The Rivals: Anjha Baras Khan, Adarang, and What Happened to Muhammad Shah's Court Musicians

Research output: Other contribution


Anjha Baras Khan (d. 1760s) was the last of Tansen’s direct line to inherit the position of chief musician to the Mughal emperors—in this case, Muhammad Shah “Rangila” (r. 1720–48). After more than a decade of political insecurity, the relative stability of the first twenty years of Muhammad Shah’s reign ushered in a significant revival of the arts at the Mughal court. Right at the centre of this vibrant milieu was the emperor’s singing teacher and master of the imperial atelier, Anjha Baras, the “Tansen of his Age”. But the jostling for supremacy between Mughal princes c.1690–1720 had also raised up a usurper musical dynasty headed by the great Ni‘amat Khan “Sadarang” (d. 1747), and his nephew, Firoz Khan “Adarang” (d. 1760s). It is not Anjha Baras, but Sadarang and Adarang who are remembered today as the greatest musicians of the century.

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 that played out c. 1739–1803: the dispersal of Mughal court musicians all over India and their survival strategies as the capital was repeatedly invaded, sacked, and occupied. What happened to Delhi’s musicians throughout this period, and the music they carried with them, is copiously documented in a genre new to writing on music at this time: the biographical compendium or tazkira. In this lecture, I will be looking at musicians’ biographies and genealogies 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.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputBritish Library Podcasts on Soundcloud
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2018


  • ethnomusicology
  • Mughal India
  • Indian history
  • Indian music


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