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Hindustani Music under Mughal Patronage

Research output: Other contribution

Original languageEnglish
TypeLive streamed lecture
Media of outputYoutube
Published15 Nov 2020

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Abstract

This lecture theorizes the place of Hindustani music in Mughal thought and social life, roughly from the last decades of Akbar’s reign (from 1593) until the death of Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir (1707). Mughal understandings of the human being, and thus of the social and political worlds, were dominated by two parallel binaries deriving from the Persianate discourse on ethics and proper governance: 1) the inner struggle between reason and the emotions anger and desire; and 2) the outer struggle between duty and pleasure. For virtue to prevail, reason and duty must ultimately master desire and pleasure. This mastery had to be displayed to the world if it were to be deemed a virtue at all. Hindustani music was understood in Mughal writings as the sonic vehicle of the emotions joy, love, and longing, all of which belonged to the domain of desire. Musical patronage and connoisseurship therefore became a major social and political arena in which the inner struggle to place desire under rational control could be outwardly manifested. Patronage and connoisseurship of music, recited poetry, dance, youthful beauty, and other evanescent phenomena were the core practices of the domain of pleasure in the Mughal world, conducted largely within the intimate social institution of the majlis or mahfil (assembly). While listening to music in the majlis could be dangerous to the Mughal man because of its exploration of desire, at the same time music was indispensable to Mughal courtiers because of its use value in fortifying the primary Mughal virtue of male-to-male affection, and as a cure for physical and mental disease.

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