallandhar in Punjab.

My personal investment in this work stems from my location as a descendant of refugees from West Punjab; as an amateur musician with basic training in classical music and as a former activist interested in the power of music in social transformation. The motivating thrust behind this study is to unravel the long-term impact of 1947 on the region’s vibrant musical culture. When investigated rigorously and critically, the music of undivided Punjab would constitute a repository of cultural knowledge that was first ruptured by the partition of 1947 and is threatened even more fundamentally now by the homogenizing impulses accompanying globalization over the last 25 years. 

Research interests

My PhD work is on a ‘Social History of Music in Colonial Punjab’, under the supervision Prof. Katherine Butler Schofield of the Music Department, who has done pioneering work on the history of music in 18th century India. She has just completed an ERC-project on “Musical Transitions to European Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean, 1750-1900”, as part of which her team has collected a large number of written sources in Sanskrit, Persian, Urdu, Braj Bhasha and English. These sources are crucial for my work, given the connections between musicians in Punjab and other regions in north India.

Music has become, since the 1980s, a powerful tool for uniting Punjabis across the borders created in 1947. What was the shared matrix of ideas, songs and aesthetic sensibilities existent in pre-Partition Punjab that continues to resonate across the political divide today? Using this primary question as my main thrust into research, I hope to mine the evidence on practices, performances and institutions around music to shed greater light on the larger socio-political milieu which defined the lives of colonial-era Punjabis.

Through my entire period of research from the 1840s to the 1930s, I am interested in the tension between folk and classical music in Punjab, long stereotyped as the land of ‘rustic culture’. More importantly, how were larger social, economic and political conjunctures in colonial Punjab implicated in the organisation, patronage, performance and consumption of music? How (if at all) were older social hierarchies—around caste and gender, for example—strengthened, and what newer ones emerged to replace these?  These are some of the question my research hopes to address.

Research interests (short)

Colonial Punjab, Social History of Music, Cultural History of North India

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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