Cultural Heritage Transformations of Weddings and Marriage among Women in the Tamil and Parsi diaspora communities in India and the UK

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Drama


The network project will examine the effects of migration and diaspora on transformations of tangible and intangible cultural heritage in diaspora communities in India and the UK, and the effects this has on the homeland of origin in India. Weddings and marriage are a significant driver of migration for women, and we will focus on women in the Tamil and Parsi diasporas in Bengaluru, Mumbai, and London to examine contrasting examples of cultural heritage transformations in different communities due to both internal and external migration. Through this, we will explore what is gained, lost, exchanged and preserved in the diaspora, and how this affects the homeland in India, as well as questioning the tensions between preservation and adaptation of cultural heritage. Women are seen as bearers and preservers of cultural heritage objects and traditions, however pressures of different cultures, economics, marrying outside the community, changes in fashion, and intergenerational conflict can lead to changes to cultural heritage in the new home of the diaspora. This may create contestation over the diaspora wanting to preserve heritage as it was when they brought it with them, and the process of transformation through fitting into the new place of home. The project will conduct fieldwork in India and the UK to examine these tensions and transformations, including conducting interviews with women in the diaspora. We will also explore the economic benefit of the wedding industry in the diasporas to the homeland of India. This industry is part of globalisation and neoliberalism, and is bringing increased wealth to India through the NRI communities wanting to have a large-scale, lavish Indian wedding. Indian wedding fairs are increasingly popular in both India and the UK, and the related tourism of travel to India to buy wedding goods, and attend weddings, has led to increased economic benefit. The effects of digital technology, the internet, and social media have a major impact on the transformations of cultural heritage in the diaspora, but also act as a connector with the home, and a means of influence for changing practices at a global level.

The project will bring together a team of interdisciplinary and international scholars to share research, and exchange knowledge and methodologies. This will create a multi-perspectival approach with academics in India and the UK from disciplines including archaeology, history, cultural studies, performance and ritual studies, social anthropology, and gender studies. We will meet as a team for two workshops in Bengaluru for core network discussions, including holding a public symposium. We will also share and exchange relevant literature though a scoping exercise, which will identify gaps of literature in the other country, to then approach publishers and booksellers to address this gap. In addition to the academic team, we will engage with cultural heritage institutions with curators from the DakshinaChitra museum in Tamil Nadu, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter, UK, being part of the workshop discussions. Through this, we will explore how museums display and represent cultural heritage relating to weddings in both India and the diaspora, and develop new creative methodologies for the museums to engage visitors with their collections. We will show the project exhibition in both museums, and hold community engagement workshops with women from local Indian communities to engage them with the objects in the museum, and issues of migration and transformation in cultural heritage.

Outputs from the project include a journal article, symposium, and literature review. There are a number of public outputs including the website, which will include extracts from the interviews, and the exhibition, which will include replicas of Tamil wedding jewellery from the RAMM collection made by jewellery craftspeople in India, and a policy document regarding abandoned women in the diaspora.

Planned Impact

The network project aims to create a range of forms of economic and societal impact in India which will benefit a number of different groups and communities within India, and Indian diasporas.

The focus on women in the project will give a voice to women in the domestic sphere who will be able to tell their story and express their own feelings in response to their experience of migration and living in a diaspora, and the effects this has on transformation of cultural heritage. This will provide them with a greater sense of reflection on their position and identity within their community and society, and enable a stronger sense of agency through feeling that their story and voice is important. Within Bengaluru, we will consult with Vimochana who have conducted research in the district of Ulsoor which has a high migrant population, and where Tamil women who have migrated due to marriage have experienced high levels of domestic violence. The project will also consider the part that cultural inheritance in the form of dowry plays in instigating this abuse. This will lead to greater awareness of the work of Vimochana, and contribute to a policy document produced by the project focusing on women who have been abandoned or divorced in the diaspora, and the precarious place this leaves them in. The suggestions in the policy document will benefit the women through highlighting their plight to government institutions in India. UNESCO has recognised the Parsi community as being endangered through dwindling numbers, so the research will benefit this community through documenting cultural heritage objects and practices which are dying out. The women who attend the cultural engagement workshops in museums in Tamil Nadu and Exeter will benefit through being encouraged to reflect on their cultural heritage and community identity.

