SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Rethinking Nawabi Decadence: Elite Musical Sensibilities in Colonial India

Richard Williams (KCL)

Date: 18 February 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 18 February 2014Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B104

Type of Event: Seminar

Nineteenth-century British commentaries on theNawabs of northern India frequently drew a connection between their luxuriant pastimes and their misconduct as rulers. In particular, undue interest in music and dance became symptomatic of the decadent despot typology. This paper considers the rhetoric of decadence and its relationship to the historiography of ‘Muslim decline’, using the example of Wajid ‘Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Lucknow (1822-87). Remembered to this day both as a failed ruler and musical connoisseur, Wajid ‘Ali Shah came under criticism for neglecting the affairs of state in order to dedicate himself completely to performing (rather than simply patronising) music. Such criticisms have not only coloured how he is remembered to date, but have also been brought to bear on the larger field of cultural history, rendering certain musical genres and practices ‘decadent’ by association. By examining the Nawab’s own works of autobiography and musical theory in Urdu and Persian, and reconstructing the performance culture of his courts in Lucknow and Calcutta, this paper will suggest that late Mughal perspectives on musical sensibilities were more nuanced and variegated than the received historiography of decadence would suggest.

Organiser: Dr Roy Fischel and Dr Shabnum Tejani