Accepted Paper:

Rajput self-Fashioning: sub-imperial aesthetics in the eighteenth century  


Richard David Williams (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers eighteenth-century works on music and the arts written in Brajbhasha, and explores how they articulated politically-resonant forms of cultural prestige.

Paper long abstract:

When the ruler of a small eighteenth-century kingdom was being assaulted and pillaged by multiple armies - Rajputs, Marathas, Mughals, and Afghans - why would he invest his resources in ensuring that he was seen as a master of the arts, a connoisseur of music, and the ideal lover?

For a long time the eighteenth century was characterised as a period of political collapse and cultural efflorescence. This was no coincidence, according to the prevalent historiography, but rather the product of two main factors: the destabilisation of the Mughal Empire led to the rise of large successor courts that took in large numbers of refugee artists and musicians, and the ascendant rulers of these courts were neglectful of their responsibilities and decadently invested themselves in recreational arts. Following new social and cultural histories that have undermined these assumptions, this paper considers the widespread production of intellectual works relating to music and aesthetics in Brajbhasha in the eighteenth century. While major centres like Lucknow and Murshidabad were significant, many smaller courts also patronised important works and together represent a more complicated landscape of cultural production. For these patrons, intellectual investments in the arts were evidently not "recreational" as understood in colonial and post-colonial terms, but conveyed fundamentally political resonances. This paper considers how we might characterise these new literary and artistic productions, giving due acknowledgement to the violence and political upheaval behind their patronage, but without crudely reducing them to the tools of propaganda or legitimation.

Panel P24
Secular knowledge systems in early modern literary cultures