Seminar: The Scattering of Shahjahanabad – Indian Musicians’ Lives in a Time of Crisis, 1739-88

Tuesday 31 October 2023
6:30 pm (AEDST) online only
ANU Centre for Early Modern Studies

Dr Katherine Butler Schofield
Senior Lecturer, King’s College London

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.

Dr Katherine Butler Schofield is a historian of music and listening in Mughal India and the paracolonial Indian Ocean. Working with Persian, Urdu, and visual sources for elite musical culture in North India and the Deccan c.1570–1860, Katherine’s research interests lie in South Asian music, visual art, and cinema; the history of Mughal India; Islam and Sufism; empire and the paracolonial; musicians at risk; and the intersecting histories of the emotions, the senses, aesthetics, ethics, and the supernatural. She has been Principal Investigator of a European Research Council Starting Grant (2011–15/16) and a British Academy Mid-Career Fellow (2018). Her books include Music and Musicians in Late Mughal India: Histories of the Ephemeral, 1748–1858 (CUP, 2023), Tellings and Texts: Music, Literature, and Performance in North India, with Francesca Orsini (Open Book, 2015), and Monsoon Feelings: a History of Emotions in the Rain, with Imke Rajamani and Margrit Pernau (Niyogi, 2018).

Katherine trained as a viola player before embarking on postgraduate studies in Indian music history at SOAS University of London. She came to King’s in 2009 after a research fellowship at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and a lectureship at Leeds. She was formerly known as Katherine Butler Brown.