Musical Knowledge and the Vernacular Past in Post-War Sri Lanka

Jim Sykes King’s College London

“South Asian kings are clearly interested in vernacular places, but it is the poet who creates them.”Sheldon Pollock (1998: 60)

This article registers two types of musical past in Sri Lanka that constitute vital problems for the ethnography and historiography of the island today. The first is the persistence of vernacularmusic histories, which demarcate Sri Lankan identities according to regional cultural differences.1 The second type of musical past is a nostalgia for a time before the island’s civil war (1983-2009) when several domains of musical practice were multiethnic. Such communal-musical interactions continue to this day, but in attenuated form (I have space here only to discuss the vernacular past, but as we will see, both domains overlap).2 

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