The Epical Subalterns

18 November 2019, 12:30 - 14:00

CRASSH Meeting Room, CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT

"The work in progress seminars were varied, stimulating and of  high intellectual calibre."
Susanne Hakenbeck (Archaeology), Early Career Fellow, Lent 2017


Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work in Progress Seminar Series. All welcome but please email Michelle Maciejewska to book your place and to request readings. A sandwich lunch and refreshments are provided.


Dr Brahma Prakash


When Indian elites were celebrating freedom at midnight with Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny, a poor farmer from a village in Bihar was witnessing something more amazing. He ‘literally’ saw the sun of the empire setting down and the flag of the nation (Tiranga) flying on the moon. The empire on which sun never sets was too real for him to be more than real. The epics and stories of the subaltern communities in India are full of such imaginative realities.  While the communities remain oppressed in the caste-feudal and colonial structure, their epics and narratives often tell their (moral) conquest over the caste-feudal and colonial values.  They are still performed, appropriated and re-created to serve contemporary politics which make them ideological powerful and a major site of contestations in India and SouthAsia. Their stories often have no connection with the historical realities, but they play vital roles in their everyday struggles. I call them ‘epical subalterns’, the dormant social agents whose meaning of life, struggles to live in and the potency to resist the injustices can be located in the epical formations of the subjects and events. 

The Epical Subalterns try to understand the imaginative and performative practices of the subaltern communities in relation to their everyday lives and struggles in the north Indian state of Bihar.  It will particularly analyze the epics and narratives that situate the self and imagination of the subaltern communities at the centre. Epic emerges as an important analytical category to address the aesthetico-political dimension of the performance. 

Dr Brahma Prakash is Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, India. He is the author of Cultural Labour: Conceptualising the ‘Folk Performance’ in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019). He earned his BA from JNU, MA from National Central University, Taiwan and PhD from University of London, UK. His research intersects theatre and performance studies, ritual, festival and protest studies in relation to the questions of marginality, aesthetics and cultural justice. He teaches courses on Living Traditions of Indian Performing Arts, Regional Theatre and Performance TraditionsNon-Western Aesthetic Theories and specializes in the folk culture and performance traditions of North and Eastern parts of India.

 Prakash is the receipt of the Dwight Conquergood Award of the Performance Studies International (PSi) and is currently working on the imaginative practices of the subaltern communities in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. His articles appeared in Asian Theatre JournalTheatre Research International and several edited volumes. His columns on culture and politics frequently appear in the Wire and other newspapers and platforms.