MUSIC ENTERS THE PUBLIC SPHERE
Colonial Writing, Marathi Theater,
and Music Appreciation Societies
In this chapter, music moves out of the secluded world of princely states into a larger public domain. In order to get a sense of this domain, let us recall from the previous chapter the Baroda musician Abdul Karim Khan, who sang at the court for four years. Abdul Karim Khan was a gharana ustad who performed in princely courts before moving to Bombay where he set up a school for music, among other things. We shall meet Abdul Karim in some detail in the last chapter and follow his career as a famous musician. In this chapter, the focus is not on Abdul Karim’s career but on the creation of a public cultural sphere, one in which his daughter, Hirabai Barodekar, made a name for herself in music.
Hirabai was one of the first women to act and sing on the Marathi stage, to record devotional music, and to give classical music performances. She was also a happily married woman with children. What was the nature of a public cultural sphere in which the female child of a nineteenth-century Muslim court musician could imagine for herself a career in music that was both respectable and recognized as such? Who and what were the agents in creating a public space women could enter? In the nineteenth century, women musicians were known as baijis—a euphemism for women of ill repute.