ICTM Journal – Issue 3, Spring 2015

Singing the Way: Music and Pilgramage in Maharashtra

Jaime Jones


In Maharashtra, the devotional songs composed by the singer-saints of the Hindu Vārkarī sect are performed publically and spectacularly during the vārī, one of the largest annual mass pilgrimages in the world. Neither the musical repertory nor the ritual journey itself, despite deep associations with tradition and the past, have fixed meanings, and the complex affective experience of pilgrimage does much more than simply reinforce religious ideology. Drawing upon anthropological frameworks developed since Victor Turner’s foundational work in the 1970s, I understand pilgrimage as a dynamic temporal overlapping between people, places, and texts. While songs are often understood as simply one point in this dynamic (text), in this article I argue that music is the medium through which these entities are merged. Pilgrimage comes to be when people sing through, about and in place. Developing an ethnomusicology of pilgrimage, therefore, is not just tangential, but fundamental.

Keywords: music, pilgrimage, India, Hinduism, Vārkarī

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Author Biography

Jaime Jones is Lecturer in Ethnomusicology and Head of School at University College Dublin. She completed her PhD in ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago in 2009, after completing fieldwork in India funded by a Fulbright grant. Her current research focuses on devotional musics of India, the city and musical place, and Dublin’s underground scenes.