The Co-evolution of Courtly Culture and Folklore in the Reigns of Jahanzeb Shah and Prithvi Narayan Shah."The Mughals of India" Katsura Taro Mughal court culture in India had experienced two identifiable phases prior to the 18th Christian century- the first exhibited par excellence in Babur and Humayun featured the emperor as exalted and the centre of gravitas yes, but courtly etiquette was far more relaxed in those early days than it would later become in the days of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. Interestingly, as the nature of the emperor focused more and more on his nature as a muslim king, the list of royal prerogatives and measures that separated the emperor as divinely touched only grew, such as the ever present royal halo in pictures of Alamgir, Shah Jahan, Jahangir, Jahanzeb Shah and Prithvi Narayan Shah. These two phases are also reflected in the regnal names of emperors, with Babur, Humayun being one word nicknames, reflective of the turko mongol rumbustiousness that allowed them to drink very, very heavily with friends at parties they hosted, contrasting with the Persian and later Literary Hindustani regnal titles which acted as descriptors, all having meanings that conveyed the monarchs claim of universal sovereignty being divinely ordained eg. World Seizer, World King, Lord of the World, World Adorning King. The accessibility of the emperor also reflected these two phases, with the first three Indian gurkanis being very personally accessible to the common peoples and nobles alike. Babur fondly held drinking parties with his nobles and Akbar tried his hardest to make himself as personally accessible to anyone as possible, never thinking that any work was beneath him, leading to him quarrying stone with workmen and receiving diplomats while he laboured in his artisan studio. Throughout the history of the dynasty, the monarch had remained paterfamilias to the nation, through his paternal care of the land bringing harmony to its residents and legitimising the state, as articulated by Abu Fazl in the Ain-I Akbari. Indeed the Golden Family was the microcosm of the state, with honorary acceptance into this family being a symbol of the highest prestige in the status obsessed world of medieval India- many nobles eschewed wealth, yet crowed with pride if Jahangir or Shah Jahan were to address them as farzand, son. A result of this is that after Akbar, court chronicles immensely downplay interpersonal relations between the monarch and his sons, for whichever character fills that particular role, the image of the family they needed to convey was the same- the role remained eternal. The Badshah is always described in the most grandiose of terms; princes a little less so though still their behaviour is marked by equanimity, generosity and dignity. It is only when harmony is shattered all too visibly is it presented to the reader. Through presenting the monarch and his sons as the eternal archetype of the just king, the generous princes and devoted sons, the chroniclers added to the state’s legitimacy. It is only ever the informal works of history, such as personal diaries that this straitjacket is abandoned- but for those Abu Fazl’s format would remain unchallenged. It is almost as if Abu Fazl and those that followed sought to portray Akbar as the crowning glory of all history; before him comes all the variety of the world with the grand and the imperfect mingling, contrasted with the unchanging perfection of these stereotypes. After Akbar, eternity. This view presents certain obvious flaws- what to do when the personage of the emperor was inadequate to maintain this image? What to do if this image of unearthly perfection alienated the populace from their rulers and caused them to resent their ivory towers? Shah Jahan, with all the effort he took to maintain impeccable decorum was lampooned in the bazaars as arrogant and sheltered, a factor that led to many nobles choosing to side with Alamgir instead of Dara Shikoh, as the former was a humbler type who regularly belittled himself in comparison to his golden ideal of Islam. After the traumatic experience of Alamgir’s excessive piety which caused sectarian tensions to rise to a level unheard of since Akbar, a reaction to that emerged which tolerated the brief reign of Azam Shah as a return to the familiar haughty arrogance of Shah Jahan and the return to the throne of a personality in Jahanzeb Shah that seemed deserving of this apotheosis. By the time of Prithvi Narayan Shah, however, the public was once again growing tired of Mughal grandeur and his every attempt to prove his purity and right to claim global sovereignty fueled the fire of those accusing the throne of arrogance. Before moving forward, it is desirable to discuss what exactly was the court ritual of the age and the trends that characterised its evolution. The court was a site where every activity, exceptional or mundane would appear theatrical to an outsider, an element first noted by the Englishman sir Thomas Roe when he said “This sitting out hath so much affinitiye with a theatre”- indeed this was intended, as the court was a model of social order that it needed to make clear to the untrained observer was a universal and recognisable ideal. The Akhlaq literary genre, which concerned itself with etiquette, had evolved in Iran and Turan in the pretimurid era and had been the model of courtly relationships for centuries. For example, the