1st Edition

Cultivating Sikh Culture and Identity Art, Music and Philology

By Bob van der Linden Copyright 2025
    212 Pages 25 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Cultivating Sikh Identity and Culture explores the development of modern Sikh identities through the concept of ‘cultivation of culture’. It investigates diverse, but repeatedly overlapping, Sikh encounters in the fields of art, music and philology, and considers their role in the making of a continuous living tradition.

    The volume focuses particularly on the imperial encounter and intellectual interaction between coloniser and colonised. It emphasises the enduring importance of the modern rational approach of the Singh Sabha (Tat Khalsa) reformers in defining a normative Sikh tradition. In so doing, the author reflects on the importance of philological research and the complexity of modern knowledge production in relation to the formation of cultural identities. The chapters offer a critical historical overview of the changes in the performance and reception of Sikh devotional music in the context of the community’s successive encounters with the Mughals, the British and globalisation. They also provide new insights into the life and work of Max Arthur Macauliffe, author of the classic The Sikh Religion (1909), and a contextualised discussion of contemporary Sikh drawings by Emily de Klerk.

    Taking a global, interdisciplinary approach, this book will be of particular interest to scholars of religion, South Asian Studies and history.

    Introduction  1. The Gurus’ Hymns at the Sikh Courts  2. Sikh Devotional Music, Empire and Globalization   3. Max Arthur Macauliffe and the Sikhs  4. Visual Representations in Macauliffe’s The Sikh Religion  5. Aryanism, Martial Race Theory and Sikh Identity  6. Emily’s Eden: Contemporary Sikh Drawings  Epilogue  Appendix: Macauliffe’s Vernacular Sources


    Bob van der Linden studies modern South Asian cultural history in a global context. His previous publications include Moral Languages from Colonial Punjab: The Singh Sabha, Arya Samaj and Ahmadiyahs (2008), Music and Empire in Britain and India: Identity, Internationalism, and Cross-Cultural Communication (2013), Arnold Bake: A Life with South Asian Music (2018) and Romantic Nationalism in India: Cultivation of Culture and the Global Circulation of Ideas (2024).  

    For any one interested in finding new frameworks to understand Sikhs, Punjab and British Raj this is a must have book. Cultivating Sikh Culture and Identity is a magnificent, multifaceted and conceptually inspiring text that is destined to become a key work for our understanding of Sikhism in the twenty-first century. By fusing philology, arts, music and culture the book opens new frontiers in thought and praxis that reveal a remarkably complex world, one that would have remained invisible to us without this pioneering intervention. Surely, this text will ignite a million new conversations both within and beyond the academy.

    Harjot Oberoi, University of British Columbia, Canada

    A unique exegesis of key texts and visuals from Sikh religious and musical histories in the modern period.

    Radha Kapuria, Durham University, UK

    Rejecting simplistic arguments about imperial domination, van der Linden shows how Sikh political agency became intertwined with Sikh cultural life. Against this backdrop, he examines Sikh music, Macauliffe’s scholarly contributions, and Emily de Klerk’s sketches, while boldly noting Punjab’s “undeserved negligence in historiography.” The observation that this region “was anything but a backwater to the development of ‘Hindustani’ music” throws down the gauntlet to future research on North Indian music—no longer can it sidestep Punjab.

    Gurminder K Bhogal, Wellesley College, USA