The rāg that Burned down Delhi: Music and Memory between 1857 and 1947


  • Richard David Williams SOAS University of London



Partition, Urdu literature, music, nostalgia, Delhi


The Urdu litterateur Shahid Ahmad Dehlvi (1906–1967) recorded a series of reflections and reminiscences about Delhi, its culture, and how that culture was brought to an end by the violence of Partition in 1947. In his essays on music, he documented the performances and personal histories of a range of singers, dancers, and instrumentalists based in Delhi in the first half of the 20th century and considered their plight after Independence. In this article, I examine three of these essays—two in Urdu and one in English—and ask two questions. Firstly, how does this author develop a sense of historical depth to the social and cultural rupture he experienced in 1947? I suggest that his Urdu essays draw upon a longer history of literary nostalgia and connect a Delhicentric understanding of Partition to the earlier crisis of 1857. Secondly, how did attending to music allow Shahid Dehlvi to explore the nuances of cultural rupture and personal loss?


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How to Cite

Williams, Richard David. 2021. “The rāg That Burned down Delhi: Music and Memory Between 1857 and 1947”. Cracow Indological Studies 23 (1):197-217.