Akhlaq I Nasiri goes into great detail about regulating the modes of eating, sleeping and talking that children should be socialised into. For daughters, the all too brief prescription is that they receive no education and be married off at the earliest possible age. Sons should produce no sounds when eating or drinking, only drink in moderation, sit at a place proper to their station, not speak unless spoken to and sleep on hard beds and eat rough food often in a distinctly Stoic fashion. They were also to be introduced to sexual experience with many women. Akhlaq I Jahangiri was the first such work compiled in the Mughal era and dwells upon virtue ethics. It emphasises justice as the primary principle of governance and declares that a just non muslim ruler is preferable to an unjust muslim. For others concerned with etiquette, maintaining strict hierarchies lay at the very centre of the issue. Abu Fazl gives a general outline on the position of various ranks in Akbar’s court. “When his majesty seats himself on the throne, all others of awakened fortune perform the kurnish (a gesture of obeisance) and stand at their places according to rank, with their arms crossed. The eldest prince does not place himself nearer than one yard or farther than four yards from the throne and when sitting, from two to eight yards. The second stands from a yard and a half to six yards and sits from three to twelve. The third stands at the same distance as the second. Then come the devotees of the highest rank who may stand three to fifteen yards and sit five to twenty yards from the throne. After this come the highest amirs and then the other nobles. All other men stand in the yasal” This outline is of a period when court rules were still evolving and became stricter and stricter as time went on. Notable demands of etiquette were prostration before the throne, kissing his feet, several forms of salutation by bowing, and the customs of the distribution of gifts, titles and offices on special occasions- all of these have long histories but can ultimately be traced to the Sassanians and were shared by states such as the Byzantines and the Arab Caliphates. There were several levels of observance of etiquette: within the court, where concessions could be granted by the king as a mark of favour but infractions were harshly punished, within the royal family where age gender and relationship were important factors and in the relationship between temporal and spiritual power, wherein the Emperor was obliged to replicate court rituals towards wandering saints. On entering the court, shoes had to be left at the main door, as if it was a masjid or mandir, for the court too was sacred. Its sanctity emanated from the personage of the emperor. The gradations of sanctity rose as one approached the throne and a certain distance was always to be maintained except on rare occasions when the emperor commanded someone to advance. Once prince Firuz Bakht, son of Jahanzeb Shah sought some information from him and not receiving a reply, walked towards the throne. Absentmindedly, he touched the throne with his foot, which angered Jahanzeb Shah enough that he adjourned court for the rest of the day. Again, like a place of worship, complete temperance and total silence was expected. Shah Jahan and later Jahanzeb and Prithvi Narayan Shah added to the solemnity of the affair by playing soft music in the background. All speech was to be conducted in subdued voices, with no gesticulation, and to be confined to brief statements made without flourish, in full humility. There were three physical subdivisions of the diwan I aam and the diwan I khas. The level nearest the throne had golden railings, the second had silver and the third had vermillion wood, with that particular shade of red being reserved for royal use in court under Shah Jahan and Jahangir, though it had filtered down into high fashion empire wide by the time of Jahanzeb Shah. A core part of court etiquette was the custom of giving gifts, much derided as bribery by Europeans both then and now and yet being an indispensable form of displaying hierarchy and loyalty that shared much with the patron client relationship of rome and mirrored the religious hierarchy at the core of sufism between the illuminated soul and his disciples that was also present in the Indic guru-shishya tradition. When Babur conquered Delhi he sent lavish gifts to his family in Kabul, more than that, he actively looked for times when he could distribute his possessions as he seemed to fancy himself a qalandar, a renouncer. Of all the gifts an emperor could distribute, the most coveted was the robe of honour, or khilat, which symbolised the extension to the recipient of a portion of the kings glory, prestige and authority. A robe taken from the emperor’s personal wardrobe, or even on rare occasions from his very body itself, multiplied the glory. Far from being an index of greed, gift giving was primarily about establishing ones place in court hierarchy, with presents of equal value being exchanged between equals and unequal exchanges reflecting a hierarchy. This explains the lavish gifts exchanged between Mughal and Safavid rulers, it was an attempt to prove sovereignty over the other by outdoing them, and why English monarchs failed to ever be seen as powers by the Badshahs of Hindustan despite frequent diplomatic overtures- they could present only petty trinkets and thus in the eyes