From the Big Temples to the Silver Screen
The Music of South India Syllabus

Course Description
Course Goals
Course Evaluation
Required Readings
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Typical Course Activities
Shopping in Tambaram – Traditional meal on banana leaves – Kolatta Javandharai ritual at Kaveri River






From the Big Temples to the Silver Screen—The Music of South India
This experience offers rich, profound encounters with South Indian music and the historic, religious, classical, folk, and popular contexts in which it grew and still flourishes. Each student adopts an independent research project to pursue during our weeks in India. Sunaada Foundation, our Bangalore host, provides an immersion in Hindustani (North Indian) classical music, with intensive music lessons from Pt. Nagarajrao Havaldar offering a comprehensive introduction to raga, tala, gamaka, improvisation, form, gharana, and other musical/cultural aspects of this venerable musical tradition. Madras Christian College, our Chennai host, provides further resources for independent research, including lectures & discussion sessions, Karnatak (South Indian) classical music lessons, and other “hands-on” activities with renowned Indian musicians, scholars, and dancers. We make music, learn yoga, and enjoy India’s vegetarian-friendly cuisine. We go to concerts and festivals featuring India’s finest musicians, witnessing world-class performances at Chennai’s famed “December Season” festival (one of the largest in the world), and joining 1,000 musicians at Tiruvaiyaru’s famous Tyagaraja Aradhana as they sing the Pancharatna Kritis on the anniversary of the great composer’s death. Side trips in Bangalore include visits to Lalbagh Gardens and the Karnataka Folk Museum. During our time in Chennai, we tour British Madras, A.R. Rahman’s music school, St. Thomas sites, a film studio, a dance academy, ancient and modern churches and temples, see a “Kollywood” movie, and visit a rural village. For a field trip to Mahabalipuram, we stay at a beach resort on the Bay of Bengal, attend the annual Dance Festival, visit a stone-carvers’ colony, and tour a suite of U.N. World Heritage monuments surrounding the historic Shore Temple (India’s oldest free-standing stone temple). In Thanjavur we visit the historic Brihadiswara (Big Temple) complex, a museum filled with iconic Chola bronze statues, a library housing the accumulated literary treasures of several Thanjavur dynasties, and a foundation in a rural village that teaches music to children of all castes. This third-world immersion seeks to provide an authentic Indian experience. 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 Sri Ghatam Karthick & percussionists – Our yoga master – Dr. Harbold thanks Dr. Sunder & musicians






This course will help you to:

  1. Explore, observe, and experience India’s diverse musical/cultural expressions, including those found in religious, classical, folk, and popular contexts.
  2. Learn specific features of ancient and modern musics in their Indian context—with attention to process and materials, cultural significance, the role of the musician within society, and underlying techniques and theoretical concepts (such as bhava, raga, and tala).
  3. Explore relationships and make connections between India’s music and its art, architecture, dance, religions, history, and culture.
  4. Recognize more deeply the dignity and value of these non-Western musical/cultural expressions, and in turn recognize more profoundly the dignity and value of your own cultural identity.
  5. Pursue individual research into areas of Indian music and culture of vital interest to you.

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Course Activities at Madras Christian College—Chennai
Walking tour of MCC – Bull horns painted for Pongal festival – Dessert! Dr. Kingsley chops sugarcane






Grades will be assigned based on the following:

  1. Attendance & Participation: You will engage in all course activities (e.g., guest lectures/discussions, group discussions, cultural events, common meals, and site visits). You will also engage constructively with each other and required course activities. (20%)
  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. (20%)
  3. Journal: You will keep an academic journal in which you reflect critically on your experiences, observations, lectures, readings, and class discussions. (20%)
  4. Paper: You will engage in a research project under the supervision of the instructor. The culmination of that project will be a carefully focused 7 to 10 page research paper that draws on what you learn through readings, interactions with scholars & musicians, and other experiences in India. (40%)

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At the Beach Resort—Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram)
Ideal Resort welcome ritual – Group hike to Tiger Cave – With Dr. Suri at Pancha Rathas






It’s an excellent idea to do your primary and supplemental readings before we leave on January 6th—why miss India by sitting in your room reading? While in India, I also expect you to regularly read one of the English-language Indian daily newspapers.


  • Chatterjee, Samir, ed. Music of India, 2nd ed. Chhandayan, 2009.
  • Neuman, Daniel M. The Life of Music in North India: The Organization of an Artistic Tradition. University of Chicago Press, 1990.
  • Viswanathan, Tanjore and Matthew Harp Allen. Music in South India (with accompanying CD). Oxford University Press, 2003


  • While in India, I expect you to regularly read one of the English-language Indian daily newspapers.
  • Get a good travel guide to take along. It’s tempting to get a comprehensive guide to the entire country, but that adds extra weight to your luggage. Here are my top picks:
    • Michelin’s Chennai and Tamil Nadu: The Green Guide is highly recommended as a small, portable, recently updated travel guide (2013) full of good information about Tamil history and culture. It doesn’t cover our destinations in Bangalore, but it’s an especially handy guide to everything else.
    • Rough Guide to South India is among the best if you want coverage for all the places we will go. It has not been updated since 2007, but the information is still valid for our destinations. It also provides good information on South Indian history and culture.
    • The Lonely Planet Guide to South India & Kerala is often recommended. It is less detailed than the Rough Guide, but it was updated recently (2013).
    • I am especially fond of the DK Eyewitness guides, profusely illustrated with color photos, diagrams, maps, etc., but they don’t publish a separate guide for South India — it covers the entire country.
  • The books on the SUPPLEMENTAL READING LIST below are not required reading, but are strongly recommended if they apply to your independent research project or if you simply want to learn more about some specific aspect of Indian music, art & architecture, or culture!
  • To prepare for the trip, 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 Award-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, Three Idiots, PK, Jodhaa Akbar, or Slumdog Millionaire.



    • Farrell, Gerry. Indian Music and the West.
    • Jackson, William J. Tyāgarāja: Life and Lyrics.
    • Kaufmann, Walter. The Ragas of South India.
    • Lavezzoli, Peter. The Dawn of Indian Music in the West.
    • Mathai, Kamini. A.R. Rahman: The Musical Storm.
    • Pesch, Ludwig. The Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music.
    • Rajagopal, Geetha. Music Rituals in the Temples of South India.
    • Saṅgīt Mahābhāratī. The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India.
    • Sriram, V. The Devadasi and the Saint.
    • 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.
    • Weidman, Amanda. Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern: The Postcolonial Politics of Music in South India.


    • 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.
    • 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 Series), 2nd edition.
    • 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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    On the Road to Historic Sites
    Carrying goods to market in Tiruvaiyaru – At the Thanjavur train station – Street scene in Chennai




     Page created 28 September 2014 by Mark Harbold—last updated 29 October 2015.