Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Peter Manuel

Committee Members

Jane Sugarman

Stephen Blum

Katherine Ewing

Subject Categories

Ethics in Religion | Ethnomusicology | Islamic Studies | Music Performance | Religious Education | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


Sufi music, Sindh, Kutch, Sufi poetry, Islamic reform


This dissertation is a study of the use and contestation of Sindhi-language Sufi poetry performance as a means of Islamic knowledge transmission and ethical self-formation in rural Muslim communities in Kachchh, a border district in the western Indian state of Gujarat adjacent to Sindh, Pakistan. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic research with Muslim performers and enthusiasts of Sindhi poetry between 2014-2018, I first examine an ecology of performative and interpretive practices revolving around the musico-poetic repertoire of the poet-saint Shāh ʿAbdul Lat̤īf Bhiṭā’ī (1689-1752 CE). I argue that the pedagogical efficacy of Sufi poetry performance is undergirded by its rich potential to index layers of meaning so that local knowledge and history, individual lived experience, and Islamic significance resonate affectively together. Focusing on the musical genres kāfī and shāh jo rāg̈, I analyze techniques by which singers engage affectively with the Islamic discursive tradition in performance. Through discussion of vocal and instrumental practice in shāh jo rāg̈, I show how poetry performers enact the emotional concept of the “pain of separation” from God in musical performance, a practice they view as an ontologically efficacious form of Islamic worship. In an analysis of kāfī performance, I demonstrate how singers employ storytelling and verse explication as tools for the affective transmission of Islamic knowledge. Locating Sindhi Sufi poetry performance in the contemporary socio-religious and political context of Gujarat, I then track the polarizing effects that Islamic reform and Hindu nationalism have had on the region’s musical life since the 1970s. I animate debates concerning music’s permissibility in the Islamic tradition by documenting the ways in which Islamic reformists’ critiques of music’s morality have impacted Muslim performance practices and musicians’ livelihoods in Kachchh. I argue that debates about music’s permissibility are central to a wider epistemological shift as Muslims in the region gradually move away from local, vernacular means of Islamic knowledge transmission and adopt transregional modes of Islamic learning and devotion. In addition to exploring transformations in local Islamic practice, I situate Muslim performance traditions within the contemporary political environment of ever-rising Hindu nationalism, in which Muslims are increasingly marginalized and their transborder cultural inheritances—their affective attachments to Sindh, its saints, and its songs—are viewed with suspicion. By tracing pre- and post-Partition histories of musical exchange and transmission between Kachchh and Sindh—including the important role that Pakistani media has played as a means of facilitating Sindhi musico-poetic learning in Kachchh—this dissertation documents the persistence of a transborder Sindhi cultural world amidst decades of political tension between India and Pakistan.

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