of Delhi were just as insignificant as their gifts. As well as clothes, one of the most common gifts given by the emperor were of course Jagirs, shadows of the imperial sovereignty that took up a lot of time each day in the evaluation and reassignment of Jagirdars. As the microcosm of society, it is understandable that court etiquette evolved through interaction between the social and imperial layers. Certain rituals are cast in the general religious idiom of submission to God. The jharoka darshan, balcony viewing, that emperor’s from Akbar onwards barring Alamgir performed every morning served to present the emperor to the public, reassure them of his health, was an opportunity to hear complaints and derived ultimately from the darshan given to inner sanctums of mandirs or sufi khanqah and represented the master disciple relationship the emperor had with his subjects. Accordingly, a vaishnava sect called the Darshaniyas grew which considered the viewing the emperor’s face a spiritual act that they needed to do before eating each day. Though this sect had declined by Shah Jahans time and was non-existent during Aurangzebs reign, it made a rapid recovery after the latter’s death. If the virile masculinity demanded by Aqhlaq literature was dominant until Aurangzeb, after him it became impossible to maintain and Firuz Bakht and Kabir often left the palace in disguise to wander the city free of the daily rituals of court. Upon Firuz Bakht’s emigration to the Qing, Kabir surrendered himself to the image of prince, not without a good deal of bitterness at the isolation he would have to endure however much he thought it necessary. This personal sacrifice to ritual is perhaps why he was so reactionary in later life. From Aurangzeb’s death onwards, influenced by the culture predominant in south india, newly incorporated into the imperium, overt sensuality dominates popular culture as typified by paintings depicting emperors of old and young noblemen in dalliances with women, though these are commoners, for the chastity of noblewomen was too sacrosanct to violate on canvas. The masculinity of these figures is focused on sexual metaphors, that of a massive phallus, penetrating and thus conquering the feminine. Even the otherwise imperious and anachronistically haughty Prithvi Narayan Shah exemplifies this trend when to ensure fertility he and his new wife Jaipuri Mahal bathed naked in a tank for twenty days in Mehrauli, south of Delhi. Even as the event evoked the magical commingling of folk and imperial culture this was an ambience that scandalised many from an older age. For most however, there was little stigma attached to this denouement for there was at the time little counterposition between sexuality and morality. The court culture of decorum and absolute concentration of power in the person of the emperor was maintained in court itself, however with the creation of the Rajsangha by Jahanzeb Shah a space was created where none of those limitations were present. Though not banned, it was decided from the very outset that the monarch would not attend these meetings, as they were meant as a deliberative body that would decide issues amongst themselves and then advise the emperor at court as to their advice. Here, there were no considerations of status and all depended on how charismatic or popular one’s proposals were. The difference between the silence of court and the raucous shouting across benches and boorish behaviour allowed in the Rajsangha is hard to overstate. Members would often go after sessions to meet a tawaif or watch whatever licentious and bawdy play was being performed at the time. It was most definitely representative of the lessening distance between the nobles and the common man, as in general, they simply took themselves less seriously. The building of the Rajsangha was open to anyone at all who were dressed well enough to be classified as respectable, and it was often suspected that if not an imperial prince, the emperor had many spies in the audience watching the discussions to reward commendable behaviour with an increase in mansab. Additionally, the role of the monarch as paterfamilias of the land was much derided in the 1730’s and 40’s with the publication of Rajdharma, a text which melded Lockean social contractism with Dharmic ideas about the duty of a monarch, arguing that civil rights are gained by upholding your dharma and the fabric of society as a whole, and the Dharma of a ruler was to uphold the best interests of his people, failing which he lost the right to command them and it was their dharma to choose a better ruler. It also fundamentally rejected the notion of the dharma of parents being comparable to the dharma of rulers, due to the different relationships between a father and his children and a monarch and his subjects. It argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered to legislate or that legislation should follow the doctrines of any particular religion, rather that it should be decided by the general will of the people. In doing this it interpreted the quran as a created text, resurrecting Mu’tazila theories that in creating the Quran, Ishwar had tailored it to the desert society of Muhammad and thus it was not universally applicable. It also called for the radical changing of caste, such that, like his interpretation of ancient Indian republics, anyone who passed a certain threshold of success in upholding dharma, as