PhD defense Anita Ramcharan: A culture full of songs and song full of culture

Een ceremonie waarbij twee vrouwen op een dholak spelen. Foto: © Anita Ramcharan
© Anita Ramcharan

On 21 December, Anita Ramcharan will defend her PhD thesis titled ‘Een cultuur vol liederen, liedkunst vol cultuur: De positie van vrouwen in Hindostaanse liedkunst’ (‘A Culture Full of Songs, Song Full of Culture: The Position of Women in Hindustani song’). Ramcharan studied how Hindu women preserved, adapted, and transmitted the tradition of song at Hindu rituals related to birth, marriage, and death.

An oral tradition

By singing during important moments, female singers created an atmosphere appropriate to a particular ritual. In this role, they took on the task of creating a mood of engagement, in which all parties had their part to play. The singers passed on the tradition of song performances and their repertoire to subsequent generations. They continued and further developed the contribution their mothers and grandmothers made in shaping the Hindu community in Suriname and later in the Netherlands. 

In this, women of succeeding generations have made choices each time between preserving and renewing. Although song performances are certainly provided at fewer times nowadays than in the past, women have managed to keep this tradition alive. 

Like other oral traditions, this tradition of women in Hindu rituals is dynamic. Both content and form are in constant flux, showing how singers deal with this women's tradition in the ever-changing world. By continuing to renew that tradition, they preserve this art of song. These innovations illustrate how women are creative within this constant tightrope walk between adaptation and innovation, while still respectfully engaging with an ancient literary tradition.


During birth, marriage, and death rituals, singers, like their foremothers from India, sing about such matters as the acts being performed, the objects being used, and the people performing the acts.

So their songs are not only for the person who is born, marries, or dies, but also for others who perform duties of honour in these rituals. Thus, women also sing teasing songs for specific persons that they learnt from their foremothers. These particular songs show how women use forms of imagery in the game of staying within boundaries and yet not. In doing so, they show how they deal with existing hierarchies in this song tradition.

Start date and time
End date and time
Hybrid: online (click here) and at the Utrecht University Hall
PhD candidate
A. Ramcharan
Een cultuur vol liederen of liedkunst vol cultuur? De positie van de vrouw in Hindostaanse liedkunst
PhD supervisor(s)
Professor M.L. Waaldijk
Professor M. van Kempen