Veena Naregal

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over two years

Veena Naregal is a social scientist. She has published scholarly articles on the cultural and political history of western India and on media reform and distribution in India since liberalisation.

Social scientist, Veena Naregal, sought to use the shift from orality to print culture as the framework to study the history of Marathi theatre and performative forms in the late 19th century. 

Veena attempted to understand the emergence of the sangeet natak as the successor of the pauranik khel, as a response to the redefinition of the religious experience. These newly emerging dramatic forms also had an impact on the pre-existing performative forms like the laavani and the kirtan. With a long three-century history in the cultural life of the Deccan, laavani and kirtan underwent complex shifts in their social location and aesthetic status.

Veena felt that the laavani and the kirtan have been cultural forms that have adapted to the changes in performing contexts and structures of patronage over the last three centuries. While they emerged as subaltern, dissenting idioms, they were partially classicised through patronage from wealthy and politically influential families during the Peshwa period. The laavani, which was primarily practised by the lower caste kolhatti and mahar communities, was likewise taken up by well-known Brahmin shahir poets like Ramjoshi and Anant Phandi, and gained widespread patronage in the courts.

Veena observed that a study of the history of these performing forms that bear traces of the complex cultural and political changes in the region, allowed her to explore the strategies used by regional political elites to legitimise popular cultural forms through patronage. Her research resulted in a series of research papers in Indian and International journals specialising in theatre studies and cultural history, and will eventually lead to a book in English and Marathi. She is also interested in writing short journalistic essays for a more general audience. Her research, Veena hopes, will throw light on the cultural and intellectual history and political movements in 19th century Maharashtra, thereby opening up new areas of scrutiny for performing arts institutions, departments of history, theatre studies and cultural studies.