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IV. Musical Knowledge and Aesthetics

14. Raga in the Early Sixteenth Century

Allyn Miner

In 2007 Aditya Behl drew my attention to a passage in the Mirigāvatī, composed in 1503, describing a magical courtly concert. He was organising a series of mini conferences on the sixteenth century at the time and invited me to prepare a presentation on music. The passage caught my attention at once because it was so detailed. Also, the author Qutbans patron was Shah Husain Sharqi of Jaunpur, who is credited with the origin of khayal, the classical North Indian music genre. Soon I was searching for the sources from which Qutban must have drawn, and I was swept into the world of ragas and raginis, ragadhyana visualisations and ragamala paintings. These articulations of formal musical melodies in different media were just beginning to circulate across North India in the early sixteenth century, and their complicated paths stretch before and after the period in Sanskrit, Persian, and vernacular texts. As I began to see different ways in which texts presented the idea of raga, the project became a search for the idea itself: that is, how did raga resonate in this period and at what levels did it work?

This paper is the fourth reworking of the presentation I gave at Penn in 2007.1 Each has involved rethinking a complicated set of issues, sources, and contexts. In this version, I begin by sorting out the concepts raga, ragamala, and ragadhyana, then trace the treatment of raga in several texts directed to different audiences for different purposes. The paper deals not with music but with the evocation of it, and explores how the idea of melody functioned to carry a layered set of meanings. I think with love of Aditya Behl. Grateful for his warm encouragement, I begin with excerpts of his translation from The Magic Doe:

The prince gave out pān and dismissed the assembly,
but chose a few companions to be by his side…

The instruments sounded, all in rhythm.
and played the six complete rāgas.
Their thirty wives, the rāgiṇīs [bhārjā],
were sung, five by five, after each rāga.
First they sounded a single note,
then began to play Rāga Bhairava.
They sang Madhumādhavī and Sindhurā,
then beat time to Baṅgālī and Bairāṭī.
After that they sang Guṇakalī complete.
These are the wives of Bhairava…

In the sixth place they set Raga Śrī
and sang the high notes pure and clear.
Then they sang Hemakalī and Malārī, followed by Gujarī and Bhimpalāsī.
These are the wives of Rāga Śrī. I have told them well, recognizing the rāga

Then the dancers came in, dressed in short saris.
They put on many airs and graces…
The whole assembly saw them and was entranced.
Passionate desire seized their minds and bodies.
The dancers salaamed the prince, sought his permission.
The prince ordered them to begin the performance.
The singers sang intensely, and they were accompanied by spirited dances.
The māṇṭha, the dhruvā, the ring-dance, and the paribandha—these were the songs, those the melodies.
They danced to all the different rhythms, usages, songs, and melodies that existed.
King Indra came to watch the occasion in amazement, accompanied by all the gods.2

Raga, Ragamala, and Ragadhyana

Qutbans raga-ragini list (or as he calls raginis, wives [bhārjā]) appears early in the history of the ragamala phenomenon in North India. Ragas as performed melodies, raga-raginis as lists, ragadhyana visualisations, and ragamala paintings all appear in overlapping contexts in the sixteenth century. Using Qutbans list as a focus, in this chapter I will briefly sort out these practices and propose that ragas functioned in three distinct but interlocking spheres: as objects of general aesthetic appreciation; as objects of music-technical specialisation; and as tools of devotional or magical practice.

Ragas are defined in texts and in practice by two types of attributes: musical principles of notes and scale; and associations of emotion, season, and the like. A description of Raga Madhyamādi in the Saṅgītaratnākara:

It arises from the scale types gāndhāri, madhyama and pañcami, uses the note kākali; has madhyama as its final note, low ṣaḍja as its fundamental and initial note, and sauvīrī as its mūrchhanā. Madhyamagrāma intervals are employed in evoking mirth and conjugal love; it is sung in the first quarter of the day in summer for the propitiation of Lord Siva.3

The idea of ragas as gendered entities is thought to have an early source in the feminine subcategory bhasha (bhāṣā, Sanskrit. “local language”), but it was in the fourteenth century that music theory texts first portrayed ragas as visualised and gendered. The Saṅgītopaniṣatsāroddhāra, a text from Gujarat written about 1350 by the Jain author Sudhakalasa is the earliest in which we find visualisations for male and female ragas. It contains a scheme of six male ragas and thirty-six females called bhashas, all described in the style of deities visualised for worship:

Śrīrāga has a fair complexion. He has eight hands and four faces. He carries a snare, a lotus, a book, a goad, and the fruit of a citron tree. In two of his hands is a vīṇā, and one hand grants beneficence. He is known for having a swan as his vehicle. He is like a form of Brahma.

Gauḍi bhāṣā wears yellow clothing. She has fair limbs and has an elephant as her vehicle. Kolāhalā wears a red garment, is fair, and has a parrot as her vehicle.4

While technical details relating to other topics, especially drumming, are significant in this text and may record contemporaneous practices, the text lacks music-technical definitions of ragas. Was the writer more interested in the imaginative idea or perhaps the spiritual efficacy of raga over its music-technical details? This idea will be expanded below.

