The harmonium is both widely played and widely condemned in India. During the Indian independence movement, both British and Indian scholars condemned the harmonium for embodying an unwelcome foreign musical sensibility. It was consequently banned from All-India Radio from 1940 to 1971, and still is only provisionally accepted on the national airwaves. The debate over the harmonium hinged on putative sonic differences between India and the modern West, which were posited not by performers, but by a group of scholars, composers, and administrators, both British and Indian. The attempt to banish the sound of the harmonium was part of an attempt to define a national sound for India, distinct from the West. Its continued use in education served a somewhat different national project: to standardize Indian music practice. This paper examines the intertwined aesthetic and political ideals that underlie the harmonium controversy.

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