Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 154–174 | Cite as

Queering Indian Classical Music: An Exploration of Sexuality and Desire

  • Sahil Tandon
Original Paper


This article explores representations of gendered power structures and the notions of sexuality in Indian Classical Music. Hindustani music has evolved over the past eight centuries, from folk music, through the medieval courts, into wider public acclaim in modern times. This tradition of art has been conferred an almost ‘sanctimonious’ status, owing to the pedantic nature of its development and structuring by male artists, the ustads and pandits, purists who followed strict standards and specifications to maintain the conventions of the music form. Following the structure of the ragas as melodies, and the bandish for lyrics, Hindustani music has maintained a puritanical approach to desire and sexuality. Ironically, the subject and discourse of this classical art form have predominantly been themes of passion, pathos and pining, from a feminine perspective. The Feminine is portrayed as insufficient and incomplete, while the Masculine and masculinity are characterised as absolute and the supreme subject of desire. The article examines traditional and historical compositions, the bandish, situating them within the customs and manners of the time and the art form, to suggest the queer characteristics of Hindustani music, the art and the tradition. Pursuing contemporary discourses on ‘Queering’ and applying them to reinterpret Indian Classical Music, illuminates and questions hetero-normative cisgendered conventions in creative expressions, in an art form, which has largely been promoted, performed and accorded patronage by men. This article demystifies notions of sexuality and desire, within an unquestioned domain of male hegemonies in artistic expression.


Sexuality and art Indian classical music Queering Queer theory Performative gender Gender and art 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Author declares that there is no potential conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

The study did not collect any information or data from any individual participants. However, informed consent was obtained from all individuals consulted for the study.

Human and Animal Rights

“This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors”.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New DelhiIndia

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