CEMS Seminar Series 2023

CEMS Seminar Series 2023

by Centre for Early Modern Studies

Dr Katherine Butler Schofield (King’s College London) will present CEMS final seminar for 2023 on 31 October. The title of Katherine’s presentation, “Scattering Shahjahanabad: Indian Musicians’ Lives in a Time of Crisis 1739-88” will be available on CEMS You Tube channel after the lecture.

Presentation Overview

After more than a decade of political insecurity in Mughal India, the relative stability of the first twenty years of emperor Muhammad Shah’s reign (r. 1720–48) ushered in a significant revival of the arts at the imperial Mughal court in Delhi, Shahjahanabad. Right at the centre of this vibrant milieu was the emperor’s singing teacher and master of the imperial musicians, Anjha Baras Khan. But posterity has forgotten him. Instead, it is his rivals Ni‘mat Khan “Sadarang” and Firoz Khan “Adarang” whom we remember today as the greatest Indian classical musicians of the eighteenth century. Why?

This musical rivalry played out against the geopolitical backdrop of a much more tumultuous drama: what eyewitnesses called the “scattering of Shahjahanabad”. Delhi was repeatedly invaded, sacked, and occupied 1739–61, and Mughal court musicians were forced to flee to the four corners of India, where they had to seek new patrons and employ novel strategies to survive. What happened to Delhi’s musicians during this time of crisis is copiously documented in a biographical genre new to Indian musical literature at this time: the commemorative compendium of “lives”, or tazkira. In this talk, I will be looking at musicians’ biographies and genealogies in Persian, Urdu and classical Hindi as both a product of this era’s upheaval, dispersal, diversification, innovation, and anxieties; and as a record of these things. Both views give us unusual access to the history of elite artisans on the move in late Mughal India.