Masāne kī horī: Singing life in the cremation ground

  • Erika Caranti University of Tübingen


Named after the Hindu spring festival of Holī, horī songs generally portray the frolicsome play of the day with the throwing of coloured powders by Kṛṣṇa as the main protagonist pranking Rādhā and the gopī-s in Braj. The horī analysed in the present paper shows idiosyncrasies unveiling religious, theological, and ritual significance, besides offering precious insights into a ‘living tradition’: the celebration of Holī in the city of Banaras, at the cremation ground in Maṇikarṇikā ghāṭ where śaiva devotees enact and ‘actualise’ the horī. The song depicts Śiva playing Holī in the cremation ground with his retinue of ghostly creatures that are his favourite companions along with Aghorī-s. In place of colours, Śiva tosses the ashes from funeral pyres. In his divine dance and drumming, Mahādev uses the poisonous snakes adorning him as water-guns to squirt venom instead of gulāl. The atypical choice of Śiva in one of his fearful manifestations as the subject of a horī is discussed through references to philosophical and theological interpretations and specific symbolism. The apparent contradiction of the celebration of a lively festival in the setting of the cremation ground, resolved in the divine character of Śiva, is illustrated and contextualised starting from textual analysis.


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Author Biography

Erika Caranti, University of Tübingen

Humanities at the University of Turin.

She completed her PhD summa cum laude in Indology in 2022, at the University of Tübingen, with a dissertation titled Interlocking dimensions in Hindustani music: texts of caitī, kajrī, and jhūlā.

Her field of interest covers Hindustani music, sound cultures of the Indian subcontinent, orality and aural texts, folk culture, performative and ‘living traditions’ in India.

She is currently part of the interdisciplinary project Sacred Sound–Musical manifestations of the sacred between theory and practice at the University of Tübingen

She can be reached at