Sudhakalasas type of raga visualisation must have attracted the attention of a wide cross-section of patrons, since poetic and painted portrayals of music and ragas spread quickly across North India over the next century. Maharana Kumbha of Chitrakut, Mewar, includes a similar set in his massive compendium, the Saṅgītarāja, written in 1456. The two lists of visualisations are not identical but seem to have shared an earlier source.5 The Saṅgītarāja, unlike Sudhakalasas text, details each raga’s musical characteristics as well as a visualisation. The section is more than 200 pages long and includes for each raga details of scale, tones, structure, and notation:

Śrī rāga is from the ṣaḍja grāma and the ṣāḍjika jāti. is its nyāsa, aṃśa, and graha [and it is performed] in the high and middle registers. Pa is less used in the lower register. According to some, it uses only five tones. It is sung in vīra rasa in the rainy season.

Some describe him as fair colored, with eight arms and four faces,
holding a lotus, a noose, a hook, a citron fruit and a book;
playing with the sixth hand and holding the vīṇā securely in two;
Like Brahma himself, smiling.
Sā Sā Sā rī Rī Ga Rī sā Nī Sā Nī Dhā Pā Mā Gā Mā Rī Sā Nī Ni Sā Rī |
Pā Pā Mā Rī Sā Ni Nī Sā Ga Rī Sā Sā Sā Sālāpa ukto nṛpeṇa ||6

Maharana Kumbha would have been interested in creating a thoroughly impressive text as a part of his project of building the reputation of the Mewar state, but he is credited with two other works on music, and his elaboration of material in the Saṅgītarāja indicates that he was indeed a specialist. His interests were in the technicalities as well as the generalised aesthetic appeal of ragas.

Within a few decades raga-ragini lists with dhyana visualisations of a literary-heroic character appeared in several Sanskrit and vernacular texts. The Saṅgītadāmodara of Shubhankara is thought to have been written in Bengal in the late sixteenth century,7 but more clearly dateable texts are the Rāgamālā by Pundarika Vitthala, a South Indian who moved north and wrote in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, and the Rāgamālā by Ksemakarna of Rewa, some one hundred and fifty miles south of Jaunpur, dated to 1570.8 The seventeeth-century Saṅgītadarpaṅa of Damodara Mishra contains ragamala sets of three “opinions” (mata) and its Hanuman mata scheme is widely found in later paintings and texts.

The pleasure that these verses illustrating ragas (ragadhyana) provided is thus attested by their quick spread across North India. The Saṅgītadāmodara exemplifies the Sanskrit ragadhyana tradition and its verses circulated widely:

He is shining brightly, his lotus-like face having been kissed by a wide-hipped beauty. Wearing bracelets and a garland, feeling in a mood of desire he enters the music room in the evening, he is Mālava, the king of rāgas.9

Verses from the Saṅgītadarpaṇa also travelled across North India:

Eighteen years old with a body as beautiful as the god of love, wearing sparkling earrings.
Śrīrāga is in the service of the seven notes, wearing red clothes, the image of a king.10

Red-complexioned, a manly figure, holding a shining white staff, he is returning from battle against other great warriors.
He wears a garland of the heads of his enemies around his neck.Much honoured, this is Mālavakośika.11

Rāginī Khambāvatī is a giver of pleasure. She knows the theory of aesthetic joy (rasa). Her delicate limbs adorned with jewelry, she is enamoured of musical sound (nāda). She has a voice like the kokila bird and is the beloved wife of rāga Kauśika.12

And if raga verses found broad appeal, paintings were to be even more successful. Easily reproducible and showcasing as they did local styles, they proliferated across North India. Tracing the circulation of ragamalas in these various scholarly, poetic, and visual forms is quite complex. Texts in Sanskrit and vernaculars list ragas and raginis in family sets (mata), some with ragadhyana verses. Most paintings (ragamala) that include ragadhyana verses in Sanskrit or vernacular follow one or another scheme recorded in the texts, but at least one scheme is found only in paintings. Three schemes are most relevant to the question of where Qutban got his ragas and bharjas (raginis):

  1. Damodara’s Saṅgītadarpaṇa: a widely-circulated text, it lists the Hanumana mata as one of the three schemes, one that was relatively widespread in both texts and paintings;
  2. The scheme that Ebeling found exclusively in paintings and not in any text and that he calls the Painters System;13
  3. The scheme found in the Ksemakarna’s Rāgamālā, composed in Rewa some 130 miles southwest of Jaunpur and notable for its addition of a new category, putra (sons).

Table 14.1 shows the Mirigāvatī raga-ragini list alongside those of these three nearest relatives. The male ragas in the Mirigāvatī match those of the others in name and order. Its raginis do not match exactly either of the others, but it has many raginis in common. The number of similarities and differences across the schemes is comparable, suggesting that Qutbans was in fact one of the ragamala sets circulating in the region at the time.

