Kirin Narayan

Beyond the Main Road: Women’s Sung Mytholog from Kangra, Northwest India


In the Himalayan foothill region of Kangra, regional cultural traditions are increasingly said to be found off the main roads with their rush of traffic, media images, and glittering goods, lodged instead with old women in out-of-the-way locales. I follow this image of cultural locales and routes inward, showing how women’s Pahari songs creatively rework the frames of Puranic narratives about Krishna from regional and gendered perspectives. I also travel outward to reflect on the countervailing pull of ethnography that circulates localized forms across regions, languages, and conceptual frameworks towards new forms of localization that potentially include diasporic appropriation.


Dr. Narayan was on leave in 2006-2007, writing a book on women’s sung mythology in the Himalayan foothill region of Kangra, Northwest India, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to long-term fieldwork on oral traditions in South Asia, she is also researching the South Asian diaspora, and the role of narratives in the transmission of identity. She is also working on making explicit the craft of ethnography writing in dialogue with other narrative genres.