Dancing with Devtas: Drums, Power and Possession in the Music of Garhwal, North India: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Dancing with Devtas: Drums, Power and Possession in the Music of Garhwal, North India

1st Edition

By Andrew Alter


302 pages

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Paperback: 9781138092419
pub: 2017-06-14
Hardback: 9780754656692
pub: 2008-04-28
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315258553
pub: 2016-12-05
from $27.48

FREE Standard Shipping!


In the Central Himalayan region of Garhwal, the gods (devtas) enjoy dancing. Musicians - whether ritual specialists or musical specialists - are therefore an indispensable part of most entertainment and religious events. In shamanistic ceremonies, their incantations, songs and drumming 'make' the gods possess their mediums. In other contexts, such as dramatic theatrical renditions of stories of specific deities, actors 'dance' the role of their character having become possessed by the spirit of their character. Through the powerful sounds of their drumming, musicians cause the gods to dance. Music, and more particularly musical sound, is perceived in Garhwal as a powerful force. Andrew Alter examines music and musical practice in Garhwal from an analytical perspective that explores the nexus between musical sounds and performance events. He provides insight into performance practice, vocal techniques, notions of repertoire classification, instruments, ensembles, performance venues, and dance practice. However, music is not viewed simply as a system of organized sounds such as drum strokes, pitch iterations or repertoire items. Rather, in Garhwal, the music is viewed as a system of knowledge and as a system of beliefs in which meaning and spirituality become articulated through potent sound iterations. Alter makes a significant contribution to the discipline of ethnomusicology through a detailed documentation of musical practice in the context of ritual events. The book offers a traditionally thorough historical-ethnographic study of a region with the aim of integrating the local field-based case studies of musical practices within the broader Garhwali context. The work contains invaluable oral data, which has been carefully transliterated as well as translated. Alter blends a carefully detailed analysis of drumming in conjunction with the complex ritual and social contexts of this sophisticated and semantically rich musical practice.


’Andrew Alter’s fascinating book shows that music in Garhwal is more than just a system of organised sounds. Instead, it underpins a belief that Nada (’a pervading causal sound that animates the universe’) can be echoed on earth through the powerful practice of drumming. … Alter provides closequarter detail on musical practice in both secular and sacred contexts and close scrutiny of the copious musical examples, while a 60-minute companion CD illustrates the text and his revealing analysis to telling effect.’ Songlines 'The book’s strength lies mainly in richly describing a fragment of an extensive drumming tradition… Alter’s work draws attention to the role of percussion not merely as accompaniment, but more importantly as the defining feature of musical events that are critical in religious and life-cycle rituals… In keeping with other books of the SOAS musicology series, this volume is handsomely produced - a hardcover book with a tastefully designed dust jacket, ample photographs and musical notations, a CD.' Asian Ethnology

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: Part 1 Contextualising the Study: Sounding the drum: power and meaning in the context of performance: Dev Bhumi: land of the gods; Caste groups and instrumentalists; Performance genres and dance practice; Musical instruments in Garhwal; Dhol Sagar: the ocean of drumming. Part 2 Analysis and Description of Musical Events: Musical Power in the Context of Performance: Drumming associated with Pañdavalila; Music in the context of wedding celebrations; The Pawara of Kirthipal and Kunjepal; Conclusion;; Appendices; Glossary of selected Garhwali and Hindi terms; Bibliography; Discography of selected commercially released tapes; Index.

About the Author

Andrew Alter is Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of New England, Australia.

About the Series

SOAS Studies in Music Series

SOAS Musicology Series is today one of the world’s leading series in the discipline of ethnomusicology. Our core mission is to produce high-quality, ethnographically rich studies of music-making in the world’s diverse musical cultures. We publish monographs and edited volumes that explore musical repertories and performance practice, critical issues in ethnomusicology, sound studies, historical and analytical approaches to music across the globe. We recognize the value of applied, interdisciplinary and collaborative research, and our authors draw on current approaches in musicology and anthropology, psychology, media and gender studies. We welcome monographs that investigate global contemporary, classical and popular musics, the effects of digital mediation and transnational flows.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / General
MUSIC / Ethnomusicology
MUSIC / History & Criticism