Table 14.1: Four early Rāga-Rāginī systems

(Qutban, 1503)

Hanuman mata
(Damodara, 17th C)

Painters system

(Ksemakarna, 1570)































































































Desvarati or Purvi




































Kamod / ini













If dhyana visualisations of ragas and raginis as well as their lists were widespread in the later sixteenth century, it is likely that they were known in Sultan Husain Sharqis court. Paintings may have been circulating as well. The earliest set of paintings depicting a raga-ragini set in the literary style is dated tentatively by Khandalavala and Moti Chandra to between 1525 and 1570, from “probably Uttar Pradesh or Delhi”.14 An earlier set illustrating the descriptions in the Saṅgītopaniṣatsāroddhāra is found on the border of a Jain Kalpasūtra manuscript dating to about 1450.15

While the appeal of the ragamala is easy to understand, the idea remains a puzzle in terms of music. Musicologists explain family sets as an organising method that replaced earlier categories. Terms in the Saṅgītaratnākara such as bhasha and aṅga (“limb”) imply that later categories were seen as derivations of earlier ones. It might be assumed that they shared aspects of scale. That question is open, but scale-based relationships do not seem to have existed between ragas and their raginis or among raginis.16 Harold Powers, who grappled with the musical meanings of painted ragamalas, proposed that since motifs were shared across regions and re-imagined in local painting styles, they reflected the way ragas were shared pan-regionally and performed locally.17 The musical organisation of raga-ragini sets is problematic, but a painted ragamala was not intended to prescribe musical scales. It conveyed an aggregation of courtly high arts.

With his evocation of a ragamala, Qutban conveys the charms of ragas as imagined in the aesthetic world of the courtly milieu. This register would have worked across the entire spectrum of listeners to which the Mirigāvatī was directed: ragas as marvelous sonic entities encompassing all the senses and the arts. But there were other registers on which it also worked. Specialists personified by patrons such as Maharana Kumbha were producing texts that were more directly oriented to the technical requirements of raga performance.

Raga in Specialist Circles

At the same time that the Hindavi of the Gwalior region became a premier language for poetry in the early sixteenth century, Raja Man Singh Tomar (r.1486-1517) was providing an intensely focused environment for music in his court in Gwalior. The dhrupad genre would later become the highest ranked song genre of the Mughal court, and in Man Singhs court it was the most celebrated medium for raga performance.

The Mānakutūhala is a work on raga attributed to Man Singh. One copy of the Gwaliyari original has been preserved in the Central Library, Baroda,18 and a Persian translation of it is included in the Rāg darpan, written in 1666 by Saif Khan “Faqirullah”, one of Aurangzeb’s noblemen.19 The Tarjuma-i Mānakutūhala section of Faqirullahs text is entirely devoted to raga. It becomes clear from this text that the musical interests of performers and music patrons lay beyond ragamalas and ragadhyanas. Faqirullah writes in his introduction that the Mānakutūhala was written in consultation with performers and composers:

It was in the year 1663 CE that an old book, written during the days its author lived, came to my notice. It was called the Mānakutūhala, and was attributed to Rājā Mānsingh, the ruler of the state of Gwalior. Contemporaries with whom the Rājā constantly discussed the intricacies of the art and its aesthetic excellences, have been such poet-musicians (go’indas) as Nāyaka Bhinnu, Nāyaka Bakhshū, Nāyaka Pāṇḍavī—the last having come from Tilaṅga, en-route to Kurkhet for a holy bath. Besides them were Maḥmūd, Lohank and Karan. When these musicians assembled (at Gwalior), the Raja had an idea: an opportunity like this comes… only once in ages. Why not avail of it, learn and write down everything about every raga, complete with illustrations and practical hints.20

The Mānakutūhala section begins with a raga-ragini scheme that includes eight sons (putra) for each raga. The scheme is the same as that in the 1570 Rāgamālā of Ksemakarna mentioned above. The same scheme is also appended at the end of some recensions of the Ādigranth, a point to which I return below. There is a difference between the Rāgamālā of Ksemakarna, however, and the Tarjuma-i Mānakutūhala, which is significant for our interest here. Ksemakarnas text includes ragadhyana verses as well as associations of time, season, residence, attire, and ornaments for each raga. The Mānakutūhala includes times, seasons, rasas, and regional associations but no ragadhyana verses. Is the lack of dhyanas a sign that Man Singh and his circle had limited interest in this type of raga characterisation? Following the ragamala list in the Mānakutūhala is a separate and longer section in which ragas are described in quite different terms. Here, more than ninety ragas are described in terms of how they are formed from combinations of three, four, five, or six others:

We name the rāgs which combine to produce one particular rāg. There are five kinds of Kānharah: Sudah Kānharah; Kānharah sung with Dhanāsirī added to it, called Bāgesarī; Kānharah mixed with Mallār, named Aḍāna; Farodast suffixed to Kānharah, known as Shāhānā; and Kānharah compounded with Dhavalsirī and Mangalashtak, designated Pūriyā.21

Sarmadee notes that Faqirullahs choice of terms conveys the sense that ragas were to be combined in specific ways. The Arabic and Persian verbs used by him mean “to join”, “to mix”, “to bring together”, and “to adulterate”.

… the ragas have not just been mixed, according to him, but mixed in an order of precedence and in a specific measure. As an innovator himself, he knew what has been done and how. That is why he has taken scrupulous care to narrate the exact and whole fact in minimum possible words.22

This kind of discussion would sound familiar to a performing musician. While talk of raginis may evoke ideas of delicacy or beauty, it is detailed debate about scale- and phrase-based affinities that are of real interest to serious patrons and connoisseurs. Some later texts as well reflect a limited interest in ragamalas. Two of the most important late-sixteenth and seventeenth-century Persian texts outlining music theory, the Ā’īn-i Akbarī (1593) and the Shams al-aṣwāt (1698), both refer to raga-ragini sets but neither includes ragadhyanas.23 This is not just a matter of language. Ragamalas are found in Persian as well as Hindavi and Sanskrit.24 Rather, it seems to be a textual manifestation of interest in the music-specific aspects of raga performance.

