Curious cultural interchange: Indian devotional music in Bristol

Published in The Wire, April 2019 edition (#423). Copyright is with the magazine – extract below. Buy a copy of this excellent publication!




Housed in a barely-converted Christian church, Bristol’s Hindu Temple typifies the city’s reputation for complex cultural interchange. Sandwiched between a chicken shop and a taekwondo academy, it was established in 1979 to serve the fast-growing local South Asian population, many of whom had arrived in England only a few years earlier. Most were ‘twice migrants’ – Indian communities that had first settled (or been resettled) in East Africa under British colonial rule before being forced to flee the ethno-nationalism of independence leaders such as Idi Amin.


The temple’s website embodies its open, celebratory attitude: “Hinduism is often described as a religion of fasts, feasts and festivals – come and see for yourself.” It hosts a regular schedule of events, from dances and daily prayers to sprawling multi-day ceremonies. Traditional Indian music abounds there – on entering the temple worshippers alert the gods to their presence by ringing large brass bells, and rituals often focus on the chanting of mantras or singing of bhajans, devotional songs with lyrics depicting saintly teachings and ancient epics.


How does the music help India’s Bristolian diaspora reconnect with their heritage?…


(full version available on request)


George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.

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Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!


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