determined by their particular career and faith was eligible to become Rajanya and have an influence on legislation. He also is one of the first calls for federalism, although the concept hadn’t been given much thought as of yet, he demanded that the major Janapadas, by which he normally means Subahs but sometimes also prominent historical states deserved their own assemblies of Rajanya that legislated for them, and the only purpose of the monarch is ensuring harmony between these janapadas. This book later received many criticisms and refutations, but it made a lasting imprint on the political consciousness of the subcontinent, and was referred to numerous times as the Matsya Nyaya and Dharmrakshak ideologies were in their infancy. Folk culture had always in fact played a prominent role in Mughal rule and there had been from the very earliest days of the dynasty in India, an owning of them by the peoples inhabiting the subcontinent. Though there exists a notion that Persian was the native language of Akbar and his successors up to Aurangzeb propagated by certain terrorist groups that characterised the dynasty as alien, this flies in the face of all evidence that though obviously they were fluent in Farsi, they were raised speaking Hindavi. In the unfortunate episode where Akbar attacks his foster brother Adham Khan, he is written as having said “You catamite, why did you kill my ataka?”, with the word catamite being an English translation of its hindavi not Persian equivalent- in a moment of duress, familiarity and vulnerability, the emperor reverted to his native Hindavi to spit insults taken straight from the gutter. If the alien Persian language had made such fleeting effect on the highest of high society, it had most definitely not percolated to the masses, which is the source of many of the Mughal courts elements. Folklore here is defined as a phenomenon that predates and survives the formation of religious identities. It is not recognisable as Muslim, Hindu or Christian, although its regional subdivisions are more discernible although even here boundaries are porous. Some elements of folklore are indeed timeless and spaceless; there is a high degree of universality about them, that uses vocabulary common to all cultures such as stories of healers who heal when medicine fails, or just rulers that defeat tyrants, where it is often not the hardest of things to insert a different name and certain circumstances into the same basic story. One of the most common features of folklore is transferral- the movement of one attribute from one thing to another via a symbol. Babur walked around an ill Humayun thrice in an effort to transfer his life force, Akbar refused to kill Hemu because as a child he had chopped off the head of a doll he had named Hemu, and of course the ever present transferral of the monarchs glory and part of his sovereignty on the receiver of a robe or honour or jagir. It is no accident that the language of court and government by the reign of Jahanzeb Shah bore two names, Hindi, as it was the language of Hindustan and Urdu, the language of the soldiers camp (horde)- culture had from the very beginning been exchanged between the ruler and the ruled. Just as there were very few muslim communities left in the lands ruled by Delhi that did not celebrate the festival of Holi (even in areas where historically there had been little Hindu presence such as Sind or Kabul subahs), legends sprang up around the dynasty itself such as the historically unfounded legend of Babur setting an impossible task to find a Hindu minister he had unfairly dismissed, knowing that only he would be able to solve it, or the Akbar-Birbal mythos that had penetrated the heart of the subcontinent and was being transmitted to its very ends. Plays such as Jodhaa Akbar, given official government sponsorship were useful in installing the sense of awe and acknowledgment of virtue of the government and yet, far more popular were the more organic productions that translated the Akbar Birbal legends onto stage, which cast the emperor as a witty knave, a friend who can be teased, dismissive of repressive theologians like Mulla Do Pyaaz (Two Onion Mulla probably based on Badauni, the chronicler most vituperative at Akbar’s tolerance). There had long been in India a culture of wandering saints, singing praises of their chosen god in terms that attracted those of every sect and now they were joined by troops of wandering actors, given work by upper class patronage attempting to emulate the Emperor but also lower class masses, attracted by the witty humour and the humanisation of these historical figures. Further, as part of the campaigns to make knowledge of all texts more widely available, the Ain-I Akbari and Akbarnama of Abu Fazl were translated into a number of regional dialects beginning with Jahanzeb Shah’s accession- this had the unintended consequence of adding Akbar to the list of “deities” or holy men that the wandering saints praised using terms and ideas lifted straight from the biography that strongly resonated with theological and ideological vocabulary they already possessed- Fazl blends the philosophy of Farabi with the mystic ideologies of Ibn Arabi for justification of his ideal of Akbar as the Perfect Man. Like most saints had spoken of divinity before before, Fazl’s conception of Akbar was dominated by metaphors of light and the sun, “nursling of divine light” was one of the