The Mānakutūhala section provides other hints that the text was directed to performers and patrons of performance. Many of the raga names appear to have come from the oral repertoire. Some Persian names appear here (Farodast, Shahānā). Several names are known in modern performance but are not found in ragamalas (Bageshrī, Aḍānā, Puriyā, Tilak Kāmod).25 There are speculations about sources: “Mālasiri and [other] such ragas are to be mixed because Mālasiri is the name of a folk-tune”. And “Bairārī… originated in Tirhut and developed there”.26

Some ragas are associated with iconic figures:

Mālasiri affixed to Mallāra produces Khambhāvatī. Bharat was the first to melodise it…

Desakalī, Kalyāna, Gūjarī and Shyām [...] together produce Abheri. It ought to be sung in the evening. Kanha was the first to introduce it.27

Some are associated with more recent figures:

Gūjarī and Āsāvarī... together get the name Gauṇḍakalī. Gorakhnath was the first singer of it…

Pūrbī, Gaurī and Shyām, mingled correspond with Farodast. Earliest compositions in it go back to Amir Khusrau.28

Qutbans patron, Husain Shah Sharqi, was certainly a specialist. Qutban admires his level of expertise in literature and language:

He reads the scriptures, difficult of access,
and speaks the meanings aloud and explains them.
A single word can have ten meanings:
pandits are struck dumb with amazement.29

According to Faqirullah he created and named nineteen ragas:

the twelve Shyāms: Gaurā Shyām, Shyām-mallār, Bhopāl-shyām, Kānharā-shyām, Sāhā-syhām, Pūrbī-shyām sampūran, Shyām-rām, Megha-shyām, Basant-shyām, Bairārī-sampūran shyām, Shyām-koḍāyī, Gauṇḍa-shyām.

five other mixes: “Koḍāyī, Śaktivallabha from mixing Sughrāyi, Gauṇḍa, Pūriyā with Sankarābharana and Kānharā”;

and also “Jaunpurī Āsāvari [made] from Āsāvari, Jaunpurī and Toḍī, and Jaunpurī Basant from Basant, mixed with Jaunpurī Toḍī”.30

Can anything be inferred about the music environment in the Sharqi court from the names of Husain Shahs ragas? Only one Persian name, Muwāfiq, occurs. In the Mirigāvatī, too, Qutban evokes a high court environment and uses vernacular with a Sanskritic lean. The evoked sensibility is one of history and refinement. Notable among the raga names is Jaunpuri. Ragas known to come from a specific time and place are relatively rare. This raga has remained in the repertoire to the present day, marking the status of Husain Sharqi in the world of formal music performance.

Qutban must have been writing about the music practiced in his patrons court. He chose to describe it in a language accessible to the widest range of listener. His listeners would have experienced the tale in accord with their varying backgrounds. But his choice to feature a sublime musical experience at a climactic point in the story must have been made for the benefit of spiritual aspirants as well.

Ragas in Bhakti Texts

Ragas were an organising principle for collections of bhakti poetry from an early period without reference to gender or family grouping.31 Bhakti scholars have grappled with questions of the ragas’ functions. It seems to be fairly well established that raga usage corresponds with their associated time of day in Vaishnava and Sikh liturgical practices, but that other associations are not consistent.32 Callewaert and Lath have argued that tune is a natural way of remembering and organising sung material; even more so than the songs’ thematic content or other text-based methods.33 I do not attempt to add to the discussion of liturgical function here. Rather, in the following paragraphs I compare raga sets used in three early bhakti compilations, and offer the suggestions that: 1) raga sets became canonised for bhakti use where they took on a life independent of courtly performance contexts; 2) later bhakti performances were based on this performance canon rather than on the ragas current in court performance; and 2) the bhakti composers or compilers who originally specified ragas as organising principles were likely linked to courtly music-specialist circles.

If we look at the raga-ragini sets of Table 14.1 alongside the ragas mentioned in three early pada compilations, we can begin to sort out the connections among them over time. Twelve ragas organise the earliest collections of padas of the sampradaya of Swami Haridas (b.1493);34 fifteen ragas organise the Caurāsī pada of Hita Harivansha (b.1473 or 1502);35 and thirty-one ragas organise the songs in the Kartarpur pothi version of the Ādigranth compiled by Guru Arjan Dev in 1604.36

Table 14.2 shows the ragas of the three pada compilations and their occurrences in the raga-ragini systems shown in Table 14.1. Their relationships to other systems are too complex to be dealt with here, but several points emerge from this chart. There is clear continuity among the sets. The earlier sets are most closely related to the raga-ragini systems. A number of ragas have been added to the Ādigranth collection. Many of the names are familiar from later practice but they never became a part of raga-ragini family groups.

Table 14.2: Rāgas named in three bhakti pada compilations and their occurrences in the rāga-rāginī sets of Table 14.1


Caurasi pada
(Hita b. 1473-1502)


Table 14.1

















































Naṭ Nārāiṇ





















Mālī Gaurā








Given that performance practice changes fairly quickly, if the bhakti composers chose ragas that were prominent in their contemporary repertoires we would expect the core set to show more change over the time represented here. Even the Ādigranths addition of ragas to the earlier set seems to indicate, rather than a wholesale substitution, that the raga names represent at least the loose canonisation of a particular core set of ragas specific to bhakti uses.

