Casting Kings: Bards and Indian Modernity
Based on three years of fieldwork in the Indian state of Rajasthan, Casting Kingsexplores the way in which semi-nomadic performers known as Bhats understand, and also subvert, caste hierarchies. Bhats (literally, "Bards") now entertain a variety of sponsors - village patrons, foreign tourists, urban Rajasthanis, government officials, and development experts - with ballads and puppet plays detailing the exploits of Rajasthan's long-dead kings. In some cases, Bhats suggest that their historical knowledge and poetic skills have been inherited from royal ancestors who sang the praises and kept the genealogies of Rajasthan's former kings and princes. In other contexts, however, Bhats associate themselves with Dalits - a term reserved for India's former untouchables. As Jeffrey G. Snodgrass delves deeper into the complexities and contradictions of Bhat art and identity - methodically and often humorously peeling away layer after layer of deception to expose the manner in which Bhats use their legacy of bardic cunning to manipulate old and new patrons alike (the author among them) - the complexities and contradictions of modern India are likewise revealed.
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