The Maestro: Remembering Khushhal Khan 'Gunasamudra' in Eighteenth-Century Delhi

Research output: Other contribution


Perhaps the most famous anecdote of the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (r.1658–1707) concerns his “burial of music”, a parodic funeral procession put on by devastated court musicians in protest at the Emperor having banned music in 1668. In legend, the leader of this procession was Khushhal Khan “Gunasamudra”, the “Ocean of Virtue”. Khushhal Khan was one of the most feted court musicians of his time. Great-grand-son of the most famous Mughal musician of them all, Tansen, and chief musician to the emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1627–58), he was written about extensively in his lifetime as a virtuoso classical singer of exceptional merit and serious character.

Yet this was not how he was memorialised a hundred years later, when legends of the great Mughal musicians of the past and present began to be written down in Persian biographical collections for the first time. Rather he was remembered as the unprincipled protagonist in a shocking scandal that supernaturally sealed Shah Jahan’s fate:— to be overthrown by his son Aurangzeb. In this talk I will retell the story of Khushhal Khan from the vantage point of the 1750s looking back over the canonical Mughal writings on music of Shah Jahan’s and Aurangzeb’s reigns. In doing so I wish to consider what they tell us about the role and power of music at the Mughal court at the empire’s height, before everything began to unravel.

This is the public podcast of the lecture I gave on 12 March 2018 at the British Library, as part of my British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, 'Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing on Music in Late Mughal India".
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputBritish Library Podcasts on Soundcloud
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2018


  • Indian music
  • Mughal India
  • Indian history
  • ethnomusicology


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