The use of ragas in pada collections is significant for hints about composers and performers. A raga is a template for melody. A composer must create a raga melody that conforms to scale, phrases, and tonal ornamentations as well as to the metric requirements of a text. Any performer or group may memorise a raga melody, but the creator of the melody must be a specialist. Outside classical music, the genres in which ragas are used today are those performed by hereditary specialists tied to court, temple, or shrine. Qawwali, haveli sangit, Sikh kirtan, and the music of the Langas and Manganiars of Rajasthan are examples of North Indian genres that use raga. Their repertoires are handed down in specialised lineages. Thus it seems reasonable to propose that the assignment of raga in bhakti texts suggests that the original compiler or composers moved in or were connected with court or specialist circles.

Vernacular bhakti poetry famously worked across a spectrum of elite and non-elite populations. I have proposed that raga similarly resonated in various ways: as an aesthetic entity across a broad spectrum of listeners; as canon carrying the song repertoires of devotional lineages; and as a specialised object at music-technical levels. But how were ragas actually heard and carried? Raga melodies are carried in song genres, and the names of genres listed by Qutban and other writers give us further information for tracing how ragas moved across time and contexts. In the sections below I consider the song genres mentioned in the Mirigāvatī. Qutban has listed an eclectic assortment, some with connections to older practices and some newly emergent, with connections to formal, local, and devotional applications. The purpose of the survey is to explore more precisely the dynamic and various ways in which ragas were heard in Qutban’s circles and, in the last section, to consider the place of non-raga-based genres.

Raga-Based Genres in Qutbans Time

All the instruments sounded; six sampūran rāgas were performed in ālāp.

(Qutban, Mirigāvatī)37

The text-free beginning of a raga performance, alapa, “speech, conversation”, is described in saṅgītaśāstra texts from the thirteenth-century like the Saṅgītaratnākara, but it is not a term that occurs frequently. On the other hand it is a featured part of a dhrupad performance. Since dhrupad was newly developing in Gwalior around Qutbans time and the term appears so frequently in this passage from the Mirigāvatī, one is tempted to see its use as recent and local.

Then beautiful singers sang māṇṭhā, dhuruvā, jhūmara, paribandha, gīta and rāga

Then they danced dhurapada sancārā and sang gīta with lovely ringing sounds.38

All the terms from Sanskritic sources that Qutban uses here—mantha, dhuruva, jhumara, paribandh, and dhurpada—persisted in textual and oral sources in later periods. The list seems to be a record of songs current in the Sharqi court. Prabandha, a “connected narrative”, was formal court song described in Sanskrit texts from about the ninth century.39 Prabandhas were sequences of songs, each of which had melodic sections (dhatu) and various kinds of text (anga). More than seventy types of prabandhas are defined in the Saṅgītaratnākara. We know from prabandha treatment in texts beginning with Sudhakalasas, mentioned earlier, that the practice had diminished by the fourteenth century. Faqirullah puts it in the category tasnīfāt-i mārgī, “arcane compositions”:

Parbanda is of only two lines, sung to praise the gods or eulogise a ruling chief. Besides this, the call or cry of an animal is also sometimes [...] rendered, the underlying idea being to imitate it.40

In modern practice the term is used for a 14-beat tala cycle and a dance-and-song type associated with Punjab. Mantha and dhruva are prabandhas belonging to the salagasuda category described in texts beginning with the Saṅgītaratnākara. Dhruva seems to have gained prominence in the fourteenth century. Sudhakalasa states that “music without dhruva is like a pond without water”.41 Faqirullah mentions it under the category desī tasānīf, “current” or “local” genres, and associates it with Dravidian languages. Both terms survived as obscure song types in some twentieth-century performance repertoires.42

Of particular interest in the Mirigāvatī passage is Qutban’s reference to dhurpad (i.e. dhrupad). This contemporaneous use of the term outside of Gwalior, and in association with dance, may hint at a history for dhurpad elsewhere as well as in Gwalior. Man Singhs dhurpad was by Faqirullahs account a winning combination of formal and local structures. Faqirullah puts it at the top of his list of “current/local genres”:

Dhurpad is an invention of Rājā Mān Gwaliari. It comprises four song parts, and is equally suited to all nine rasas. Rājā Mān formulated this favourite of the common people and the elite alike with the cooperation of Nāyakas Bakhshū and Bhinnū, together with Maḥmūd, Karana and Lohaṅka. They gave it finish and an appeal which surpassed that of all the other the prevailing song-forms. I think this was because of two reasons:

First, once dhurpad came out, the ragas and the song-forms of the archaic mārga style lagged behind. Second dhurpad is self-sufficient. It took from both mārg and desī and grew into the marvel of the age.43

Faqirullah also refers in admiring terms to the Gwaliyari language, which had become a model of refinement.44

By Faqirullahs account, Husain Shah Sharqi also created a song form of his own, known as chautukla or chutkula, which he includes in his list of “local/current genres”.45 Faqirullahs description appears to be an expansion of previous mentions of the genre in Persian sources, but he takes the opportunity to insert a poke at the Jaunpur ruler:

Sung in Jaunpur with two non-rhyming verses (misra). The rhythmic phrase paran climaxes on returning to the first verse. Sentiments of love and lover (ishq, ashiqi) the grief of separation and eulogy and praise form its regular themes.

