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Williams, Richard David (2020) 'Dreams, Songs, and Letters: sectarian networks and musical archives in eighteenth-century north India.' Indian Economic and Social History Review, 57 (4). pp. 583-604.

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Early modern poets conventionally began their compositions by praising and invoking the blessings of their higher authorities, be they their gods, gurus or courtly patrons. In the eighteenth century, North Indian society was particularly unstable, and the relationships between these different power brokers proved volatile. This article considers how intellectuals attached to religious households navigated the challenges of the period, particularly invading armies, religious reforms and forced migration. I examine the works of Vrindavandas (c. 1700–87), a Brajbhasha poet and lay devotee of the Radhavallabh Sampraday, and provide contextualised readings of two of his poems, concerned with recent history and the contemporary political climate. Vrindavandas was not a scribe or chronicler in a conventional sense; however, closer examination of his works reveals the porous boundaries between scribes-cum-recorders and other kinds of intellectuals. Here, I consider how Vrindavandas’ literary activity included copying archival sources, recording recent history, documenting dreams and emotions, and folding different senses of temporality into a single work. This article asks how far his poetic works gesture to a distinctively eighteenth-century mode of literary expression and reflexivity, and how performing these poetic archives through reading, singing, and musical accompaniment provided the sect with tools to navigate a turbulent political landscape.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: early modern India, religious history, Hindi literature, music
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Arts
Departments and Subunits > School of Arts > Department of Music
ISSN: 00194646
Copyright Statement: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 09 Nov 2020 10:52
Funders: Leverhulme Trust

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