Indian Art & Music Syllabus

Course Description
Course Goals
Required Readings
Course Evaluation
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Some Typical Course Activities
Shopping in Tambaram, with Dr. Kausalya & students in Thanjavur, working with a rug weaver in Jaipur






Indian Art and Music is an interdisciplinary study of India’s art, architecture, and music in their religious, classical, folk, and popular contexts. It is also a third-world immersion experience that seeks to provide an authentic Indian experience. Madras Christian College, our host in Chennai, provides lectures and “hands-on” sessions with renowned Indian scholars, artists, and musicians. Topics include Indian music, art, architecture, dance, religion, history, and society, and we will make music, participate in traditional art forms, practice yoga, attend a Bollywood blockbuster, and enjoy India’s vegetarian-friendly cuisine. We will go to concerts and festivals featuring India’s finest musicians, joining 1,000 musicians at Tiruvaiyaru’s famous Tyagaraja festival. Other trips take us to Thanjavur’s historic temple complex, museums filled with iconic Chola bronze statues, Mahabalipuram’s Dance Festival, a beach resort, an artists’ colony, a rural village, and historic churches, temples, and mosques, ancient and modern. Experiential-learning opportunities include helping plan a new recording studio at MCC and creating video documentation and a website for a foundation that teaches music to poor children in Tiruvaiyaru. In Aurangabad we will see Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist art at the spectacular Ajanta and Ellora cave temples. In Delhi we study north Indian art and music and Indian history from their ancient roots to the contemporary moment. We will visit the National Museum, the National Gallery of Modern Art, India’s oldest mosque, India Gate, a classical concert, and the Gandhi Smriti Museum (site of Gandhi’s assassination), with a trip to the Taj Mahal as a special highlight.

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Classes at Madras Christian College—Chennai
Students with Ghatam Karthick & percussionists, our yoga master, Mark Harbold thanks Dr. Sunder & musicians






This course will help you to:

  1. Observe, experience, and explore India’s diverse musical and artistic expressions, including those found in religious, classical, folk, and popular contexts.
  2. Learn specific features of ancient and modern visual and musical art forms in their Indian context—with attention to process and materials, cultural significance, the role of the artist within society, and underlying theoretical concepts (such as bhava, raga, and tala).
  3. Explore relationships and make connections between India’s art, architecture, music, religions, history, and culture, remaining sensitive to differences between southern and northern traditions.
  4. Recognize more deeply the dignity and value of other musical and artistic expressions.
  5. Increase critical awareness of the dignity and value of your own cultural identity as you consider the differences between Indian and American cultures.

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Course Activities at Madras Christian College—Chennai
Morning journaling on guest house porch, bull horns painted for Pongal, dessert!—Dr. Kingsley chops sugarcane







  • Harle, J.C. The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, 2nd edition. Yale University Press, 1994.
  • Viswanathan, Tanjore and Matthew Harp Allen. Music in South India (with accompanying CD). Oxford University Press, 2003


In addition to the knowledge base provided by the primary textbooks, we want you to acquire a bit of expertise in a specific aspect of India’s music, art & architecture, or culture—by reading one of the following books. We expect your expertise to reveal itself in your journals and in formal and informal dialogue with your fellow travelers. Choose the book that most closely matches your interests. Whatever you choose, your choice must be approved by the instructors no later than December 1st, and you must purchase a copy, read it, and bring it to India. The supplemental readings will broaden the pool of knowledge we can draw on, enrich class discussions, and provide a useful traveling library.

It’s an excellent idea to do your primary and supplemental readings before we leave on December 29th—why miss India by sitting in your room reading? While in India, we also expect you to regularly read one of the English-language Indian daily newspapers.



  • Behl, Benoy K. The Ajanta Caves: Ancient Paintings of Buddhist India.
  • Craven, Roy C. Indian Art: A Concise History (revised edition).
  • Dehejiya, Vidya. Indian Art.
  • Fisher, Nora. Mud, Mirror and Thread: Folk Traditions of Rural India.
  • Jaitly, Jaya. Incredible India: Crafting Nature.
  • Koch, Ebba. The Complete Taj Mahal.
  • Krishna, Nanditha. Arts and Crafts of Tamil Nadu.
  • Michell, George. The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms.
  • Michell, George. Indian Art and Architecture.
  • Michell, George. The Majesty of Mughal Decoration: The Art and Architecture of Islamic India.
  • Mitter, Partha. Indian Art (Oxford History of Art).
  • Farrell, Gerry. Indian Music and the West.
  • Kaufmann, Walter. The Ragas of North India.
  • Lavezzoli, Peter. The Dawn of Indian Music in the West.
  • Neuman, Daniel M. The Life of Music in North India: The Organization of an Artistic Tradition.
  • Pesch, Ludwig. The Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music.
  • Subramanian, Lakshmi. From the Tanjore Court to the Madras Music Academy: A Social History of Music in South India.
  • Viswanathan Peterson, Indira & Davesh Soneji, eds. Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India.
  • Wade, Bonnie C. Music in India: The Classical Traditions.
  • Wade, Bonnie C. Imaging Sound: An Ethnomusicological Study of Music, Art, and Culture in Mughal India.
  • Weidman, Amanda. Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India.
  • Basham, A.L., ed. A Cultural History of India.
  • Basham, A.L. The Wonder that was India.
  • Coward, Harold G. & David Goa. Mantra: Hearing the Divine in India and America.
  • Dharma, Krishna, ed. Mahabharata: The Greatest Spiritual Epic of All Time.
  • Eck, Diana L. Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India.
  • Gokulsing, J. Moti & Wimal Dissanayake. Indian Popular Cinema: A Narrative of Cultural Change.
  • Inden, Ronald. Imagining India.
  • Johnson, Gordon. Cultural Atlas of India.
  • Keay, John. India: A History.
  • Koller, John M. The Indian Way: An Introduction to the Philosophies & Religions of India.
  • Rajagopalachari, C., ed. Ramayana.
  • Schimmel, Annemarie. The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture.
  • Schwartz, Susan L. Rasa: Performing the Divine in India.
  • Selby, Martha Ann & Indira Viswanathan Peterson, eds. Cultural Constructions of Space and Place in South India.
  • Thapar, Romila. Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300.
  • Vasudevan, Ravi S., ed. Making Meaning in Indian Cinema.
  • Venkataraman, Leela. Indian Classical Dance: Tradition in Transition.
  • Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization.

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At the Beach Resort—Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram)
Watching the waves on the Bay of Bengal, Ideal Resort welcome ritual, group hike to Tiger Cave






Grades will be assigned based on the following:

  1. Attendance: You are required to attend all course activities (e.g., lectures, group discussions, cultural events, common meals, and site visits) unless they are indicated as optional. (20%)
  2. Participation: You are expected to engage each other and required course activities constructively, and you must participate in at least one experiential (service) learning opportunity. (20%)
  3. Readings: Evidence of engagement with primary and supplemental readings (and daily newspaper readings) will appear in and be evaluated through class discussion, your journal, and your final paper. (20%)
  4. Journal: You will keep an academic journal in which you reflect critically on your experiences, observations, readings, and class discussions. The professors will review journals regularly. (20%)
  5. Paper: You will write a final synthesis of your experiences, readings, responses and judgments concerning the art and music of India. This will take the form of a final journal entry, several pages in length. (20%)

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On the Road to Historic Sites
At the Thanjavur train station, in hushed awe at site of Gandhi assassination, at City Palace in Jaipur




 Page created 11 June 2009 by Mark Harbold—last updated 2 September 2009.