The author and originator of this song-style was Sultan Husain Sharqi, the ruler of Jaunpur. Absurdly enough he fought with Bahlol Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi, and suffered a defeat. The past records speak of all this.46

Faqirullahs mention of the term paran is notable. Parans are known today as compositions for the pakhavaj drum, the predecessor of the tabla. The description seems to hint at a cadence in the sense of a modern mukhra, the phrase with which a song line begins and which leads to the first beat of the tala cycle. No other technicalities about chutkula are known. Following its use in textual sources, Katherine Schofield finds that it later became subsumed under the term khayal. She proposes a complex process of exchange between the Jaunpur and Delhi regions that resulted in the development of the khayal genre.47

Ragas and Sufis

There are two more aspects that we need to briefly consider in order to complete this survey. First, the fact that not all song types, even in courtly contexts, were set to ragas. Second, we need to consider the overlap and exchange of musical knowledge, musical forms, and musicians between the Sharqi court and sufi circles.

Qutban uses the term gita, the generic term for song, and he may be using it in contrast to raga:

Beautiful singers sang māṇṭhā, dhuruvā, jhūmara, paribandha, here a gīta and here a rāga

Then they danced dhurpad sancārā and sang gīta, and the music rang out.48

Faqirullah also describes a genre called bar that is sung by lineage performers (dhadhi) and may be a genre not set to raga. Var is one of the poetic categories used in the Ādigranth, and directions specified the use of folk tunes (dhuni) in its performance:49

Bār is sung by the ḍhāḍhīs, and no one else. The body of the song has no limit as to the number of lines, but the tāla alters itself twice. In it the heroic exploits of a warrior are sung. In the past, no exaggeration or undue eulogizing was allowed to form part of the narration. Less than two persons do not suffice for this song form. The ustād leads and begins with the first two lines, followed by the shāgird coming out with the third line. In sequence after this, the ustād proceeds with the couplets and the shāgird keeps on repeating the opening line.50

Faqirullahs passage nicely describes the call-and-response format standard to devotional and sufi songs.

On the second point, Husain Shah Sharqi’s connections with and patronage of Chishti and Suhrawardi shaikhs are supported not just by the evidence of Qutban’s Mirigāvatī but also by a tazkira of Chishti sufis, according to which Husain Shah built a monastery for his pir, Pir Buddhan:

Shaikh Pir Buddhan became the pir of Sultan Husain Sharqi (862/1458-883/1479) of Jaunpur. Shaikh Pir Buddhan was a wrestler, an archer and above all else, a great patron of musicians. The qaul and taranah melodies invented by Amir Khusrau were his favourites. Hindu musicians from as far as the Deccan would call on him, finding in him a great connoisseur and admirer of Indian classical music. The Shaikhs fame soon turned [his home at] Rapri into an important centre for both Persian and Indian music. The Shaikh was successful in persuading a group of musicians (known as chokh) from the Deccan to settle in Rapri, some of whom later even embraced Islam.51

Qutban also names his pir as Shaikh Buddhan (“the elderly”), and he may or may have not been the same Buddhan associated with Husain Sharqi.52 What seems clear, though, is that some shaikhs of the Suhrawardhi and Chishti orders in the Jaunpur region cultivated court genres and participated in courtly music circles. Faqirullah mentions later shaikhs who were professional singers and instrumentalists (go’indas and sazindas) and singles out Shaikh Baha ud-din Barnawi (d.1628), a descendant of Husain Shah Sharqi’s pir, as the most accomplished musician of his age. The Shaikh played the rabab, bin, and amirti, and was a vocalist and composer. Faqirullah links him directly to Jaunpur and says that he considered Hussain Sharqis chautukla to be the most difficult of all song forms.53

The movement of sufis in and out of courts and courtly patronage for individual sufi leaders became a path for musical exchange and innovation. Katherine Schofield has begun to draw out of textual sources a nuanced story about sufi involvement in the development of the khayal genre.54


While the grand concert described by Qutban in his Mirigāvatī appears at first to be a beautiful set piece, a close look reveals it to be a window onto the history of raga and formal music in the sixteenth century. The thirty-six ragas Qutban mentions amount to a full raga-ragini set, one of several circulating in the region at the time. The song genres that he mentions were likely in practice in Husain Shah Sharqi’s court. The Mirigāvatī passage however, is complimented by other contemporaneous sources that represent ragas in different ways. Looked at side by side, these sources portray a broader picture in which ragas were understood differently among various audiences and practitioners. Considered in this way, the concepts of raga, raga-ragini, ragadhyana, and ragamala, so confounding to musicologists and art historians, fall into clearer perspective.

Qutban’s ragamala list would have had various resonances among the diverse audiences of the Mirigāvatī. Most listeners must have known ragas to be the melodies of high court art music. Those with access to courtly literature would have been aware of ragadhyanas, visualisations that brought the ragas and raginis to imaginative life. Some might have seen raga paintings that were just beginning to circulate, in which the poetic-musical imaginings were vividly portrayed. These audiences would have relished the idea of raga as representing high culture and sublime aesthetics.

