The Epic of Pabuji ki par in Performance

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Wickett, Elizabeth 

In the spectacular performance tradition of Pabuji ki par, duos known as bhopas and bhopis, members of an indigenous musician caste of Rajasthan, sing the epic of Pabuji to nomadic communities in honour of their patron deity, a fourteenth-century hero, at venues across the Thar desert. Standing in front of a resplendent painted scroll called a phad, the husband bhopa strums his fiddle-like ravanhatta, providing lead rhythm and melody while his wife, the bhopi, veiled and normally silent, dominates the performance with her high-pitched, emotionally charged vocal power. The bhopas' livelihoods are now under threat. Their main patrons, nomadic herders, still believe in Pabuji's divine ability to cure animals and bring rain to Thar desert dwellers, but pasture and water sources have been encroached upon and their survival is in jeopardy. This study comprises two distinct parts. The first explores the aesthetic, religious and historical roots to this pictorial narrative tradition, how the phad functions as a sacred temple to its devotees for healing rituals and considers how the performance of Pabuji's epic had become a vehicle for social critique by the disempowered. The significant role of the bhopi in articulating the woman's voice, the reincarnation and incorporation of famous revered characters from the Ramayana in the epic of Pabuji and its socio-cultural transformations post Indian independence are considered in the wider context of Indian epics. The second part provides summaries of four live performances of the epic, illustrating its stylistic and textual diversity.


Dr Wickett is an independent scholar and filmmaker specialising in the study of oral traditions, folk epics and belief systems in Upper Egypt from the perspective of the ethnography of speaking, poetics and gender. A fervent advocate of the importance of visual documentation for the analysis of oral text, Dr Wickett has produced several 'anthro docs', including For Those Who Sail to Heaven, a film that examines cultural legacy, beliefs and tradition at the festival of Luxor's patron saint, also accompanied by a monograph, published by the American Research Centre in Egypt. Dr Wickett's doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania on funerary lamentation is published by IB Tauris with the title For the Living and the Dead: The Funerary Laments of Upper Egypt, Ancient and Modern (2010), and future projects include a new compendium of Luxor legends and oral epics that will examine the enduring influence of ancient motifs on Egyptian folk memory.

Oral Literature, Oral Tradition, Rajasthan, Performance, Epic, Pabuji, Linguistic Anthropology, India, Song, Music
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World Oral Literature Project
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World Oral Literature Project