Craftspeople in India will benefit through jewellery makers in Moradabad, UP, being commissioned to produce replicas of Tamil wedding jewellery items held at the RAMM in the UK. This will provide immediate economic benefit to them, and the project also aims to test the potential commercialisation of this through selling the jewellery, which would create greater economic benefit for the makers and their community, and increase knowledge of their practices. Designer Ashdeen Lilaowala will benefit through increased global knowledge of his Parsi gara saris through the project's symposium, website, and exhibition.

Third sector cultural heritage institutions of museums will benefit from the transnational dialogue and sharing of practices between the two partner organisation museums on the project. These dialogues will address ideological and practical ways of displaying cultural heritage items, and how to engage local communities with the collections. DakshinaChitra museum in Tamil Nadu will benefit from hosting the project's exhibition leading to increased visitors, and from holding the community workshop to engage directly with local Tamil women to reflect and discuss transformations in their cultural heritage due to migration. They will also be given a set of replica jewellery for their collections as a form of repatriation of the jewellery to the homeland of Tamil Nadu, thus adding materially to their collection of cultural heritage objects. The RAMM in Exeter will benefit from hosting the exhibition and the community engagement workshop. The RAMM has been developing relationships with the local South Asian communities over the past five years, so this project will benefit this. The transnational dialogue, and replicas of items being produced in India, will contribute to ongoing discussions of 'decolonising' the museum, which is a major concern for the RAMM. The two project PIs will also meet with Richard Blurton, curator of the South Asia gallery at the British Museum, to discuss these issues with him, which will further enhance the dialogue about migration of cultural heritage between India and the diaspora.


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Description The interdisciplinary workshop discussion sessions held by the network have been very beneficial in drawing together a range of ideas and theories related to the topic of the project. This has led to transnational as well as transdisciplinary re-thinking of terminology such as 'diaspora', as well as a sharing of literature and knowledge that has developed more complex research than originally planned. We are now going to develop this research into an edited book to create an academic output that will allow for this complexity and richness.

However, the research project and outputs have been significantly affected by Covid-19. We have not been able to undertake fieldwork, network meetings in India, or engagement work with partner organsiations in India. However we now have a no-cost extension to the grant, and fully intend to undertake this work as soon as possible to comply with the ODA requirements and create benefit to women and crafspeople in India, as outline in our proposal.
Exploitation Route The outcomes may be beneficial for scholars in a range of disciplines and countries. We aim to expand the research to other global communities, and use our findings as the foundation for future research in these contexts.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description We have been working with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum to research the histories of some of their donors. This work has been beneficial for the museum who did not have this information, and is making their collections more accessible. We hope to have a public engagement workshop on this once it is safe to do so due to Covid-19. We have worked with the UNESCO organsation Parzor to help digitise some of their audio recordings of songs by an endangered community, leading to the better preservation of these recordings. The project has been severely affected by Covid-19, so our research, impact, and outputs have been delayed. As we have an extension to the project, we aim to fulfil the objectives, particularly the ODA requirements, as soon as we're able.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Parzor Foundation (UNESCO) 
Organisation United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Department Parzor Foundation
Country France 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have digitised audio recordings made by Parzor of songs by the endangered Parsi community that would otherwise have been lost. We have promoted the organisations work through the public symposium and website. This has benefited the endangered community in India, an ODA country.
Collaborator Contribution We have used research undertaken by the Parzor Foundation as part of the research for the network project.
Impact Digitisation of audio recordings. Promoting of work in symposium and website. This has benefitted the Parsi community which is endangered in India, an ODA country.
Start Year 2020
Description Engagement work with RAMM, Exeter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We researched the list of donors of Indian jewellery to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, UK. The RAMM only had a list of names, with no other details. We conducted research to discover who they were, and their transnational connections with India and Devon. We focused in particular on the two women on the list. This has created new knowledge for the RAMM about their donors, and furthered research into transnational links of India and Devon.

Other planned engagement activities with organisations in India, an ODA country which would benefit the women, have had to be postponed due to Covid-19. We now have an extension to the grant to intend to undertake these activities as soon as possible.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021