Sunday, December 23, 2012

Did Aurangzeb ban Music?

An 18th-century miniature in gouache and gold leaf of Aurangzeb seated on a throne  Photo: Bridgeman Art Library 

The sixth and last great Mughal emperor Aurangzeb banned music in the tenth year of his reign, i.e. 1668, even though he personally enjoyed it.

The contemporary Italian historian Niccolao Manucci writes about Aurangzeb's order to an official to stop all music: "If in any house or elsewhere he heard the sound of singing and instruments, he should forthwith hasten there and arrest as many as he could, breaking the instruments. Thus was caused a great destruction of musical instruments. Finding themselves in this difficulty, their large earnings likely to cease, without there being any other mode of seeking a livelihood, the musicians took counsel together and tried to appease the king in the following way. About one thousand of them assembled on a Friday when Aurangzeb was going to the mosque. They came out with more than 20 highly ornamented biers, as is the custom of the country, crying aloud with great grief and many signs of feeling, as if they were escorting to the grave the body of some distinguished person."

To this incident, Aurangzeb is recorded to have said, "Bury [music] so deep under the earth that no sound or echo of it may rise again.”

However, in spite of this, Manucci writes, the Mughal nobles continued to listen to music in secret. He also writes that Aurangzeb did not ban music for the ladies in the harem for their entertainment.

Khushal Khan, the great-grandson of legendary musician Tansen, was given the title of Gun Samundar by Aurangzeb. During his reign, Fakirullah (Saif Khan) wrote  the Rag-darpan (The Mirror of Music) to dedicate it to Aurangzeb. The work is a translation of Man-Kauthal, written at the court of Raja Man Singh of Gwalior.

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