Vidya RAO


Independent musician (singer), Editorial Consultant, Orient Blackswan Publishers, India

Music / composer-singer
Vidya RAO

Octobre 2012 à juin 2013


Vidya Rao is a researcher and writer, an editor, and a singer of Indian classical music. She received a post graduate degree in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics, and has worked thereafter in various research institutes, in publishing, has taught at various universities, and has enjoyed a career as a professional performing musician. Her research interests relate to gender and musical form, and the subversive nature of women’s performance. However she does not see gender relations as simply adversarial, in terms of men as oppressors and women as victims. This, and her experience as a singer, steer her away from discursive polarities (modern vs irredeemably traditional, secular vs fundamentalist). She believes it is possible to be rooted in one’s tradition - as indeed, as a classical singer, she his - and yet be modern - as a feminist and scholar. It is possible, she believes, to be deeply religious and simultaneously secular. This understanding informs her life, her work and her writing.

Search project

Mourners, Martyrs and Witnesses: The Gendered Voice of the Moharram Lament

Vidya Rao proposes to write on the laments recited/sung by Shia women during the Islamic month of Moharram. During this time, people of the Shia community meet and mourn, through song and speech, the martyrs of the historic battle of Karbala. Focusing on the women’s majlis or assembly, she attempts to understand the gendered nature of the women’s laments by analyzing the different musical, poetic and declamatory genres performed by them as part of the mourning. She explores how gender is inscribed into these texts via the use of specific linguistic registers, musical genres, poetic styles and themes. And she tries and understand the ways in which, through the mourning rituals and songs, women express feelings about war and violence, pain and loss, both personal and communal, as also how the tragedy of Karbala links in their minds with current issues, problems and situations in their lives and in the world today.


RAO, Vidya. Heart to Heart: Remembering Naina Devi. New Delhi : Harper Collins, 2011

RAO, Vidya. The Voices of Bhaktas and Courtesans: Gender, Love and Renunciation in Thumri and Bhakti Poetry. In KAVITA, Panjabi (éd.) Poetics and Politics of Sufism in South Asia: Love, Loss and Liberation. New Delhi : Orient Blackswan, 2011.

RAO, Vidya. Singing the Female Body: An Exploration of Sohar Songs. In CHAWLA, Janet (éd.) Birth and Birthgivers: The Power Behind the Shame. New Delhi : Har Anand, 2005. (Sohars are songs sung by women dealing with childbirth).


RAO, Vidya. Kabir in Thumri

(poems of the 15th century poet, sung in the style of thumri)

RAO, Vidya. Water Weaver

(songs from tradition medieval poetry relating to the significance of water)