SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Sound, Text, and Image in South Asian Arts

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

This module considers a combination of different artistic and performance practices in order to appreciate the underlying aesthetic systems cultivated by musicians, visual artists, and poets during the Mughal Empire (1526-1857). While miniature painting, musical genres, and literary traditions in different languages are usually studied separately, they were produced and consumed in the same courtly settings, and motifs and styles from one medium would directly influence those in another. The module will first introduce how artists and intellectuals understood aesthetics in the early modern period, examining the conversant frameworks of poetics, musical metaphysics, erotics, and Indo-Persian understandings of affect. We will then look at performance genres, the significance of different musical instruments and styles, and the different social settings for elite art music. Exploring these settings further, we will consider the place of the arts in ethical and comportment literature, and the intersections of music, gender, and social status.

The second half of the module looks at the creative arts in specific contexts, including Rajput courts, aristocratic music parties, courtesans’ salons, and gatherings of urban poets. In these contexts, we will ask, how does performance transform the reception of a text? How did audiences pursue the status of connoisseur? How did paintings change the way people heard music? How might a physical gesture layer new meanings over a line of recited poetry? We will also hold one session backstage in the British Museum, in order to consider how the experience of music and poetry was captured through paintings and material objects. Finally, given contemporary controversies over how Mughal history is remembered and taught in South Asia today, we will consider the representation of these creative arts in contemporary cinema and theatre of India and Pakistan.


  • This module is capped at 20 places.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of a range of musical and artistic styles developed under the Mughal Empire.
  • Understand a range of early-modern literary genres, and consider how texts are changed and are understood differently in performance.
  • Develop perspectives on the role of gender, class, and politics in the creative arts.
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of the (academic and popular) historiography of the Mughal Empire.
  • Develop, articulate and justify scholarly positions using relevant and correct terminology
  • Understand theoretical approaches to intermedial aesthetics and synaesthesia.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 1,500 word essay (worth 25%)
  • One 3,000 word essay (worth 75%)

Suggested reading

  • Wade, B. C. (1998). Imaging sound: An ethnomusicological study of music, art, and culture in Mughal India. University of Chicago Press
  • Behl, A. (2016). Love's Subtle Magic: An Indian Islamic Literary Tradition, 1379-1545. Oxford University Press.
  • Bor, J. (2010). Hindustani music: Thirteenth to twentieth centuries. Manohar.
  • Miner, A. (2004). Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries (Vol. 7). Motilal Banarsidass Publ..
  • Orsini, F., & Schofield, K. B. (Eds.). (2015). Tellings and Texts: Music, Literature and Performance in North India. Open Book Publishers.
  • Orsini, F. (2006). Love in South Asia: A cultural history (Vol. 62). Cambridge University Press.
  • Aitken, M. E. (2010). The Intelligence of Tradition in Rajput Court Painting. Yale University Press.
  • Busch, A. (2011). Poetry of kings: The classical Hindi literature of Mughal India. Oxford University Press.
  • Du Perron, L. (2007). Hindi poetry in a musical genre: Thumri lyrics. Routledge.
  • Pollock, S. (2016). A Rasa Reader: Classical Indian Aesthetics. Columbia University Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules