Book Reviews

Singing Gandhi’s India by Lakshmi Subramanian – Book Review

  • Author: Lakshmi Subramanian
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Roli Books; First edition (9 January 2020)
  • Language: English

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Here is the first-ever and only detailed account of Gandhi and music in India. How politics and music interspersed with each other has been paid scant, if not any, attention, let alone Gandhi’s role in it. Looking at prayer as politics, singing Gandhi’s India traces Gandhi’s relationship with music and nationalism. Uncovering his writings on music, ashram Bhajan practice, the Vande Mataram debate, Subramanian makes a case for closer scrutiny of Gandhian oeuvre to map sonic politics in twentieth-century India.


Singing Gandhi’s India is a unique attempt at taking a closer look at Gandhi’s ideas about music and his impressions of it as an instrument in nationalist politics. Through this book, the author has tried to flesh out the idea of music nationalism.

The sound had an important role to play in the organization of social and political spaces. Gandhi was drawn towards a more local form of music i.e. bhajans to bring about nationalism. The book talks about the emergence of national music and elaborates on its journey. It also brings to light the different kinds of music that appeared during the ‘music boom’ – religious, technological, devotional, etc. It also goes on to explain how classical music was diffused into the public sphere and found its place in the popular forms of entertainment.

Gandhi viewed music as meditation and as an important symbol in Gandhian politics. The primacy of melody in music compelled him to explore its importance in bringing out nationalist feelings. He even included music in the prayer services at Sabarmati Ashram. This proves his inclination towards music.

Thus, the book is a heavy academic text which would demand its readers to be deeply interested in the non-fiction genre. It is an apt example of well-researched intellectual text material that brings to you a unique pool of information. The writing is descriptive and might actually disengage you from reading it. But that’s the point – it would make a great pick for non-fiction lovers, seasoned readers or who are even remotely interested in exploring music nationalism while the rest might not enjoy reading it.


Buy your copy: Singing Gandhi’s India 

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