most common terms for him in Fazl’s works. There had already emerged a community in Rajasthan who believed Akbar was an incarnation of Ram or Arjun- or at least produced volumes of poetry where he is referred to as such, whether or not they actually believed it and they readily propagated these new articulations of their ideas or literary analogies depending on your favoured interpretation. The illumination of the soul through guidance from a master was a key part in sufi and bhakti theology, now Akbar straddled the line between guide and the light itself. Stories abounded of his ability to bring rain through prayer, to heal through his breath and stop bullets, made acceptable because while remarkable, the minds of almost every single inhabitant of the Mughal realms, regardless of caste or creed had a worldview where especially holy people were capable of superhuman feats- there was no attempt to challenge or replace the existing worldviews or theologies, as they all had similar mechanisms for assimilating imperial magic. The corpus of stories of his superhuman abilities, already well established in the Mughal heartland spread both west and south in this period among the peasantry, though the more well educated and the orthodox remained staunchly unconvinced. In Akbar as described in Fazl’s way, the peasantry also received an ideal model of a ruler by which they could compare modern rulers and achieve moral high ground by comparing the current ruler with his illustrious ancestor. Though Akbar was the Mughal par excellence who inhabited the most awe inspiring position among the members of the dynasty, he was by no means the only one. Beliefs that Babur had a talisman that could bring rain or that Aurangzeb could make himself invisible and go to mecca to speak to Muhammad whenever he chose were in vogue amongst groups in various parts of the empire. Pilgrimages to tombs of old Mughal emperors joined pilgrimages to tombs of Sufi saints or holy men of no particular denomination as ways of asking for divine intercession. Though the success of this romance and the many other legends that had cropped up around members of the Mughal pantheon should not be overstated, the fact remains that it was one factor among the many that influenced relations with the state in this period. In the late second and early third century, what is most notable about Indian culture both in the hidebound court and on the exuberant streets is that these two things were rapidly converging into one hyperactive space where even the poorest could attend mushairas to listen to poets speaking in Urdu previously restricted to farsi performed at the imperial court and obviously the great renaissance of Indian theatre that combined all of these strands and let the richest of amirs watch performances that cracked scandalous and licentious jokes. Considering how central the development of theatre was to culture overall in this period, it is important to see just how imperial patronage helped to mature it. Since the establishment of Persianate states in India, theatre had suffered from a lack of funding and become relegated to the domains of the peasantry for the most part. It depended on oral traditions and was only really performed in the regional vernaculars, characters became comparatively one dimensional so that they were easily identifiable to anyone, which came along with the exaggerated makeup specific to that stock character. Additionally, singing and especially poetry became more central to the art, as compared to visual components as in ages past- indeed most performances would have no set and only very few props owing to their poverty. The exceptions to this of course, were the grand affairs of the Ram leela that were popping up in various towns and villages, where everyone would automatically recognise the characters from myth. To prevent performances from being repetitive, a relatively high degree of audience participation was encouraged and scripts were distributed so that the audience could try their hand at playing a supporting role. It is from these that many of the great actors in the 18th century came. The most prestigious dramatic company, was however independent of Royal patronage and focused primarily on the Raslila, the story of Krishna, in whose performance it had a monopoly- this was the Mathura Dramatic Society, which performed throughout North India and sometimes went on tour to the south or even the island subahs. One of the most important and culturally enduring attempts to change elite disinterest in theatre began with Raja Bakht Singh of Jodhpur, who attempted to stage the Malati Madhava, an eighth century Sanskrit play in 1731, already after a number of new plays had been written and old ones remade, though the art form was still nascent and had not cemented itself as proper art. At first, the project met with very little success, as he insisted on having the play performed in its native Sanskrit, as it was originally written, making it hard to understand as Sanskrit was nobodies first language and even most Hindu nobles only had limited fluency. However, later on that year, he decided to let his wife rewrite the play into Hindi so that the common man would be able to understand it, and relax the stiff formality of the dialogue. Under the expert writing of Jodhabai, the play underwent numerous revisions, with her watching from behind the window so she would not have to leave