The Orpheus of Delhi: The Maestro Khushhal Khan and the Mughal War of Succession, 1657-8

Research output: Other contribution


What was the connection between the power of Indian music and the Mughal emperor’s sovereign power? And why is there a picture of Orpheus above the Mughal throne in Delhi?

Perhaps the most famous anecdote of the reign of 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” (fl. 1630s–70s), 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 singer of exceptional merit and serious character.

Yet this was not how he was memorialised a hundred years later in 1753, when nobleman Inayat Khan “Rasikh” put the legends of the great Mughal musicians of the past into a biographical collection for the first time. Rather, Khushhal was remembered as the protagonist in a shocking scandal that supernaturally sealed Shah Jahan’s fate:— to be overthrown by his son Aurangzeb in the Mughal War of Succession, 1657–8. In this podcast I retell this story from Khushhal Khan’s life from the vantage point of the 1750s looking back over the canonical Mughal writings on music of Shah Jahan’s and Aurangzeb’s reigns. And I reveal what all this tells us about the power and importance of music at the Mughal court, before everything began to unravel.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputSoundcloud
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2018


  • ethnmusicology
  • Mughal India
  • Mughal history
  • Indian history
  • Indian music


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