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. 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, practice traditional art forms, learn yoga, attend a Bollywood movie, and enjoy India’s vegetarian-friendly cuisine. We will go to concerts and festivals featuring India’s finest musicians, witnessing Chennai’s famed “December Season” concerts and visiting Tyagaraja sites in Tiruvaiyaru, home of the famous festival in his honor. Other trips take us to spectacular temple complexes in Thanjavur and Madurai, museums filled with iconic Chola bronze statues, a traditional bronze sculpture workshop, Mahabalipuram’s Dance Festival, a beach resort, an artists’ colony, and historic churches, temples, and mosques, ancient and modern. Service-learning opportunities include a rural village visit and work with 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, Mughalai restaurants, a concert, and the Gandhi Smriti Museum (site of Gandhi’s assassination), with a trip to the Taj Mahal as a special highlight. These activities offer rich, profound experiences of India’s art and music and the contexts in which they grew and still flourish. This is also a third-world immersion experience that seeks to provide an authentic Indian experience. Student accommodations will be safe but often simple. We cannot always guarantee access to hot showers, western style toilets, or toilet paper.

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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







  • Mitter, Partha. Indian Art (Oxford History of Art), 2nd edition. Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Viswanathan, Tanjore and Matthew Harp Allen. Music in South India (with accompanying CD). Oxford University Press, 2003


  • While in India, we expect you to regularly read one of the English-language Indian daily newspapers.
  • Get a good travel guide: Rough Guide is among the best, and Lonely Planet is often recommended, but we really like the DK Eyewitness guides, profusely illustrated with color photos, diagrams, maps, etc.
  • In preparation for the trip, a few good videos can help a lot in getting oriented to Indian history and culture. Check out the following DVDs:
    • The Story of India, Michael Wood’s excellent 6-part BBC documentary on the history of India, weaves together India’s past and present, giving good coverage to south India, for once! You’ll learn about many of the sites we will visit in January.
    • Gandhi, Richard Attenborough’s 1982 Oscar-winning film, remains an excellent introduction to the life and
      work of this seminal figure, and it fills in details of the independence movement that Wood just doesn’t have time to cover.
    • Any Bollywood movie! If you don’t know any, try Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Lagaan, or Slumdog Millionaire.
    • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was recently released on DVD. It’s not a Bollywood movie, but it does a nice job of showing the range of reactions experienced by 1st time visitors to India.
  • While not required, these books are strongly recommended if you want to dig into some specific aspect of Indian art, music, and culture!
  • It’s an excellent idea to do the reading before December 28th—why miss India reading in your room!



  • 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.
  • Harle, J.C. The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent.
  • 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.
  • 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 & Participation: 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. You are also expected to engage each other and required course activities constructively. (25%)
  2. Readings: Evidence of engagement with required readings (including daily newspaper readings) will appear in and be evaluated through class discussion, your journal, and your final paper. (25%)
  3. Journal: You will keep an academic journal in which you reflect critically on your experiences, observations, readings, and class discussions. This will include answers to questions in occasional guided assignments. The professors will review journals regularly. (25%)
  4. 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. (25%)

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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 2 April 2012 by Mark Harbold—last updated 16 October 2012.