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Everyday Creativity

Singing Goddesses in the Himalayan Foothills

With a Foreword by Philip V. Bohlman

Everyday Creativity

Singing Goddesses in the Himalayan Foothills

With a Foreword by Philip V. Bohlman
Kirin Narayan’s imagination was captured the very first time that, as a girl visiting the Himalayas, she heard Kangra women join their voices together in song. Returning as an anthropologist, she became fascinated by how they spoke of singing as a form of enrichment, bringing feelings of accomplishment, companionship, happiness, and even good health—all benefits of the “everyday creativity” she explores in this book. Part ethnography, part musical discovery, part poetry, part memoir, and part unforgettable portraits of creative individuals, this unique work brings this remote region in North India alive in sight and sound while celebrating the incredible powers of music in our lives.
With rare and captivating eloquence, Narayan portrays Kangra songs about difficulties on the lives of goddesses and female saints as a path to well-being. Like the intricate geometries of mandalu patterns drawn in courtyards or the subtle balance of flavors in a meal, well-crafted songs offer a variety of deeply meaningful benefits: as a way of making something of value, as a means of establishing a community of shared pleasure and skill, as a path through hardships and limitations, and as an arena of renewed possibility. Everyday Creativity makes big the small world of Kangra song and opens up new ways of thinking about what creativity is to us and why we are so compelled to engage it.

256 pages | 9 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Big Issues in Music

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: South Asia

Folklore and Mythology

Music: Ethnomusicology

Women's Studies


"Even as Narayan focuses on the musical choices of individual singers, she does not lose sight of the cultural context in which this creativity occurs. She briefly provides background on where and when these songs are sung and what role they fill in community life. She also places the songs within a larger tradition of sung stories about deities and devotees within Indian religions that cross oral and written bodies of work. Narayan’s writing, however, continuously forefronts the personal pleasure that the women derive from curating and singing these songs. So, as Narayan examines oral literature—a common topic in anthropology and ethnomusicology—she constantly re minds the reader that its significance derives from the people who sing it. Focusing on everyday creativity allows her to examine the use of the texts rather than the texts themselves. . . . Everyday Creativity demonstrates how it is possible to write a monograph that is scholarly but not stuffy, beautifully written but thought provoking, and challenging in its humility of subject."


“This highly original book, based on a rich but mostly unknown corpus of oral texts from the western Himalayas, reveals a world in which gods and goddesses from the classical Indian pantheon mingle with human beings, particularly women, and take part in their everyday lives, their communal rituals, and their deepest emotions. The translated songs are ravishing, and the ethnographic observations with which the author frames them are powerful texts in their own right.”

David Shulman, author of More than Real

“Fluid, readable, and evocative, Everyday Creativity is enriched by Narayan’s trademark: a painterly mastery of charming, descriptive prose. We might almost forget that we are reading anthropology—yet her deep insights are gracefully woven throughout.”

Ann Grodzins Gold, coauthor of Listen to the Heron’s Words

"The great value of this book is that with sensitivity discloses the reality of women’s lives in Indian villages and the stages of a woman life – from her wedding, motherhood, widowhood, to the old age – with all their difficulties, aims, desires and realistic possibilities."

Table of Contents

Finding Form

1. Tending Lives through Songs
2. The Ground That Grows Songs
3. Attaining: The Mountain Daughter’s Many Forms
4. Playing: Krishna’s Mothers, Sister, and Lovers
5. Going: Saili as Plant and Goddess
6. Bathing: The Transformative Flows of Sound
7. Reaching the Head

A Note on Transliteration

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