A smaller number, consisting of elite connoisseurs and professional singers, would have known the raga families and their visual-literary aesthetics, but would have been even more actively interested in the music-technical details of raga melodic phrasings, that is, in ragas in practice. The Mānakutūhala compiled by the ruler of Gwalior in a period roughly contemporaneous to Qutban, expresses those interests, treating ragas in terms of their sources and component parts.

In the Mirigāvatī passage, Qutban mentions a number of genres in which ragas were performed in the divine concert, evoking for all audiences the sophisticated history of musical forms. But the names—māṇṭhā, dhuruva, jhumara, paribandh—are also a record of contemporary performance genres, and the information must have resonated for specialist audiences in this way. Dhurpad, the pre-eminent song of the later Mughal courts, is associated with Gwalior, but it finds a mention in Qutban’s passage, hinting at a wider use of the term, a fact of singular interest to music historians.

Contemporaneous to Qutban and certainly heard by all kinds of audiences were the songs of bhakti devotionalism. Whether singers typically used raga melodies cannot be known, but raga designations in later bhakti collections signal an engagement with raga among specialist bhakti singers. And this use of raga is distinct from both that of the general listener and that of the court musician. Ragas in bhakti collections are used to group poems without references to raga-ragini sets, connections among ragas, or genre names. We do not fully understand the work of ragas in the compilations, but ragas have always been coded with associations of time, season, and emotional content. Surely they must have been chosen by specialists to signal the emotions and other associations that the expert singers considered appropriate to the poem. Also, raga seems to have always signaled a relationship to courtly environments.

Not all song genres were set to ragas. Faqirullah describes a genre called vār and mentions practices of Chishti shaikhs that were likely not raga-based. In Qutban’s time, however, some prominent sufis who cultivated connections with the courts are mentioned in connection with raga-based music. Indeed, music practices encouraged by sufi elites are now being traced in connection with the emergence of important later concert genres such as khayal.

Qutban’s passage about the grand concert is a celebration of music as a central feature of intellectual and spiritual life. The passage would have affected listeners in various ways. It would have evoked the rarified atmosphere of a divine court. It would have served as an account of contemporaneous specialist music practices. It would have hinted at sublime codes of musical meaning. But perhaps most importantly, Aditya Behl felt it would have served as a message for Qutban’s most select audience, that of sufi aspirants, and for us as well, that in the highest stages of sufi practice “[…] the novices of this order went through a program of musical purification and sublimation in the City of Gold”.55

1 I presented an expanded version at UCLA in 2008, a summary at the Society for Ethnomusicology Meeting in 2008, and a fourth working in London in 2009.

2 Aditya Behl, The Magic Doe: Quban’s Mirigāvatī, ed. by Wendy Doniger (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012a), pp. 131-33. The text is based on the Avadhi critical edition by D.F. Plukker, The Miragāvatī of Kutubana: Avadhi Text with Critical Notes (Amsterdam: published thesis, 1981),

3 Based on Saṅgītaratnākara of Śārṅgadeva: Text and English Translation, ed. by R.K. Shringy and Prem Lata Sharma (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1989), vol 2, pp. 61-62.

4 Sudhakalasa, Saṅgītopaniṣatsāroddhāra: A Fourteenth-century Text on Music from Western India, ed. and trans. by Allyn Miner (New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Motilal Banarsidass, 1998), p. 91.

5 Maharana Kumbha, Saṅgītarāja, ed. by Prem Lata Sharma (Varanasi: Banaras Hindu University Press. 1963), Vol. 1, p. 651.

6 Kumbha (1963), p. 407.

7 Shubhankara, Saṅgīta Dāmodaraḥ, ed. by Gaurinath Sastri and Govindagopal Mukhopadhyaya (Calcutta: Sanskrit College, 1960), p. 15.

8 Emmie te Nijenhuis, Musicological Literature (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1977), p. 23; see also Ksemakarna, Rāgamālā, ed. and trans. into Hindi by Vinod Shastri and Rama Gupta (Jaipur: Rajasthan Sanskrit Academy, 2003).

9 Narada, Pañcamasārasaṃhita Nārada kta tathā Saṅgītadāmodara Dāmodarasena kta, ed. by Bimala Rai and trans. into Hindi by Lakshman Tivari (Calcutta: Manipuri Nartanalaya, 1984), p. 36.

10 Saṅgītadarpaṇa. Damodara Paṇḍita viracita, ed. by Sridhar Ranganath Kulkarni (Mumbai: Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Sanskrti Mandal, 1985), p. 195. The text dates anywhere from the second half of the fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century; Klaus Ebeling, Ragamala Painting (Basel, Paris, New Delhi: Ravi Kumar, 1973), pp. 112, 114.

11 Saṅgītadarpaṇa (1985), p. 91.

12 Ibid., p. 93.

13 Ebeling (1973), p. 18.

14 Ebeling (1973), p. 152.

15 See Sarabhai Nawab, Masterpieces of the Kalpasutra Paintings (Ahmedabad: Sarabhai Manilal Nawab, 1956).

16 This statement is based on raga usage in the modern repertoire. It is well known that raga scales can change significantly over a few generations, but to my knowledge no musicologist has found indications that scale was the basis for raga-ragini relationships.

17 Harold Powers, ‘Illustrated Inventories of Indian Rāgamālā Painting’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 100.4 (1980), 473-93.