purdah. She added influence from the Sufi poem Madhumalati that had been written in the sixteenth century to reflect her own Bhakti views. She also hired the help of a pandit, Acharya Balkrishna, who helped to bring the performance closer to what he knew the common people would enjoy. Iterations of the play were performed to different audiences around Marwar until the Rani was satisfied. Though at times the final product borrowed from the complicated prosody of the original, genuine effort was made to make it accessible to the public. This was the first play in centuries to showcase the characteristically Indian poetic measure, the dandaka or a verse of fifty four syllables and even at times, when the theme of love is being discussed, it merges the dandaka with the ghazal, a popular Persianate form of amatory poem that had always been a mainstay at courts and had recently begun to percolate down to the streets- this was an entirely new experiment in synthesis, and one that yielded great results. While essentially a play about love, there were also novel expressions of political and religious themes. As the play was set in a time when the purdah was unheard of, women in the story enjoy freedom that would have been unknown to Jodhabai herself, and she revels in displaying just how they interacted with the public sphere. Furthermore, one of characters is a Buddhist priestess, as Buddh dharm was a powerful force in classical India and Buddhist philosophy was being rediscovered amongst the literati of Jodhabai’s era as part of the mosaic that comprised Hindustan. Jodhabai’s version of the play realises many characters and scenes alluded to in the original, such as the final fight between Saudamini and Kapalakundala, which she transforms into an emotional argument full of grief and bitterness, and the court of the king, where she engages in the conceit of having the king use only vulgar language and be dressed in rags as compared to the elegance of the lover’s dialogue and costume, a jibe at the spiritual poverty of those in power, who seek to deny love. The play begins, as most Sanskrit plays began with the fourth wall already broken and the manager invoking the sun for blessings before discussing what type of play to put on with an actor. Though the set she could provide was by no means extravagant, it was far more effective than anything the actors had worked with before at alluding to changes of place. Upon its performance before the Imperial court in Delhi in 1735, it caused an immense commotion. All European visitors were struck by the overt similarities in places between Romeo and Madhava- in the first scene they are present, a friend looks for them, notes how sad they seem due to being “out of her favour where I am in love” and tries to cheer them up. The theme of fate and the divine also are common, though Malati Madhava adds the Indian bhakti form of loving the divine as an extra flavour of imagery. Madhava also represents the aforementioned move from the aqhlaq defined masculinity to the more sensitive compassionate masculinity that was growing more popular, as a young man who often refers to himself as a slave to the goddess of desire. It inspired a new model of male female relationships and from the performance of this play onwards there are numerous stories of young women, having spied a handsome man from behind the grated one way windows of the harem, sending him a painting of himself with their name on it as indication of their favour, as Malati does in the play- as many of the old guard looked on in horror, women began to initiate relationships out of their own desire, something everyone had been pretending wasn’t a thing. By the 1740’s Malati and Madhava had been cemented into the consciousness of society throughout the empire as a symbol of forbidden love victorious and women given a long list of examples of heroines who had rejected their fathers choice and married their own choices, though of course, it wasn’t too unacceptable as it turned out that the romance actually had parental assent all along, only he couldn’t act like he assented because of politics, and numerous times some characters restate a daughters loyalty to her father above all. By this point, a total of forty nine official theatres had sprung up across the empire and in Turan, in imitation of the one in Delhi, but they were generally places for Hindi poets to recite their poets, or even for wandering actors to perform traditional plays as they had done for centuries- up until this point scripted theatre in the Sanskrit form was a mere novelty, interesting enough if you like that sort of thing but most people didn’t give it much attention. The emergence of Malati Madhava a veritable cultural sensation that everybody was talking about and the boom in scriptwriting it established, made the theatre an essential part of modern life, a place to discuss politics and business that both the rich and poor thronged to as often as they could as they had been doing in Delhi for the past twenty years since the staging of Layla Majnun. Malati Madhava was also the first play to be performed in Iran and was received with rave reviews in its farsi translation, although the actors often found that it lacked the soul of the play that could only be achieved in Hindi, and even in Isfahan, Hindi language versions were performed a few times a year so that those who could understand it could see it in its original form.