Signs of Separation: Dhol in Punjabi Culture
The musical instrument dhol is a sign (something that stands for something, to somebody, as per C.S. Peirce) of Punjabi culture. It signifies on many fronts, evoking a number of sentiments and associations. This thesis concerns the expansive web of signification related to the dhol. A rich case study, it offers the possibility of tracking the development of such a multidimensional sign as it has historically broadened its range. It hopes to demonstrate and offer explanations for how the spectrum of associations with an object may become so broad as to thoroughly embody a cultural identity. Being a work of ethnomusicology, this thesis emphasizes the role played by music in this phenomenon.
This research finds that a historical confluence of musical genres, instruments, and migrations set the stage for the emergence of various cultural phenomena that would cohere as a "sign-complex." Its signs worked synergistically to spread the signification of dhol and an increasing number of related signs. Through such a process, dhol was linked to the aesthetic theme of separation. The real-life experience of being away from one's home or loved ones is common in the Punjab region, as its history is checkered with uprooting and migration, division and Diaspora. In the current era, the theme of separation has taken on a new dimension, where the separation represents not only the emotional gap between loved ones, but also the spatial and cultural gap between Punjabis generally and the land of Punjab. While the dhol was becoming a national emblem, in part through its connection with mobilized folkloric dances, a globally-oriented Punjabi identity was also developing. Aspects of this identity, at the turn of the 21st century, were embodied in the dhol.
This work constitutes the first ethnography of Punjabi dhol-players as well as a documentation of fading performance traditions. Part One describes the professional communities that are engaged in playing music in Punjab. Part Two details the dhol's history, construction, use, and playing manner. Part Three presents the allied genres of literature, song, and dance that give support to the theme of separation and, ultimately, the sign-complex of dhol.