18 Oriental Institute, acc. no. 2125. The editors are grateful to Nalini Delvoye for drawing our attention to this manuscript.

19 The Mānakutūhala and the Rāg darpan became available in Shahab Sarmadee’s English translation; Faqirullah, Tarjuma-i-Mānakutūhala & Risāla-i-Rāgadarpaṇa (New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Delhi and Motilal Banarsidass, 1996).

20 Faqirullah (1996), pp. 11-13, modified from Sarmadee’s translation.

21 Ibid., pp. 35-37, modified from Sarmadee’s translation.

22 Faqirullah (1996), p. 267.

23 For the Ā’īn- i Akbarī, see:; Ras Baras Khan, Shams al-aṣvāt, ed. and trans. by Mehrdad Fallahzadeh (Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2012 [1698]).

24 British Library Johnson Album 35 is a ragamala set with dhyanas written on the back of each painting in Sanskrit and Hindi with a Persian translation.

25 Faqirullah (1996), pp. 35-37.

26 Ibid., pp. 39, 47, modified from Sarmadee’s translation.

27 Ibid., pp. 47-49.

28 Ibid., pp. 40-41, 45.

29 Behl (2012a), p. 20.

30 Faqirullah (1996), pp. 63-65.

31 A separate raga-ragini list is appended to some recensions of the Ādigranth, and it matches the lists in the Mānakutūhala and the Rāgamālā of Ksemakarna, which would seem to confirm that it dates to an early period; a verbally almost identical ragamala passage occurs in Alam’s Mādhavānal Kāmakandalā, see Orsini in this volume.

32 Raga times with regards to music in Sikh practice are charted in Snell charts times in Vallabha worship practice. He also makes the valuable speculation that the time of day associations have remained connected over time with the name of the raga rather than with raga scales as they changed; R. Snell, The Eighty-four Hymns of Hita Harivaṃśa: An Edition of the Caurāsī Pada (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991), p. 320.

33 See Winand M. Callewaert and Mukund Lath, The Hindi Songs of Namdev (Leuven: Departement Oriëntalistiek, 1989), but also Horstmann in this volume.

34 Richard D. Haynes, ‘Svāmī Haridās and the Haridāsī Sampradāy’ (PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1974), p. 67.

35 Snell (1991), p. 30.

36 See Winand M. Callewaert, Sri Guru Granth Sahib with complete index (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996), Part II.

37 Plukker (1981), stanza 247.1, p. 52, translation mine.

38 Ibid., 251 doha and 252.3, translation mine.

39 (Rowell 1992).

40 Faqirullah (1996), p. 95, modified from Sarmadee’s translation. Faqirullah defines jhumara under the same category: “Jhūmarā is composed in four lines, the theme being the praise of gods. Rhythmically, it restricts itself to tālas exclusively meant for it”; ibid.

41 Sudhakalasa (1998), p. 13.

42 V. Roy Chaudhury, Bhāratīya saṅgītakośa (New Delhi: Vani, 1998), p. 92.

43 Faqirullah (1996), pp. 97-99, modified from Sarmadee’s translation.

44Sudesa is the part of the country with Gwalior at the centre, Mathura in the north, Itawah in the east, Unch in the south and Bhusawar to the west. The language spoken in these areas is the most elegant and the most correct, just like the Persian spoken in Shiraz”; Faqirullah (1996), pp. 98-99, modified from Sarmadee’s translation.

45 Chautukla means “four parts”; chutkula means “anecdote or joke”. Sarmadee reads it in Faqirullah as the former. Brown [Schofield] accepts chutkula and notes its appearance in the Ā’īn-i Akbarī of 1593 and the Pādishāhnāma of 1637 as well as in the seventeenth-century Saṅgītanārāyaṇa. K. Butler Brown, ‘The Origins and Early Development of Khayal’, in Hindustani Music: Thirteenth to Twentieth Centuries, ed. by Joep Bor, Françoise “Nalini” Delvoye, Jane Harvey, and Emmie te Nijenhuis (New Delhi: Manohar, 2010), pp. 165, 166.

46 Faqirullah (1996), p. 101, modified from Sarmadee’s translation; see also Brown (2010), pp. 166-67.

47 Brown (2010).

48 Plukker (1981), 251 doha and 252.3, translation mine.

49 See description of Asa di var at

50 Faqirullah (1996), p. 119.

51 S.A.A. Rizvi, A History of Sufism (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1983), Vol. 2, p. 276, taking the seventeenth-century tazkira Chishtiya-i bihishtiya by Shaikh Barnawis son as his source. A full account in Urdu of this tazkira can be found in the three-part article by Mahmud H. Sherani, ‘Makhdūm Shaikh Bahā’ud-dīn Barnāwī’, Oriental College Magazine (Lahore), part 1 (August 1927), 41-58; part 2 (November 1927), 9-26; part 3 (August 1929), 72-99.

52 Though Behl notes that there were several contemporaneous Shaikhs named Buddhan, and it is not possible to know which was Qutbans pir, the most likely candidate is Shaikh Shams ul-Haqq of the Suhrawadiyya sufi lineage who was close to Husain Sharqi; Behl (2012a), p. 22.

53 Faqirullah (1996), p. 190.

54 Brown (2010).

55 Behl (2012a), p.17.