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Musicians, Tazkiras, and the Scattering of Mughal Delhi: where music went after Muhammad Shah

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Jamshed, who invented the wineglass—what happened to him? Where did those gatherings go? Where, that music and drinking? - Mir Taqi Mir (1723–1810) After more than a decade of political insecurity at the Mughal court, the relative stability of the first twenty years of emperor Muhammad Shah’s reign (1719–48) ushered in a significant revival of the arts. But the jostling for supremacy had also raised up a usurper musical dynasty headed by the great Ni‘amat Khan ‘Sadarang’ and his nephew, Firoz Khan ‘Adarang’. Already all the seeds of my story are sown here: political upheaval, leading to social diversification, leading to stylistic innovation. For the musical rivalry at Muhammad Shah’s court was just the harbinger of a more tumultuous drama. What happened to Delhi’s musicians is documented in a genre new to writing on music at this time: the biographical compendium or tazkira. I will be looking at musicians’ biographies (1739–1847) as both a product of upheaval, dispersal, diversification, and innovation; 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 and early colonial India.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Humanities Society talks series.

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